One of the biggest pop culture conversations at the end of 2017, and well into 2018, was over Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi. Per online chatter, some fans would defend the eighth chapter of The Skywalker Saga, while a seemingly vocal minority worked themselves into a hyperbolic frenzy deriding it as the worst Star Wars movie ever made.
Now, it appears that online trolls were behind at least some of the rabid blowback, according to an academic report from journalist and author Morten Bay.
Monday afternoon, Bay tweeted out the final draft of his paper entitled "Weaponizing the haters: The Last Jedi and the strategic politicization of pop culture through social media manipulation". In his tweet, Bay said that roughly 50% of the online criticism was "political trolling, some of it likely from Russia," while the vast majority seemed to enjoy the film.
Johnson also took to Twitter to correlate his personal experience with Bay's findings.
In the actual paper, Bay divided those reacting negatively into three distinct camps, those with political agenda, trolls, and "real fantagonists," which he defined as genuine fans who simply didn't like The Last Jedi.
Bay concluded that "50.9% of those tweeting negatively [about The Last Jedi] was likely politically motivated or not even human," adding that "A number of these users appear to be Russian trolls."
While social media gives everyone a platform to voice their opinion, the online rancor behind The Last Jedi was exceptional. Kelly Marie Tran was harassed online to the point she quit social media outright, and Christopher McQuarrie made headlines by announcing he'd never direct a Star Wars movie after a few hours on Twitter.
Perhaps even more troubling is that this is yet another example of coordinated online trolling using social media as a division, which has included everything from national elections to the effectiveness of vaccines. Which makes arguing about the merits of a Star Wars film seem quaint by comparison, but no less frustrating.
For anyone who's interested, you can download Bay's paper in full here.
(h/t The Hollywood Reporter)