*Note that Star Wars: The Last Jedi spoilers are ahead, so if you have not seen it yet, please do not read ahead until after watching it.*
If anything has divided and polarized this country, it was the mixed-reactions of Star Wars’ newest movie, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
For fans of the movie, it was awesome to see General Leia “superman” her way back to the ship after the bridge was destroyed, witness Luke Skywalker’s dry and sarcastic sense of humor due to past tragedy with Ben Solo (Kylo Ren) and much more, including the introduction of new critters, specifically porgs. The fans appreciated that the film took a different direction from The Empire Strikes Back compared to The Force Awakens‘ too-similar plot to A New Hope‘s story. A different style of Star Wars movie gave the franchise a breath of fresh air.
However, the other half of viewers absolutely hated the movie. They were disappointed in General Leia’s new Force ability, upset that Rey’s parents were not Skywalker or Solo or even Kenobi but instead drunkards that sold her off in Jakku and that, overall, the film did not feel like an installment of Star Wars. Some viewers have since written a petition to “Have Disney strike Star Wars Episode VIII from the Official Canon” which will then issue a remake of the film.
We can see this divide also when we look at ratings online. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the top critics gave the film a 96 percent “fresh” rating while that audience rated it at only 49 percent. On Meta Critic, 94.5 percent of critics and 38.2 percent of audience reviews were positive. Though almost half of viewers enjoyed The Last Jedi, why do over half of the viewers hate the movie so much? What has made movies less enjoyable? It may come down to the increased exposure to fan theories.
Matthew Patrick, a film and game theorist on YouTube, tackled this issue in a recent video titled “Film Theory: How Star Wars Theories KILLED Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” He brings up that the reason some viewers are not able to enjoy a new film from an ongoing franchise could be a mixture of psychological theories, namely the mere exposure effect, illusory truth effect and an unnamed theory from a psychology paper titled “Effects of amount of information judgement accuracy and confidence” by Dr. Claire I. Tsai of Toronto, Dr. Joshua Klayman and Dr Reid Hastie of Chicago. The paper shows that the more information you have while making a prediction, the more confidence there is in that prediction, no matter if it is fact or fiction. All of the effects translate into this: the more a person is familiar with a fan theory and the more that person finds evidence for that fan theory, the more they will believe that the theory is true. When a theory ends up not being true, the person then becomes upset.
Patrick later defends fan theories, mentioning that viewers have valid complaints with regards to the film not using the theatric principle of “Chekhov’s Gun.” For example, in the first act of a play, if you hang a gun on a wall, then it should be fired in the second act. This means do not add something of value to a scene and not use it later. This principle could be seen in Star Wars: The Force Awakens when the whole film teased the importance of Rey’s parents due to the fact that she has strong Force abilities and has been “called” to Luke’s lightsaber, yet was born from drunkards. To see such a big tease not be paid off in a big way is a valid reason for viewers to be upset. Though the film is about disappointment in what we believe to be relevant and true, it is seemingly frustrating from a storytelling perspective. To those viewers, consistency is key.
Viewers, while they do have the right to analyze and critique an art form, need to understand that theories do not equal fact. With more than one director working with this ongoing trilogy, it is not surprising to see Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi have a different direction than J.J. Abrams’s The Force Awakens. It is also quite fitting plot-wise that The Last Jedi‘s story is about being disappointed in finding out that events, beliefs and the past are not as great as it should seem. If anything, how the characters react to these disappointments is almost exactly how viewers are reacting.
Viewers need to realize that they are setting themselves up for the very disappointment that they experienced from The Last Jedi if they keep accepting fan theories as the gospel truth. Theories can be proven wrong and some directors are not afraid to do just that.