Star Wars fans are diverse, with diverse interests. To get a simpler picture of the fandom, we can group people into a small number of fan types. I call these “clusters.” In the survey, respondents rated their favorability toward each Star Wars installment, and I ran several standard clustering algorithms on these data. Three distinct types of Star Wars fan emerged: “Prequel Skeptics,” “Saga Lovers,” and “TLJ Disowners.”
A lot is going on there, so here’s how to read the graph:
There are twenty-four panels of this graph. Each shows the distribution of favorability scores for a combination of cluster and movie.
Each row is a different cluster, and each column is a different episode of Star Wars.
Of each panel, the x-axis shows the favorability score for the movie, and the y-axis shows what percentage of that cluster rated that movie with that score.
I included the mean (Mn.) and median (Mdn.) response on each panel.
For example, we see that about 60% of people in the Saga Lovers cluster rated Empire Strikes Back with a perfect 10; meanwhile, over 40% of TLJ Disowners rated The Last Jedi a 1, the worst possible score.
I came up with the name for each cluster by looking at the distribution for each film:
Prequel Skeptics. These fans love the original and sequel trilogies, with median ratings for each film being 8 or above, and they feel less warmly toward the prequel trilogy. However, they do not rate the prequels as negatively as the TLJ Disowners rate The Last Jedi, so I chose to call these fans only “skeptics” of the prequels.
Saga Lovers. These fans love everything, giving every movie a median score of at least 7. And while the prequels earn the lowest ratings in this cluster, Saga Lovers are still generally favorable toward them.
TLJ Disowners. These fans love the original trilogy (like the other clusters), but they feel middling toward the prequels and they are torn over The Force Awakens. This cluster’s defining characteristic, however, is just how poorly they rate The Last Jedi. The most popular response is 1—and the median is only 2. This is why I gave them the stronger word “disowners,” as opposed to the “skeptics” above.
These were the three dominant clusters, according to the algorithm. But some readers might be surprised that there is no cluster of fans who only love the original trilogy. I tried forcing a fourth cluster (even though the optimal number was three), but, to my surprise, all this did was find a cluster we could call the “Super Saga Lovers,” where their scores for the prequel movies were even higher than the Saga Lovers above.
Of course, this does not mean that people who only like the original trilogy and hate everything else aren’t out there. (I’m positive there are, and you might very well be one of them.) But we just don’t see this cluster of people among the thousands who took this survey. This is not a representative sample of every single person who has seen Star Wars, but it is a large snapshot of the fandom in 2019.
So how do these clusters differ? For the rest of this post, I’ll compare the three across demographic and fandom variables. And for later posts, I’ll focus on personality and political variables.
The biggest difference in cluster membership is among men: 86% of TLJ Disowners are men, 58% of Saga Lovers are men, and 49% of Prequel Skeptics are men (ps < .006). The exact opposite pattern is found for women: 48% of Prequel Skeptics are women, 40% of Saga Lovers are women, and 13% of TLJ Disowners are women (ps < .009). Unfortunately, I did not collect a large enough sample of nonbinary and transgender fans to find statistically significant differences here, but this group showed the same pattern as women: 3% of Prequel Skeptics, 2% of Saga Lovers, 1% of TLJ Disowners.
These gender differences relate to sexism in the backlash to The Last Jedi and Disney’s Star Wars projects more broadly. I will tackle this issue in detail in Part 3.
The racial makeup of each cluster was about the same; no significant differences were found within racial groups.
The average ages for each cluster were all statistically different from one another (ps < .008). But these were small differences: Prequel Skeptics’ mean age was 34.9, Saga Lovers was 33.9, and TLJ Disowners was 36.1. A density plot can show the entire distribution of ages within the cluster. The plot is simple: The higher the line goes, the more people of that age were in the cluster. What most jumps out to me here is the spike for people in their forties who are TLJ Disowners; we see more representation in this range among TLJ Disowners than the other clusters. However, the differences between clusters in age are small; the clusters are more similar in age than they are different.
Critics and Other Fans
I asked participants two related questions:
“How much do you care about what professional critics think of Star Wars movies?”
“How much do you care about what other Star Wars fans think of Star Wars movies?”
To start, we’ll compare the “critics” question across clusters:
To me, the comparisons that tell the main story are the “not at all” columns, where each cluster differed greatly (ps < .001): 28% of Prequel Skeptics did not care at all for what critics think, 38% for Saga Lovers, and 52% for TLJ Disowners. This makes sense, as The Last Jedi received generally positive reviews from professional critics for Rian Johnson’s flouting of expectations.
Prequel Skeptics care the most about what critics think. All of the “somewhat” comparisons were significant (ps < .007): 30% of Prequel Skeptics reported “somewhat” caring about critics’ opinions, while 24% of Saga Lovers, and 16% of TLJ Disowners did. This aligns with expectations, too, given that the Prequel Skeptics agree most with critics’ middling takes on those films.
It should be noted, however, that no cluster exceeded 36% in caring “somewhat” or a “great deal” about what critics thought of Star Wars films. These respondents might pay some attention to critics, but professional reviews are not a primary concern.
But how much did respondents care about the opinions of their fellow Star Wars fans?
There was one statistically significant difference between the Prequel Skeptics and Saga Lovers (respectively, 5% and 8% reported they cared a “great deal,” p = .007).
But the primary takeaway is how different TLJ Disowners are from the rest of the fandom. For every response option, the difference between TLJ Disowners and the other clusters were statistically significant, ps < .004.
Comparing each response option across clusters suggests the same thing: TLJ Disowners care more about what other fans think than the other two clusters. Fifty-eight percent of TLJ Disowners reported caring about what other fans think “somewhat” or a “great deal,” whereas neither of the other clusters surpassed 40%. My guess for this is that TLJ Disowners feel the Star Wars franchise slipping away from them as Disney announces plans for more movies and TV shows. For instance, numerous websites and forums are dedicated to negative feelings about The Last Jedi, and I think it’s probable that these sites seek to persuade other fans of this view.
George Lucas and TROS Excitement
I asked participants how excited they were for The Rise of Skywalker on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 10 (very much so). However, on the following page of the survey, I asked the same question, only before doing so, I noted that “J.J. Abrams, the director of Episode IX, consulted with George Lucas while writing the story and script.” Knowing George Lucas was involved lowered the average excitement, p < .0001. On the first question, the mean excitement was 8.16, and this dropped to 7.95 after being told of Abrams consulting Lucas. A test comparing medians yielded the same result: it dropped from 10 to 9, p < .0001. Fans are still jazzed, but might be a little reserved about George Lucas being consulted.
Then I divided people into three groups: those who reported a lowered excitement on the second question, those who reported raised excitement, and those who reported the same for both questions.
So many Saga Lovers rated excitement equally across both questions because 61% of this cluster maxed out at an excitement level of 10 on both questions. On the other hand, 16% of TLJ Disowners reported 1 on both questions. Curiously, 8% of this group rated 10 on both questions—showing that a small number of these folks are still holding out hope. About 33% of the Prequel Skeptics reported 10 both times.
The biggest differences are that TLJ Disowners are more excited by Lucas’s consulting (38%) than Prequel Skeptics or Saga Lovers (both at about 7%, ps < .0001). Meanwhile, the Prequel Skeptics were far likelier to be less excited (42%) than Saga Lovers and TLJ Disowners (20% and 7%, respectively). The Saga Lovers seem to represent the overall concensus discussed above: They’re still hyped, but Lucas gives them a little pause.