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Study finds that The Last Jedi criticism was exacerbated by Russian trolls

* whistles The Imperial March theme while throwing chum into the swamps of Dagobah *

Ever since December of last year, Star Wars fans have been locked in a seemingly endless debate with regard to the quality of Rian Johnson's STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. Some will tell you that Johnson's chapter is a thrilling addition to the latest trilogy of films, while others would have you believe that the events of the film have ruined the franchise forever. Of course, there's no right or wrong here, as the divide stems from a differing of opinion, which is something that all fans are entitled to have. That said, a new academic report by researcher Morten Bay suggests that much of The Last Jedi backlash was orchestrated by Russian hackers, as part of an ongoing effort to sour the space saga's good name.

In his paper titled Weaponizing The Haters: The Last Jedi and the strategic politicization of pop culture through social media manipulation, Bay suggests that he's discovered "evidence of deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments.” He then elaborates 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.”

While some will undoubtedly scoff at Bay's claims, he does provide a detailed breakdown of his findings, after suggesting that the negative reactions were shared by three opposing groups: those looking to push their political leanings, trolls, and what Bay calls "real fantagonists," which refers to bonafide Star Wars fans who genuinely did not care for the film. In the paper, Bay states that “Overall, 50.9% of those tweeting negatively [about the movie] was likely politically motivated or not even human.” He then notes that only 21.9% of tweets pertaining to the movie were negative to start. "A number of these users appear to be Russian trolls," says Bay.

As a way of pouring gasoline on an already roaring fire, Bay also suggests today's debilitating polital climate has factored in to the level of fan unrest that the franchise has been experiencing since The Last Jedi's release. “[S]ince the political and ethical positions presented in the new films are consistent with older films, it is more likely that the polarization of the Trump era has politicized the fans.” Bay then adds, “The divisive political discourse of the study period and the months leading up to it, has likely primed these fans with a particular type of political messaging that is in direct conflict with the values presented in The Last Jedi.”

After the report was brought to his attention, Johnson himself shared Bay's findings, then added “Looking forward to reading it, but what the top-line describes is consistent with my experience online.”

If you'd like to read Bay's report for yourself,  you can have at it by clicking here. If you have thoughts on Bay's findings, please feel free to leave a comment below.

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