Star Wars: The Last Jedi is not a perfect film.
The pacing is off, it’s way too long and it throws away — for better or worse — huge swaths of what we expected from this trilogy. It’s a bold movie that takes the Star Wars saga in what feels like an entirely new direction, and it’s natural that some fans are going to feel left behind by these changes in tone and theme.
But the real backlash, the nasty, immature one, is much smaller than the online noise would have you believe.
Anger above all else
The loudest online criticism has had a nasty sexist and sometimes racist undertone that makes it hard to take seriously. There has been much ink spilled about the difference between the reaction of the fans and the reaction of the critics, but we don’t really know what the fans think of the movies outside of things like review bombs and social media.
“The only thing that makes me happy about this schlockfest of a movie is how fast the ticket sales have plummeted,” one fan reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes wrote. “Next time, Disney, don’t let radfems and Peta members write your script for you.”
These reviews aren’t hard to find in the review bomb.
“I’ve seen less feminist/SJW propaganda in a Gender Studies class and that garbage is far more entertaining to watch than this nearly incoherent commercial for merchandise,” another stated. “It looks like adding in more token characters did save this film in China as moviegoers there aren’t buying the baizuo BS Disney is selling.”
This sort of criticism is not a good indication of what fans think as much as it’s a window into what people online who use tactics designed to hurt the film think. And those folks are angry in a way that comes across as irrational ranting.
And there’s little evidence that this backlash extended through the fandom or even hurt the movie at the box office. The Last Jedi is the second most successful Star Wars movie in the United States, behind The Force Awakens.
You can argue about numbers not being adjusted for inflation or the different, streaming world we’re in now and how it impacts these numbers ... but in the end it’s clear that The Last Jedi is doing very well for itself financially. There was no boycott that caught on, nor did fans stay away based on the attempts of trolls to spoil the word of mouth.
The New York Times looked at a study that attempted to track whether online sentiment matched consumer behavior, and the findings should be a wake up call for situations like this.
“The study, which looked at 170 brands, found that companies often wrongly saw social media as an accurate and sufficient guide for tracking consumer sentiment,” the story explained. “Often, though, that social conversation might be much different from what people are saying in private conversations with friends and family, the study said.”
You can find good conversation and criticism of Star Wars online, but you have to wade through the small number of very loud, very angry and often very male “fans” who try to spread the message that Star Wars is ruined due to its inclusion of actors and characters who aren’t also straight, white males.
The ton of their complaints betrays how angry and out of control they feel now that their favorite movie series no longer caters to them exclusively. They want the past back, just like a certain other angry white guy who is portrayed as a somewhat pathetic figure in the films.
And this is a small number of fans trying to create the illusion of a much larger, much larger “backlash” than anything that exists in reality. When Men’s Rights Activists created a cut of the film the removed the women, the creative team behind the movie did the right thing and laughed at them.
You can dislike the movie, because there’s plenty to dislike. But the idea that there is a massive and monolithic set of fans that is leaving Star Wars or hates the new film is wrong. There’s not much evidence it exists outside of a few loud voices screaming the word “smoke!” until everyone else believes there’s a fire.
Luckily, there is no fire. But there is a movie that’s I found to be both slightly flawed but deeply beautiful. The vast majority of people seem to agree, even if their voices aren’t heard quite as well online.