Well what a surprise — it looks like the bulk of the online vitriol against Star Wars: The Last Jedi was not only politically motivated (which, obviously), it was also amplified by Russian troll bots. According to THR, an academic paper by researcher Morten Bay titled Weaponizing The Haters: The Last Jedi and the strategic politicization of pop culture through social media manipulation studied the online response to The Last Jedi to see if it really did “ruin” the franchise as some fans have claimed.
The result, unsurprisingly, “finds evidence of deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments. 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.”
Look, you’re free to dislike any movie out there, and have an opinion about it on social media. But this is more about why a sudden, searing hatred for a movie fostered such a ridiculous meltdown within the Star Wars fandom. It never made sense, and now we know why — the trolls were at it again, destabilizing and creating factions to make objections about the female-driven story that also, God help us, featured some minorities was a bigger deal than it actually was. So if you are one of those actual humans who was spouting off hate about this and thought you were being supported by countless other odious voices across the interwebs, you were. They were mostly bots, and ya got played.
The piece goes on to say,
The paper analyzes in depth the negative online reaction, which is split into three different camps: those with a political agenda, trolls and what Bay calls “real fantagonists,” which he defines 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.”
Bay’s paper goes on to link the “polarization of the Trump era [that] has politicized the fans,” citing that the new films are consistent with the old films in terms of politics and ethical choices. Basically, the type of divisive rhetoric employed by Trump and that we’ve gotten used to in this era primed fans for a negative discourse that is really out of proportion with what the film actually presents.
Director Rian Johnson, who has experienced the brunt of this unwarranted hate online, has also found the paper to be “consistent” with his online experience, noting that this isn’t about liking or disliking a movie, but about a “virulent strain of online harassment”:
A bit of Morten’s research came out awhile ago and made some headlines – here’s his full paper. Looking forward to reading it, but what the top-line describes is consistent with my experience online. https://t.co/MTRgmPxGgZ
— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) October 1, 2018