Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a film which singlehandedly broken the franchise fanbase and split it into several different camps. There were fans who absolutely hated the feature, those who called it the best film in the series since Empire, critics who continuously argued with fans about the films complex nature and more. But, what if I told you that the negative buzz surrounding the film… was falsified! Did Star Wars: The Last Jedi destroy the franchise and permanently rupture the fandom as its critics (melodramatically) have accused it of doing? According to a new academic paper by researcher Morten Bay, the answer is… no. And the reason might surprise you.
The paper, titled Weaponizing The Haters: The Last Jedi and the strategic politicization of pop culture through social media manipulation, examines the online response to The Last Jedi, a movie that has come to be considered either a masterpiece or a complete failure amongst the larger fanbase of the franchise.
The author suggests that controversial reputation the film has may not be as earned as fans believe, and instead:
“…finds evidence of deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments,” as he writes in the paper’s abstract. The likely objective of these measures is increasing media coverage of the fandom conflict, thereby adding to and further propagating a narrative of widespread discord and dysfunction in American society. Persuading voters of this narrative remains a strategic goal for the U.S. alt-right movement, as well as the Russian Federation.”
The paper analyzes vigorously the negative online reaction, which he split into three different camps: Those with a political agenda, trolls, and what Bay calls “real fantagonists,” which he outlines as genuine Star Wars fans disappointed in the movie. His findings are fascinating; “Overall, 50.9% of those tweeting negatively [about the movie] was likely politically motivated or not even human,” he writes, noting that only 21.9% of tweets analyzed about the movie had been negative in the first place.
“A number of these users appear to be Russian trolls,” he writes of the negative tweets.
Bay even goes on to suggest that complaints about Lucasfilm’s reported politicization of the franchise by many of the disaffected fans “says more about the fans than it does Disney or Lucasfilm’s treatment of it. “
“[S]ince the political and ethical positions presented in the new films are consistent with older films, it is more likely that the polarization of the Trump era has politicized the fans. The divisive political discourse of the study period and the months leading up to it, has likely primed these fans with a particular type of political messaging that is in direct conflict with the values presented in The Last Jedi.”
Director Rian Johnson has actually responded to a tweet announcing the release of the paper, adding:
“Looking forward to reading it, but what the top-line describes is consistent with my experience online.”