A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a movie called The Last Jedi came out and a lot of people saw it. While there were a multitude of reactions to the film, everyone agreed it was just a movie and that there were far more important things going on in the world…
Well, if they didn’t, then they certainly didn’t push a bunch of false narratives – during and after the film’s release…
So, here we are. For the record, the latter part of that first paragraph is very true: There are much, MUCH more important things going on than a Star Wars movie – a president was impeached for rampant corruption and most of Australia caught fire due to climate change, just to name a couple.
Anyhoo, I’m pretty done talking about The Last Jedi at this point (at least in terms of negativity), however, one thing I wanted to correct was, what I see, as a false narrative. And that is the narrative that: “Well, audiences hated The Last Jedi!”
Now, before I dive in – let me say this. There is no way to know for certain. No extensive studies have been done, and many of the claims I’m about to discuss cannot be 100% validated. That said, there’s a lot more evidence for the film being well-received than there is against it.
Also – if you saw Last Jedi and did not like it, I am not trying to invalidate your opinion. First: I’m sorry to hear you didn’t like it, especially if you paid money to see it. Second: you’re entitled to your opinion – it’s just a movie after all. It’s quality is largely subjective.
No, my reason for doing this is because I believe the narrative the internet (and now film-centric media) is using to discuss the Star Wars films now is based on a lie, one that may hurt the franchise if believed by the wrong people (Rise of Skywalker showed some signs of a nostalgia-driven panic that was, well, really depressing to watch). So, to try and help Star Wars be Star Wars, let’s look a little closer – rather than just repeating what other people say without fact-checking.
The “Fan” Problem
First off, there’s always a problem when talking about “fans.” How do you define what a “fan” is? Is it someone who has seen all the movies? Is it someone who has seen most of the movies? Is it someone who has seen all the movies, watched the TV shows, read the books, and played the games? There’s a lot of wiggle room here – and not all the definitions are good. In fact, most involve a rather toxic process called “gatekeeping” in which a few people create high standards for fandom and then viciously judge/put down those who do not meet said standards. Case in point:
Now, if we were to use the definition of fan put forth by this misguided individual, then the amount of Star Wars fans would decrease significantly. Heck, I would be disqualified (I have never read the novelizations – nor have I participated in a discussion group).
So, by artificially restricting the definition of fan significantly, like above, it may be possible to reach a consensus not possible across the actual breath of Star Wars fandom. To get a more accurate picture of what fans are, let’s use an actual definition – courtesy of Merriam-Webster:
Fan (noun): “An enthusiastic devotee (as of a sport or a performing art) usually as a spectator. An ardent admirer or enthusiast (as of a celebrity or a pursuit).”
Okay, this is still pretty vague but a lot more expansive. What exactly makes up an enthusiastic devotee or an ardent admirer is a blog post for another day. My point is: Fandom cannot be easily defined. Often times, the people who try to define it, especially with fandoms the size of Star Wars, are trying to unfairly eliminate a group of people they disagree with.
“Oh, I don’t need to listen to them because they’re not real fans. They haven’t read all the books like I have.” Or some such nonsense. Beware the fan argument – it is usually toxic and deeply flawed – especially when we’re talking a 40+ year old property than spans film, television, books, video games, and toys.
Okay, so don’t talk about Star Wars fans unless you’re prepared to talk about all Star Wars fans. That’s done. But, you cry, what about the Rotten Tomatoes score? Surely that proves the film was not well received by audiences!! Why even today, it’s only 43%!
Okay, let’s slow down. First off – online scores are flawed (more on the later), second (and more importantly: There’s a lot of evidence that suggests The Last Jedi was review bombed. Before going further – heck, even Rotten Tomatoes has admitted that happened.
For those who don’t know, a review bomb is, according to Wikipedia, “an Internet phenomenon in which large groups of people leave negative user reviews online in an attempt to harm the sales and/or popularity of a product, particularly to draw attention to an issue with the product or its vendor.” (Hey what do you know, The Last Jedi is mentioned on the Wikipedia page for review bombs – weird coincidence).
Review bombing is sadly not uncommon, however most review compilers are better equipped to deal with them now (although sites like Metacritic are still hit fairly often). The Last Jedi was, unfortunately, one of the first high profile targets – meaning sites like Rotten Tomatoes were unprepared. For instance, it did not have its “verified rating” feature that it does today.
At the time of its release, numerous review bomb sites, including one originating from 4chan, took credit for the low score. In particular, this group was known to make scores hover at 56% – which was the exact number that The Last Jedi stayed at around launch.
So, why not just remove all reviews and start over? I think I can guess. Rotten Tomatoes is a business and businesses don’t want to rock the boat unless they have to. Any attempt to scrub or correct The Last Jedi would have led to articles fueling the idea that the company was engaging in some form of censorship or political correctness or whatever buzzword someone wanted to use against it. “Conspiracy” would have been floated more than once.
So, rather than do all that pleasantness, the company probably figured “eh it’s one movie that still made over a billion at the box office – who really cares?” Good for them if that’s the case.
My point: The audience review score on Rotten Tomatoes for The Last Jedi sadly cannot be trusted. Anyone who points to that as a smoking gun is trying harder to prove a point than find the factual truth of the matter.
Okay, you say, maybe so – but what about all the negative feedback on Twitter? Surely that wasn’t faked?
You’re new to the internet, aren’t you?
For the record, this is the one I can say the least about definitively because… we can’t know for sure? Not without doing a comprehensive study on Twitter accounts that #TheLastJedi. We could, in theory, hunt down these accounts and try to determine which were bots/trolls – however even then we couldn’t be fully sure, especially since Twitter regularly purges these types of accounts. So, no guarantee that we get the full picture.
Here’s what we do know:
A smaller study was conducted into The Last Jedi backlash on Twitter. The study, put forth by the University of Southern California, looked specifically at director Rian Johnson’s Twitter account between December 2017 and July 2018. Specifically, the study focused on tweets that mentioned The Last Jedi (it collected 1,273 tweets in total). These tweets were scrubbed a little to remove retweets and and duplicates.
You’re not going to believe this – but the study concludes that, of the surveyed tweets, “50.9% of those tweeting negatively was likely politically motivated or not even
human.” So there you have it. Of the negative reactions, which only encompassed about 22% of tweets during the studied period, more than half of them were fake/political trolls. Again, it’s not a comprehensive study – but it’s enough to throw the Twitter bashing into serious doubt. Was it exaggerated? Almost certainly – probably by a lot.
Other Online Media
Okay so I’ve tackled Rotten Tomatoes and Twitter – two of the things people most often point to when saying that most people hated The Last Jedi. But let’s talk briefly about online ratings in general – and not just regarding The Last Jedi. Look, I’m a big fan of sites like Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, IMDB, Amazon – pretty much anything with a review feature. I think it helps to find interesting movies I’ve never seen before…but how accurate is it?
For one, there is always a user bias. You need an account to rate on most of these sites. If you don’t need that well, you have to go to the site. This means that the sites’ reviews often reflect implicit biases from their user bases. Look no further than IMDB where, at least until recently, every single Christopher Nolan movie was on its Top 250 list. Now I love Christopher Nolan and have at least liked all his films but come on: Anyone else think it’s suspicious that all top ten films are English, and that most of them were released within the last 40 years?
Every site has biases – largely based on its users. A site that had a user base of primarily 60-year-old chinese women would probably have a much different top 10 than a site run for 30-year-old men from Nigeria. It’s just unavoidable. Until the dystopian day when we’re all required to input film reviews into one site (what a weird dystopia), we’ll never know for sure.
People mess with things online. This is proven. It has been shown again and again. I’m not saying online reviews are worthless, but the internet is not an objective place. It requires a lot of thinking to see the truth of things.
Okay, my last point: Knives Out. Don’t know what that is – here, watch the trailer:
Now you know, and you also know it’s directed by Rian Johnson – and you also know he’s the same guy who directed The Last Jedi. The marketing made no attempt to hide this. We look at the poster, Rian Johnson’s name shows up again – right above the film title:
Heck, his name is arguably the biggest one on the poster. So, Lionsgate bet heavily that people would still see this film, despite it having Rian Johnson’s name (and The Last Jedi) appearing all over it.
And boy, were they right. Not only was the film a hit – it surpassed expectations at the Box Office, to the point that sequel already looks all but certain. So I ask you, if everyone really hated The Last Jedi with the passion that a few loud voices are really trying so desperately to make us believe: Shouldn’t this movie have failed? Its success speaks to the fact that most people are fine seeing a Rian Johnson film, even when it’s a genre like mystery that has recently had a shaky track record at the Box Office.
So, with all this in mind, I can safely say the following: The majority of people liked The Last Jedi. It made over $1.3 billion at the Box Office, it was nominated for over 40 awards, and its director was able to use its popularity to help turn an unknown property Knives Out into a nice financial success.
So can we please, for the love of god, stop saying “well the fans hated The Last Jedi!” No they didn’t. Some did, sure – but some people hate everything! Nothing in the world has ever met with 100% universal acclaim – it’s not possible. If you show something to enough people, eventually someone will say “well that sucks.”
While there are people out there who legitimately hated The Last Jedi, we need to stop pretending like it was a majority opinion. Otherwise we’re not going to get any creative or new Star Wars movies…and that would be really, really sad.
Oh, we’re also going to validate trolls who were racist/sexist dicks online…which, you know, is not great.