There’s been a disturbance in the Force, one felt by fans, critics, and everyone interested in the aggregate quality ratings of movies on Rotten Tomatoes.
On Sunday, it appeared that Star Wars: The Last Jedi was making history. The gap between the audience score and the critics score on Rotten Tomoates was huge. But now, there are whispers that this isn’t remotely accurate and that the audience score is the result of a hack.
On Sunday, a Facebook community page called “Down With Disney’s Treatment of Franchises and Fanboys” claimed that they were responsible for deploying bots to artificially bring down The Last Jedi’s audience score. Inverse spoke with the individual who claims to run the Facebook page. They brazenly call Disney an “abomination” and takes a stalwart defender position on the now discontinued Star Wars Expanded Universe.
“Do you see the hate towards Disney unfolding with this movie and the SJW hate?” the unnamed individual said via email when asked about their motives. “Add to that the whole Disney/Fox deal and what Disney will probably do when Net Neutrality is repealed — well now is a great time to strike Disney.”
But can they prove it? Short answer: No.
“Look for the accounts there that have The Last Jedi as their only review,” the individual wrote in their page. “That is me.” But as of this writing, more than 116,000 reviews had been posted, which would mean scrolling through 920 pages filled with reviews and checking individual user profiles just to find the users that only reviewed The Last Jedi.
But this onerous task would prove what, exactly? That many people wrote their first Rotten Tomatoes review about The Last Jedi? The more likely suspect here might just be a ton of genuinely enraged fans.
“The consensus from non-Disney sources this morning is that ‘trolling’ occurred here in regards to the online reaction to Last Jedi.” This means Deadline’s source doesn’t think a hack was at work here, just bad, old-fashioned internet trolls causing trouble.
So what does the individual in charge of this Facebook page have against Disney, exactly? And why would they invent a story about deploying bots?
It involves a multi-pronged response in opposition to diversity in filmmaking, the discontinuation of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and blaming the failure of DC Comics films on Marvel. In summation, every issue they have goes back to Disney’s business practices.
“They discontinued the Expanded Universe, shut down LucasArts, created an unrealistic environment for any DC movie to find true success and shove SJW messages down our throats.” They also believe that Marvel “sabotaged” the superhero landscape: “Marvel killed and effectively made what Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder tried to achieve with the superhero genre to be null and void.”
In this person’s mind, people didn’t want “Luke Skywalker to be nerfed in favor of MaRey Sue,” referencing the blatantly sexist complaint after The Force Awakens that Rey was a Mary Sue undeserving of her power or her prevalence.
“I brought out the worst in all sorts of people by using my bots. One look at bad numbers allows people to go in with a mindset I help create and to tear down the film.” Whether or not these alleged “bots” did open the door for more negative responses to the film remains to be verified, as there’s no feasible way to track the effectiveness. Nor is there a way to prove if these bots even exist at all.
However, in scrolling through the actual reviews, many of the negative audience reviews on Rotten Tomoates do skew political in the way they are reminiscent of the claims the “hacker” is making. The people who didn’t like the movie say it’s because there was an “SJW agenda,” or they offer similar criticisms of diversity. Back when The Force Awakens opened in 2015, there was also a small but very vocal group who opposed the ideas of a female protagonist and a black stormtrooper.
When reached for comment on this suspicion, Rotten Tomatoes told Inverse: “Similar to other movie sites, we’re currently experiencing a high volume of fan activity around Star Wars: The Last Jedi. We’re closely monitoring all user review activity to make sure it’s valid.”
But what does this mean? Or, to put it another way, does the audience score of The Last Jedi reflect the consensus of reality at all? Do the 56 percent of average people who have seen The Last Jedi actually hate it? And because the Down With Disney “hacker” can’t actually prove bots were used, the whole thing is pretty muddy.
Still, as Joanna Robinson writing for Vanity Fair on Sunday pointed out: “There’s no social-media record to preserve in amber the 1980 reaction from Star Wars fans to the darker Empire Strikes Back, though I have heard, anecdotally, from some who saw it in the theater, that even Empire had to grow on them.”
If there is a divide among human beings who saw The Last Jedi (let’s not even bother to use the word “fans”) on opening weekend, it’s possible we won’t be able to accurately measure that divide for several years to come. In other words, online metrics and vocal Facebook pages claiming to have all-powerful hacking bots are no match for a little bit of perspective on your side.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi* is out now.