Last winter, a little movie called Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi ran into a bit of a pickle en route to grossing $1.3 billion globally: Some Star Wars heads did not care for it — no siree, Bob. And these jilted fans made their vitriol well known online. At the time, it seemed like there really weren’t that many haters, that they were just louder than the people who enjoyed, even loved the series’ eighth “episode.” So guess what? About half of those naysayers were Russian trolls, as it turns out.
The Hollywood Reporter highlighted a new academic paper by researcher Morten Bay. Entitled Weaponizing the Haters: The Last Jedi and the strategic politicization of pop culture through social media manipulation, the paper — which you can read in full here — argues that the “controversy” over Rian Johnson’s contribution to the four decade-old franchise was ginned-up, inaccurate, and unearned.
Bay, in his abstract, says he found “evidence of deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments” that made many fan complaints simple disinformation. He continues, by saying, “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.”
That’s right: Russia isn’t only interested in American elections. They’re interested in our movies about giant walking bears and robots that look like wastebins, too.
Bay looks at the movie’s negative online reactions, which he breaks down into three groups: those with a political agenda, trolls, and what he calls “real fantagonists” — those who were genuinely disappointed.
“Overall, 50.9% of those tweeting negatively [about the movie] was likely politically motivated or not even human,” he writes, adding, “A number of these users appear to be Russian trolls.”