By Aric Jenkins
October 2, 2018

The latest installment of the Skywalker saga appears to be not as reviled as it initially seemed.

A newly published study from a digital media expert found that more than half the criticism on Twitter of Star Wars: The Last Jedi came from either right-wing Russian trolls and activists or automated bots.

The research was conducted by University of Southern California research fellow Morten Bay, who found in an analysis that the Twitter abuse directed at the film was “using the debate to propagate political messages supporting extreme right-wing causes and the discrimination of gender, race or sexuality.”

“The study finds evidence of deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments,” the report states. “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.”

The tactics used in The Last Jedi is notable given the controversy that lingered around the film months after it premiered in December 2017. News reports covered an apparently “toxic” section of the Star Wars fanbase that critics said was rooted in misogyny and racism given the film’s increased representation of women and minorities.

The apparent abuse was so severe that actress Kelly Marie Tran opted to leave social media, while crowdfunding campaigns to raise money for a Last Jedi reshoot appeared.

In his analysis, Bay found that 21.9% of the 960-plus accounts that tweeted directly at director Rian Johnson up to seven months after The Last Jedi’s release expressed negative views. That number dropped to 10.5% after he removed bots, trolls, and users with “clear political agendas,” as he described it.

Johnson retweeted Bay’s paper on Monday, writing, “[W]hat the top-line describes is consistent with my experience online. And just to be totally clear: this is not about fans liking or not liking the movie,” the director added. “I’ve had tons of great talks with great fans online and off who liked and disliked stuff, that’s what fandom is all about. This is specifically about a virulent strain of online harassment.”

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