A galactic letdown: ‘Star Wars’ study finds expectations for movies often ruin the experience

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi was one of the most highly anticipated films of 2017, but when it was released two years ago it divided audiences more than any previous Star Wars movie. Now, a new study based on audience expectations before, and reactions after, viewing The Last Jedi in 2017 suggests that moviegoers should temper their expectations heading into this year’s Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

Researchers at Ohio State University surveyed 441 people before and after they saw The Last Jedi and found that their expectations before they saw the movie had a large effect on whether they liked or loathed the eighth installment of the popular sci-fi/fantasy saga. The findings show that to truly enjoy The Rise of Skywalker, you should moderate your expectations. If you go into the movie expecting to hate it, you probably will. If you expect it to be the best movie in history, chances are you’ll be disappointed.

“It wasn’t really helping people to go in with those low expectations,” says co-author and Communications Professor at OSU James Alex Bonus in a university release. “The negative bias going in dragged them down and even if they were pleasantly surprised by the movie, they still didn’t like it as much as other people did.”

According to the survey’s results, movie-goers who had very high expectations for The Last Jedi ended up not enjoying the movie if it didn’t meet their expectations. Conversely, Bonus said that those who didn’t expect much from The Last Jedi were happy to have their expectations exceeded. Of course, Star Wars fans whose high hopes for the film were actually met reported the highest levels of enjoyment after seeing the film.

“It becomes a lot less about what is in the movie and a lot more about what you expected it to be,” Bonus explains.

The survey participants were recruited online and asked to predict how happy, sad, and nostalgic The Last Jedi would make them feel three weeks before seeing the film. Then, after actually seeing the film, participants were asked to rate how the film actually made them feel, as well as their overall enjoyment and appreciation for the motion picture.

Interestingly, the results illustrated that humans aren’t so good at predicting how movies or specific events will make them feel. Overall, 55% did not accurately predict how the movie would make them feel.

“We are really bad at predicting how future events will make us feel,” Bonus says.

The study is published in the Journal of Media Psychology.

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