Russian trolls: Is there anything they can’t do? First they stole the 2016 election by putting a bunch of fake news and deceptive memes on social media, fooling your grandparents into believing Hillary Clinton wasn’t the most likable, most qualified, most still-married-to-an-ex-president-who-cheated-on-her candidate in American history. And now it turns out those evil Russian trolls are to blame for yet another much-hyped failure that nobody can seem to put behind them: The Last Jedi.
Have you seen that movie? The one with the spaceships and laser swords and whatnot? I saw it when it came out, and I didn’t really like it. I watched it again when it hit home video, thinking maybe my initial reaction was unfair, and I liked it even less the second time. Not only does it fail as an entry in the Star Wars franchise, but it’s not a good movie at all. It’s boring, the attempts at humor don’t land, and none of the characters do anything that makes the least bit of sense. The plot is coherent only to someone who’s seen all the previous movies, yet in writer/director Rian Johnson’s zeal to subvert the viewer’s expectations, he ends up telling us that none of the stuff we’ve watched over the past 40 years mattered at all. He rendered the whole thing meaningless.
If I got in a time machine and told my 9-year-old self that one day I wouldn’t care what happened to Luke Skywalker, I wouldn’t have believed the creepy old man claiming to be me.* But somehow, Johnson did it. He may not have killed Star Wars, but he killed any further interest I had in opening my wallet for it.
Or… did he? Graeme McMillan, Hollywood Reporter:
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 clearly no.
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 2017’s Last Jedi, a movie that has come to be considered controversial amongst the larger fanbase of the franchise…
“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 writes of the negative tweets.
Well, there you have it. Science!
Johnson himself seems pleased to hear it:
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
And just to be totally clear: this is not about fans liking or not liking the movie – I’ve had tons of great talks with great fans online and off who liked and disliked stuff, that’s what fandom is all about. This is specifically about a virulent strain of online harassment.
— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) October 2, 2018
Well, maybe there’s something to it and maybe there isn’t. Alex Griswold at the Washington Free Beacon has read the paper, and he ran the numbers, and he concludes:
Were there Russian accounts spreading hate of The Last Jedi? That’s believable and consistent with what we know. Is there concrete evidence they had an appreciable impact on the larger debate over the film? No, not all. Sadly, those guys you see on social media saying they didn’t like your favorite Star Wars movie are probably just people didn’t like your favorite Star Wars movie, not Russian operatives.
Yeah… that’s what Putin wants you to think!
Whatever my opinion of TLJ, Rian Johnson is a talented filmmaker. I’ve liked everything else he’s done, even if I think he missed the mark with Luke and Leia. And he’ll continue to do good work, if the following short film/music video he recently made is any indication. I think it might be the best thing he’s ever done:
In less than 6 minutes, Johnson made me care more about those two characters than I cared about anybody in TLJ. Let’s have more of this sort of thing, Mr. Johnson. May the heart be with you!
*That’s a reference to Johnson’s previous feature film, Looper, which isn’t perfect but is still much better than TLJ.