You know, you can’t get a movie that’s much more polarizing than The Last Jedi. Top critics on Rotten Tomatoes have given it a 96% certified “Fresh” rating, While audiences score it at only 49% positive. On MetaCritic, 94.5% of the reviews from critics are positive, compared to 38.2% of audience reviews. So, whose to blame for this disparity? Ryan Johnson? Internet trolls? Porges?! Um, as it turns out, it was…. the internet!
Oh boy! Didn’t the haters hate it?
I mean, right now, there’s a petition written for Disney to remove “The Last Jedi” from Stars Wars canon and completely remake episode eight. You would think that this is just one of those far-out fringe petitions with a few dozen signatures. But oh no my friends! Over 80,000 people have signed this thing. This type of extreme divide is pretty unusual. And so I, of course, wanted to analyze what the underlying cause was. But apparently, I didn’t have to look too far for my answer. It was popular fan theories the whole time. No joke! Ryan Parker from the Hollywood reporter said “…perhaps the underlying factor can be traced back to expectations borne out of wild theories stoked by fan sites and youtube channels.”
So here’s the question. Do fan theories hurt movies and our enjoyment of them? So if we’re going to determine whether theories are ruining movies, let’s start with a pretty basic question. Can we prove that theories fundamentally change our experiences when we watch something? According to psychology, the answer is a resounding yes, and there are principles specifically prove it.
The first is known as the mere exposure effect, which states that people tend to prefer things, people, and ideas with which they’re familiar. Heres how it works, in 1968 psychologists set up a study where they show people who don’t speak Chinese a series of Chinese characters, and then asked them to guess what the characters meant. Some of the characters were enlisted only once or twice. While others showed up as much as 25 times, and the researchers found that a subject saw the same characters over and over again, they started guessing they meant more and more positive things. In short, the more familiar something feels, even if it’s something as foreign as an obscured Chinese character, the more likely we are to have a positive reaction to it. And this absolutely applies to The Last Jedi.
With any Star Wars movie, you’re gonna get a lot of new developments, new characters, new creatures, etc. But The Last Jedi gives a lot of ’em, and dedicates a lot of screen time to them.
So the exposure effect clearly has a part to play. But mostly, the failure was down to fan theories and Ryan Johnson! We spend the best part of the previous 2 years dreaming up theories to explain what we saw in The Force Awakens – then Johnson made a conscious decision to ignore pretty much everything the fans wanted to be answered.
He was almost giving us, the fan base, the birdie!
Will we learn from our ‘mistake’ of over hyping and over analyzing? Hell no! Dreaming up theories is half the fun and this is something that Abrams should embrace, not reject for Episode 9.