Political agendas, Russian bots and fantagonists: Why The Last Jedi backlash doesn’t matter


Has The Last Jedi’s backlash been overstated? Morten Bay’s research suggests it could be possible with most of the criticism politically driven coupled with a dash of Russian espionage. More on Bay’s findings and why none of it matters.

If you want to understand where we are as a society, a good litmus test is to sign onto any Star Wars related site and insert one of the two following phrases: “I really liked The Last Jedi” or “I didn’t really like The Last Jedi” and then watch.

It may not be instantaneous but allow it to sit and then stew. The explosive divisiveness will cascade like a sonic pulse, engulfing you quicker than those orange flames enveloped Darth Vader on Mustafar.

Now it seems a new academic paper may have brought the online debate of Rian Johnson’s film to a whole level we never thought we’d see. Morten Bay, who has now bravely (naïvely?) inserted himself into the fracas, suggests slightly more than 50 percent of The Last Jedi’s backlash may likely have come from bots, troll accounts and politically motivated activists including those of the Russian persuasion.

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In Bay’s report, long-windedly titled, “Weaponizing the haters: The Last Jedi and the strategic politicization of pop culture through social media manipulation,” Bay focuses on a set of collected tweets between Dec.13, 2017, and July 20, 2018 directly from Rian Johnson’s twitter handle.  Of the 1,273 tweets directed at Johnson, Bay found 209 were from  “bots, trolls/sock puppets or political activists using the debate to propagate political messages supporting extreme right-wing causes and the discrimination of gender, race or sexuality.”

By Bay’s estimates, he found that one in five of those tweets were actually negative–meaning four in five were positive or neutral. This lends a certain credibility for The Last Jedi enthusiasts to hold over their antagonists in this ongoing online sludge-fest that we all wish would just go away.

Alas, there are issues with Bay’s analytics, no doubt. For instance, it doesn’t take other Twitter or online accounts who may have greater reach within the Star Wars universe, such as Mark Hamill who could have four times the tweets that Johnson does during that timeframe. Bay, himself, states in the 38-page paper his conclusions are drawn on a scope that is somewhat limited. And, Russian bots, the mad scramble headline of almost every news site and outlet, were only found in 16 cases.

But, Bay’s paper isn’t about proving whether The Last Jedi was actually liked, it’s a study in the breakdown of discourse. The audacity of opinion is something that’s been on display in front of our blue screens, attacking ones that differs from our own. Long gone are the days of debating Ewoks or what the hell George Lucas’ mindset was during the special editions. Replaced with recalcitrant vitriol by every beating pulse with a wire plugged into his cerebellum and fingers to record every preconceived judgment that passes through his mind that nanosecond.

Next. Oscar Isaac wants disappointed Star Wars fans to create the stories they want to see. dark

Maybe you’re right about Snoke’s death and it was a mistake that robbed the story or maybe it was a brilliant way to highlight Ben’s final descent into darkness? Perhaps, you’re right and the secret of Rey’s parents lifted her to greater heights or perhaps it was a cheap trick that undervalued fan expectations?

But fans seem to have forgotten that a third option is available. One that can help us enjoy our fandom and not beat our keyboards until the letters are worn and the touch screen still works because you haven’t jabbed it over and over with a stern pointer finger in rage. The one where opinion is, well, just an opinion and maybe it’s possible that we’re all right from a certain point of view?