It began with a dream. Would it end in a nightmare?
The Twilight franchise, or at least a vocal portion of Twilight fandom, was shaken by pictures of Kristen Stewart kissing and cruising around with her Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders.
The shots, snapped as paparazzi trailed the two through Los Angeles on July 17, 2012, prompted a slew of "cheating scandal" headlines that were nearly as breathless as the gone-viral YouTube clip of a young woman moved to angry, heartbroken tears.
"I can't believe that you would do this," one Emma Clark said on camera between sobs. "…I feel so sorry for Rob."
Rob was, of course, Robert PattinsonStewart's onscreen and offscreen costar.
The 41-year-old Sanders was part of a couple, too—he was married to the actress/model Liberty Ross and had two children. And while Stewart photos put him and his family under the microscope, it was Stewart and Pattinson who were in the hottest spotlight. It was always Stewart and Pattinson.
Stewart would later liken her and Pattinson's situation to a film, not Twilight, but one the outside world watched just as intently.
"I'm going to just let people watch whatever little movie they think our lives are," she said on Today.
In the aftermath of the scandal, the problem for Stewart was that some people thought they'd been watching a happily ever-after story.
"I Love Him"
Then again, maybe they were.
At long last, Stewart issued a public declaration to Pattinson.
In the form of an apology.
"I'm deeply sorry for the hurt and embarrassment I've caused to those close to me and everyone this has affected," Stewart said in a statement. "This momentary indiscretion has jeopardized the most important thing in my life, the person I love and respect the most, Rob. I love him, I love him, I'm so sorry."
It was a rare admission from a tabloid-trapped star. It was an unfathomable display from a press-shy young woman.
It didn't help.
One unnamed Hollywood flack told the Huffington Post the mea culpa "smack[ed] of [Stewart] being forced into it."
Jodie Foster had heard enough. Stewart's on-screen mother in the 2002 hit thriller Panic Room took to the Daily Beast to admonish the prying public and press. "If I were a young actor today I would quit before I started," the Oscar-winner wrote. "If I had to grow up in this media culture, I don't think I could survive it emotionally."
Pattinson was in hiding. Reese Witherspoon, his Water for Elephants costar, was providing cover. Moving vans were spotted rolling up to the "love nest" Pattinson reportedly shared with Stewart in Los Angeles.
The fallout seemed endless.
There were even reports, inaccurate, that Stewart had been dropped from a Snow White and the Huntsman sequel. (She'd never been contracted to make a sequel, E! News reported.)
About the only thing that wasn't presumed to be seriously under threat from the Stewart scandal was Twilight itself. Fandom leaders and box-office analysts alike expected the final film, Breaking Dawn Part 2, to be as big as the final film in a blockbuster series should be.
"Most fans like myself have been eagerly awaiting this movie for years now," Michelle Pan of the fan site, BellaAndEdward.com, told E! News. "The release...is an event that has been in the hearts of fans long before Robsten."
Christian Serratos, who'd long played one of Bella Swan's school friends, essentially agreed. "I don't think anyone's really gonna give a s---," she told Us Weekly. "They're gonna see the movie; it's going to be awesome."
So, Twilight would go on.
And maybe Stewart and Pattinson would, too.
Summit Entertainment was firm: The publicity plans for Breaking Dawn Part 2 were not being altered; the studio was moving "full steam ahead," an exec told Entertainment Weekly.
The film had been slotted with a prime release date for the 2012 holiday-movie season, Nov. 16. Its stars would have to start making the rounds in early fall. There would be much to talk about: the end of a film era; the transformation of Bella's all-too-mortal self into a vampire; the culmination of a love story that had spanned four books and five movies.
There would be much not to talk about, too.
How would interviewers broach, if indeed they were allowed to broach, the Stewart-Sanders story? How would Stewart and Pattinson deal with the questions, both spoken and unspoken? How would they deal with each other?
By mid-September, Stewart and Pattinson were said to be back on as a couple, and at least this much was assured: They'd exit the minefield the same way they entered, together.
On Nov. 1, MTV aired Stewart's and Pattinson's first joint interview since the eruption of scandal. Stewart "fidgeted and fumbled answers," the New York Daily News said, but then she'd never been smooth in such a setting.
In other ways, nothing had changed. They laughed, they joked, they didn't directly address their offscreen status (nor were they directly asked to address it).
The dance continued as Stewart and Pattinson went their separate interview ways. In dueling late-night appearances on The Tonight Show (hers) and Jimmy Kimmel Live (his), they chatted amicably about their movie, and not much about themselves.
Their costars got more of a grilling. Taylor Lautner fended off a not-so coded question about how he'd feel to be cheated on. Dakota Fanningwho'd worked with Stewart in The Runaways, and had appeared in the Twilight series as vampire royalty dating back to New Moon, got straight to the heart of the media matter with InStyle UK.
"Everyone thinks they have the right to, you know, publicize the struggles and sadness and heartbreak and all that," the 18-year-old actress told the magazine. "It's like, 'Why do you think you think you are the authority to judge people's experiences?'"
One Last Twist
Lautner has promised a surprise ending.
"There's a very thin line, because the fans would freak on us if we changed anything too much," he teased during his own stop on The Tonight Show, "but I can confirm there is a twist."
With Twilight there have always been twists.
The film that looked like it'd be a one-off cult movie spawned one of those most successful franchises of all-time. The actress who'd had no initial interest in the vampire tale had had her professional and personal lives altered by the series. The teenager who looked as if he'd be a minor player, cast aside by a bigger or beefier name, became one of the movies' biggest stars. The unsure-of-himself actor whose casting had provoked fan outcry had become the most bankable and versatile of the series' three leads, with a slew of films lined up, post-Breaking Dawn.
And the couple that had been pronounced dead continued to fascinate.
Perhaps that was the final twist: Twilight would never really be over.
"I'm not into permanents so I wouldn't say no, absolutely [to new Twilight books]," author Stephenie Meyer told the Breaking Dawn Part 2 press, E! News recounted. "I'm not going to do it today. I don't know how I'm going to feel in five years."
In the present, Stewart and Pattinson both spoke of feeling free, untethered.
"It is very strange," Pattinson said to FoxNews.com. "It is going to be very strange to not have that security blanket."
Waking up from a dream can feel like that.