An academic study into negative criticism of Star Wars: The Last Jedi has found that over half of it was perpetrated by bots and Russian trolls.
The 2017 sci-fi/fantasy film received highly favourable reviews from critics, but was subjected to intense hate campaigns by online social media accounts - including petitions to have it 'erased' and/or be remade.
Morten Bay - a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA - has published his study online, which is entitled Weaponizing The Haters: The Last Jedi and the strategic politicization of pop culture through social media manipulation.
"While it is only a minority of Twitter accounts that tweet negatively about The Last Jedi, organised attempts at politicising the pop culture discourse on social media for strategic purposes are significant enough that users should be made aware of these measures, so they can act accordingly," writes Bay.
"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. Persuading voters of this narrative remains a strategic goal for the US alt-right movement, as well as the Russian Federation."
Star Wars: The Last Jedi has a 91 rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 85 on Metacritic, which are both aggregates of recognised critical reviews. On the user-voted IMDb website, it has a rating of 7.2 / 10.
These scores are very high compared to the extreme level of online vitriol directed at the film and its writer/director, Rian Johnson.
Bay's research analyses in depth the negative online reaction, which he splits into three different groups: those with a political agenda, trolls, and "real fantagonists", which are defined as genuine Star Wars fans disappointed in the movie.
"Among those who address The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson directly on Twitter to express their dissatisfaction, more than half are bots, trolls/sock puppets or political activists using the debate to propagate political messages supporting extreme right-wing causes and the discrimination of gender, race or sexuality," writes Bay.
"A number of these users appear to be Russian trolls."
Johnson himself tweeted a link to Bay's research shortly after it was published.
"This is not about fans liking or not liking the movie - 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," said Johnson.
Star Wars: Episode IX, a sequel to The Last Jedi, is being directed by JJ Abrams and is set for release in December, 2019.