Critics on Rotten Tomatoes love The Last Jedi. Audiences seem thoroughly unimpressed.
The latest Star Wars film scored a 93% on the Tomatometer, which shows the share of critics who gave the movie positive reviews on the site, and a lowly 55% with audiences who submitted more than 116,000 user reviews since the film’s US release last week, as of the time of this writing.
One angry, anti-Disney Star Wars fan is proudly claiming the credit for the disconnect. An anonymous individual who runs the Facebook page “Down With Disney’s Treatment of Franchises and its Fanboys” claims to have used bots to create fake Facebook accounts that logged into Rotten Tomatoes and posted negative reviews of the film to lower the audience score. Similar to the Tomatometer score, the audience score measures the share of viewers on Rotten Tomatoes who said they liked the movie.
The Last Jedi earned an A with audiences polled by CinemaScore, which surveys theatergoers on the opening night of major movie releases.
Rotten Tomatoes uses reCAPTCHA, a free API developed by Google that distinguishes humans from bots with a check of a box, to ensure that new signups are humans. But the site also has an option to sign up with Facebook, which bypasses that system. Once logged in, users can rate the movie by marking it “want to see” or “not interested,” scoring it on a scale of 0.5 to 5 stars, and posting a written review with the score. “Down with Disney” wrote on Facebook that it used Facebook accounts to login into Rotten Tomatoes and manipulate the score:
Thanks to friends of mine who taught me a thing or two about Bot Accounts, I used them to create this audience score through Facebook accounts created that subsequently logged into Rotten Tomatoes who rigged this score and still keep it dropping.
While low Rotten Tomatoes scores have contributed to the downfall of other movies this year, like The Mummy and The Dark Tower, The Last Jedi‘s low score had nearly no discernible impact on its box-office performance. It debuted with $220 million in North America, marking the second-largest opening weekend ever, following the The Force Awakens. And it brought in another $230 million overseas.
Apparently, mixed reviews couldn’t keep Star Wars fans away. And the Tomatometer score, not the audience score, is the number displayed most prominently on Rotten Tomatoes and featured on external sites like iTunes and Fandango, where people buy movie tickets. In spite of the barrage of bad user reviews, The Last Jedi still has a respectable a 3.5/5 average rating among viewers on the site, which suggests that many people did still enjoy it.
The poor review allegedly generated by the bot may have exposed another problem with Rotten Tomatoes’s method of review aggregation. The system’s main score has been slammed for its reductive methodology, which doesn’t weigh reviews from respected critics higher than others, or account for nuance in criticism. This month, it was manipulated to ruin coming-of-age dramedy Lady Bird‘s perfect score.
The Last Jedi attack suggests that the audience score can be rigged as well. Quartz went through the latest 20 pages of reviews of The Last Jedi, and found that dozens of 0.5 and 1 star reviews came from accounts created in December that have not reviewed any other titles. That alone does not confirm they are bots. Star Wars audiences may be flocking to Rotten Tomatoes to post reviews for the first time.
But there were also suspicious similarities in some of the reviews, like the criticism of “social justice warrior,” or “SJW” ideas, which knock the movie’s inclusion of race and powerful women, reported Polygon. The publication also investigated claims that the attack was staged by 4Chan, which users of the online forum reportedly denied.
Quartz also found that some of the profile pages for users who posted negative reviews could not be found, and returned error messages on Rotten Tomatoes (though that was true for other movies like The Disaster Artist as well). Bleeding Cool News found negative reviews for The Last Jedi that were incorrectly posted to another movie, The Shape of Water, which could suggest a misconfigured bot. And some of the new accounts that reviewed Star Wars also went back and posted bad reviews for Thor: Ragnarok in recent days. The “Down with Disney” group is anti-Marvel, too.
When Disney restarted the Star Wars film franchise, it said the Star Wars Extended Universe—background stories in comic books, novels, and other works that carried on the Star War lore—was no longer part of the official canon. Some fans never got over it. “Down with Disney” appears devoted to ruining Star Wars and Marvel movies made under the Disney banner, and propping up movies from the DC Extended Universe, which some fans have argued have been unfairly sabotaged by Rotten Tomatoes. The Facebook page did not immediately return Quartz’s request for comment.
“People rely on Rotten Tomatoes so much where they rely on it for judgement,” the “Down with Disney” Facebook page told Quartz. The individual decline to give their name. ”By lowering the score, it made people finally share the same hate I have had for Disney for so many years for all the ways they ruined Marvel, DC, and Star Wars.”
All of this at least suggests that something strange is going on with The Last Jedi‘s reviews.
“The authenticity of our critic and user scores is very important to us and as a course of regular business, we have a team of security, network, social and database experts who closely monitor our platforms,” a spokesperson for Rotten Tomatoes told Quartz. “They haven’t seen any unusual user activity.
“For Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we have seen an uptick in people posting written user reviews, as fans are very passionate about this movie and the franchise. The number of written reviews being posted by fans is comparable to Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the spokesperson added.
Whether or not the scores were rigged, the mixed assessment of The Last Jedi isn’t surprising. The movie wasn’t what many Star Wars fans expected. And it didn’t offer much in terms of where the trilogy is heading. It was also far too long and weighed down by cheap humor, unnecessary subplots, and a painfully slow intergalactic space chase, in this reporter’s opinion. But director Rian Johnson, who will be directing the next Star Wars trilogy, did deliver some brilliant and beautifully shot moments that were as captivating as any in the fictional universe.
Update (2:30pm ET): This post was updated to include a statement from Rotten Tomatoes, which responded to Quartz’s inquiry after publication. It was updated again on Dec. 20 to include a comment from the “Down with Disney’s Treatment of Franchises and its Fanboys” Facebook page.