Don’t expect a big psychological payoff from the new Star Wars movie -- study

A new study shows that fans’ expectations can ruin a movie.


As soon as the credits roll on the latest movie in the Star Wars franchise, fans are already wiggling in their seats in anticipation of the next one.

Over the past four decades, the epic space franchise has built up the anticipation of millions of ‘warsies’ who have been closely watching the Star Wars adventures. And since the release of the latest film, Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker, it has grossed around $361.8 million in North America alone. But sometimes, a dedicated fan base can be a double edged sword.

A new study, published this month in the Journal of Media Psychology, suggests that built up anticipation of a new film can often ruin it for its fans.

Based on a survey of Star Wars fans, the study showed that those who went into Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi, which was released in 2017, with higher expectations tended to enjoy the movie less. The findings suggest that before going into the latest installment of the Star Wars franchise, your expectations should be quite low.

The authors of the new study did an online survey of 441 people who had just watched the trailer of The Last Jedi three weeks before its release and asked them to anticipate how happy, sad, or nostalgic they thought the film would make them. The same participants were surveyed again after they had watched the film, and were asked to rate their enjoyment and appreciation of it.

The results of the survey showed that those who had anticipated they would be happier and more nostalgic from the film ended up enjoying it less, while those who had lower expectations for how happy and nostalgic the film would make them feel ended up enjoying it more.

“It becomes a lot less about what is in the movie and a lot more about what you expected it to be,” James Alex Bonus, assistant professor of communication at the Ohio State University and co-author of the study, said in a statement released with the findings.

While the study suggests to lower your expectations before an anticipated film, you shouldn’t lower your expectations too much.

Those who had very low expectations of 2017’s The Last Jedi but felt happy after seeing it reported a less enjoyable viewing experience than those who had experienced the same level of happiness but had gone in with slightly higher expectations for the movie.

“The negative bias going in dragged them down and even if they were pleasantly surprised by the movie, they still didn’t like it as much as other people did,” Bonus said. “It wasn’t really helping people to go in with those low expectations.”

So, you want your expectations to be low, but not too low that it soils the whole experience for you.

Additionally, the study noted that how nostalgic people thought a film would make them, rather than how happy it would make them, played a bigger role in whether or not people went to see the movie.

Those who had higher expectations of feelings of nostalgia were more likely to see the movie than those with expectations of happiness, according to the study.

“That shows the important role nostalgia plays for audiences of established franchises like Star Wars,” Bonus said.

More importantly, the study highlights how badly people predict their own feelings.

Affective forecasting is a concept in psychology whereby a person will predict how happy a future event will make them feel, and it can often lead people to not wanting something by falsely assuming something will make them feel either happy or sad.

In the survey, around 55 percent of people failed to accurately predict how the movie would make them feel. In general, people are bad at predicting how future events will make them feel, according to Bonus.

Our prediction powers fail us even more when it comes to a film franchise where fans have developed an emotional attachment to the characters over several years.

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