A recent Star Wars fan study promoted by Screen Rant purports to find a link between political attitudes and opinions towards Star Wars: The Last Jedi, though the claim appears to be disingenuous at best.
On June 14, in an article titled Survey Says Political Beliefs May Explain Why Fans Don’t Like Last Jedi, Screen Rant promoted a survey conducted by social scientist Mark H. White II which observed the “psychological relationship between favorability toward Star Wars films and sexist attitudes” as a part of a series of surveys White has conducted relating to Star Wars fans:
“I am not here to litigate the gender politics in the Star Wars movies. My focus in this part is on the empirical, psychological relationship between favorability toward Star Wars films and sexist attitudes. I also look at the closely related concepts of “political correctness” and political identification. I focus on the survey’s questions of hostile sexism, benevolent sexism, PC beliefs, and political identification. I briefly discussed these in Part 1.
These concepts are all related to one another. If we see a relationship between how conservative someone is and their attitudes toward The Last Jedi, then how do we know it isn’t one of these other variables that is responsible for the relationship? To address this, I ran regression equations with each as a simultaneous predictor of fan-cluster membership, movie favorability, and character favorability. In these equations, I will focus only on variables that were significant predictors (p < .01).”
White’s data is presented in a a series of graphs comparing measures of hostile sexism, benevolent sexism, attitudes towards politically correct ideologies, and self-identification as liberal or conservative, rated on a scale of 1-7, among three categories of fans previously identified by White: ‘Prequel Skeptics’, ‘Saga Lovers’, and ‘TLJ Disowners’ and the fans’ self-reported favorability towards specific trilogies and characters (Admiral Holdo, Rey, and Rose Tico specifically). Though the graphs show that ‘TLJ Disowners’ and those who disliked the three female characters had higher average ratings in each category, White’s questions disingenuously simplify the questions and responses for these ratings.
For example, hostile sexism is measured by a survey participant’s agreement with the statements “Most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist,” and “Feminists are making unreasonable demands of men” while one’s view towards political correctness relies on the response to the sole statement “Needing to be ‘politically correct’ creates an atmosphere in which the free exchange of ideas is impossible.” In a time when self-declared feminists are quick to decry works of fiction due to uncomfortable subject matter and champions of political correctness regularly campaign to deplatform creators or cancel products because something does not conform to their worldview, it seems disingenuous to paint those who agreed more strongly with these statements as simple sexists or bigots.
Interestingly, though White claims “that some criticism of the movie is in good faith, these data suggest some of the backlash to the film is likely not” and that “some people might have been predisposed to hate it—regardless of the film’s quality—due to main female characters demonstrating skill, bravery, and leadership,” he does not entertain the converse possibility that some of the film’s high praise and adulation may be coming from those who were predisposed to blindly liking the movie for the same reasons.
However, by White’s own admission, the reported relationship between these poorly defined beliefs and enjoyability of The Last Jedi is “not a one-to-one relationship.” White notes in his findings that “we see a lot of variance within these groups, showing us that the clusters are not in lockstep with these political beliefs,” and “although this relationship exists, not everyone who dislikes the sequels is a sexist or bemoans PC culture,” and the high level of variability displayed by the data makes it clear to readers that these causal relationships are tenuous at best. In fact, given his surprisingly small sample size of 5,000 people (which, even when compared to the relatively small number of fans who ‘like’ the official Star Wars Facebook page, is less than a percent of a percent of the fandom), with 27% of the respondents being anonymous Twitter users, the conclusions reached by this survey tell us little about the general opinions of the overarching Star Wars fandom.