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Online trolls keep largely mum for latest Star Wars movie

January 21, 2020
stormtrooper action figure standing on computer keyboardWith a fast-paced plot and more conservative themes, The Rise of Skywalker avoided the online trolling that greeted its predecessor, argues associate professor of political science Bethany Lacina in the Washington Post. (Unsplash photo / Liam Tucker)

While Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (TROS) left critics lukewarm, some audiences have been more generous in their assessment of the latest installment of the epic franchise. Unlike the penultimate release—The Last Jedi (TLJ) with its feminist story line and more diverse cast—the ninth movie returns to the tried and true.

“After TLJ, an online campaign took issue with the film’s feminism, leftism, and diverse casting,” writes Bethany Lacina, an associate professor of political science at the University of Rochester, in an analysis for the Washington Post’s “Monkey Cage” site.

In sharp contrast, she argues, TROS now deploys a fast-paced, sprawling plot, and conservative themes. That’s why trolling of the film has been mild compared to the online backlash against TLJ.

After TLJ, the major character Rose Tico—played by Asian-American actress Kelly Marie Tran in TLJ—became the focus of Twitter harassment, much of it hate-driven, as Lacina, who conducted a formal analysis of the tweets, argued in 2018. The latest Star Wars movie now largely eliminates Tran’s character.

“This latest movie avoided that ire by moving Star Wars politically right,” writes Lacina.

Has there been a backlash by fans of TLJ to the latest movie? Not really. According to Lacina, one reason for the muted response is that “female, non-white, and queer fans control fewer fan outlets. They also experience more online harassment, discouraging them from engaging the larger fandom.”

And it’s a question of monetary incentives:

“Anger at TLJ became a business. Popular anti-TLJ videos on YouTube have millions of hits, translating to tens of thousands of dollars for their creators. Right-wing personalities sell Fandom Menace apparel,” writes Lacina. “There is no comparable left-wing media ecosystem where anti-TROS feeling can thrive and be monetized to the same extent.”

Lacina is a scholar of international relations, comparative politics, conflict, and Indian politics, with a specialty in civil and ethnic conflict. Her Monkey Cage piece relies on data-driven analysis of tweets and websites.


Read more

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Fan hate takes aim at Star Wars diversity
In an analysis of thousands of tweets from Star Wars fans, associate professor of political science Bethany Lacina found that offensive language doubled and hate speech jumped by 60 percent when those tweets were directed at actress Kelly Marie Tran or her character Rose Tico, the first nonwhite female lead character in the franchise.
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“The myth that female- or minority-led films struggle at the box office has been debunked again,” writes Bethany Lacina, an associate professor of political science, in an analysis for the Washington Post.



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