'The Acolyte' and the Long-Awaited Death of Review-Bombing

You know you’ve gone too deep into YouTube fandom when you can’t remember which dude with an expensive microphone told you what while speaking straight to camera.

Still, earlier this week, that was the particular sarlacc pit I had been sucked into. Word had spread that fans were review-bombing The Acolyte on Rotten Tomatoes and curiosity got the best of me. First, I watched this dude-with-a-mic video, which claimed that Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy doesn’t like Star Wars fans and “that [Lucasfilm] started attacking the fans before the show even came out; that was to tell you that they knew they had a pile of trash.”

Another ballcapped person noted, “The main reason why this show is such a debacle is because it doesn’t feel like Star Wars … Fans like me—longtime fans like us—we’re not buying this crap. This is garbage, and we gotta call ’em out for it.” After that it was this, which explained that “the very things fans complain about are the very virtue signals the Hollywood establishment has invested so much into they simply can’t accept the audience not responding to them.” In turn, the video’s narrator concluded, the industry blames review-bombing.

It’s hard to say that any of the YouTube pundits were “wrong” or “right”—and doing so would be a surefire way to become the subject of the next analysis video. (Fast-forward to 13:51 to watch my floating head be yelled at by Carrie Fisher.) What I will suggest is this: Everyone is just fighting about fighting now.

For perspective, here’s what happened: The Acolyte hit Disney+ on June 4. The critical score on the Tomatometer sat somewhere in the 80+ percent range—not quite “Certified Fresh” but pretty solid. In the intervening weeks, the audience score plummeted and now hovers around 13 or 14 percent, which has led to reports that the show was being review-bombed, aka hit with bad-faith negative audience reviews. Since some reports connected this flood of bad scores to the show’s diverse cast and LGBTQ+ themes—er, “lesbian space witches”—there’s been debate about whether the poor reviews were coming from homophobic, racist, or misogynist corners of the fandom.

Last week, The Hollywood Reporter asked showrunner Leslye Headland (Russian Doll) about the response to the show. While stipulating that she didn’t think her show was “queer with a capital Q,” Headland said it was disheartening “that people would think that if something were gay, that would be bad … it makes me feel sad that a bunch of people on the internet would somehow dismantle what I consider to be the most important piece of art that I’ve ever made.”

These comments led to a bunch of reaction videos, which is how I ended up in the YouTube rabbit hole. Each video I watched had lots of nuance, but one theme kept coming up that seems to be the heart of the problem: Reviewers aren’t bigots, they just think The Acolyte is garbage and “not Star Wars”; Disney’s ownership of Lucasfilm is ruining the franchise, and these pissed-off fans are posting reviews to point out the show’s many flaws.

Taking this at face value, I’d just like to say: Uh, OK? Putting aside personal feelings about the show’s quality (I am a bad queer person who hasn’t watched The Acolyte yet, despite the instructions that went out in this month’s Gay Agenda newsletter; after my YouTube jaunt I’m not sure if skipping this show makes me a bad Star Wars fan or a good one), there’s another argument to be made: Sometimes franchises have bad installments—or just installments not everyone enjoys—and that’s fine.

Star Wars, like all brilliant creations, derives its genius from its malleability. George Lucas’ world-building thrives on the fact that anyone can imagine what’s happening three star systems away. Lucas himself reinforced this by turning to different writers and directors to make The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Disney has maybe gone too overboard with the amount of content it’s made since its $4 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012—even CEO Bob Iger has copped to that—but trying to say that it’s an untouchable franchise that shouldn’t be iterated upon is ridiculous.

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