I’ll show my bias right up front: I liked The Last Jedi. I recognize that the film has its problems. Furthermore, I also recognize that there are many valid reasons to dislike the film – but typically, when I really don’t like a movie, I’ll just move on with my life. If I’m feeling especially angry at the movie, I’ll write a review or tell my friends that they shouldn’t see it. And then I’ll move on with my life. So it’s hard for me to relate to the “Remake The Last Jedi” campaign that’s been generating a lot of publicity over the last few days. Not many people take it seriously, but a quick search on YouTube or Twitter presents hundreds, if not thousands of people who genuinely want it to succeed.
That being said, it doesn’t matter how many people are willing to fund a full remake of the film, Disney would never give the green light to a remake of a movie that was already incredibly profitable for them. Furthermore, there’s no way they’ve raised $197,263,600.
So why would they lie about it?
While the very premise of the “Remake The Last Jedi” campaign is ridiculous, and the reported level of funding ($197,263,600!) is preposterous, the total lack of transparency and surprising legal undertones presents the campaign as a potentially dangerous scam for anyone unwise enough to pledge their cash.
The first red flag that jumped out to me while reviewing this campaign over the past several days was their reported level of funding. I first noticed this while writing a video discussing the issue for my YouTube channel, and at that time, the reported amount sat at $36 million dollars. By the time I was filming, it was at $42 million. When I was editing, it jumped to $90 million. As mentioned earlier, it currently sits at nearly 198 million dollars, and seems to be increasing exponentially. If you watch the video, only posted three days ago, it emphasizes how drastic this change has been (and details other aspects of the project as well). While one could justify the insane number stated earlier with the amount of press the campaign has received, thereby attracting more individuals to pledge, basic mathematics rules this as unlikely. RemakeTheLastJedi.com handles all pledge “donations” through a rudimentary Google form, pictured below.
As you can see, the form limits donations to between $10 and $10,000. We can roughly estimate how many donors it would take to reach their stated level of funding. Ruling out the bare minimum donation of $10 and settling on $50 as a solid hypothetical average donation, I figured out that it would take nearly four million (3,945,272) individual donors to hit $197,263,600. Clearly, I set the average donation far too low, right? Maybe it was only a few wealthy benefactors, each donating the maximum amount of $10,000 – surely, this will provide a far more reasonable estimate of total participants. In fact, it would only take upwards of nineteen thousand charitable one-percenters to hit the reported amount (19,726.36 donors exactly).
While the form allows multiple submissions using the same email address – I tested it, and now owe the campaign 20 dollars – the assumption that this is the culprit behind the ludicrously high amount donated is flimsy. For one, it assumes that someone – and more than likely, multiple people – have pledged more than $10,000 at once, towards the singular goal of funding a remake of a Star Wars movie that will never be made. Eliminating the possibility that someone with way too much free time has been “cooking the books” of the RemakeTheLastJedi.com Google form, submitting $10,000 pledge after $10,000 pledge, the only reasonable assumption is that the website is lying about how much money has been pledged.
Now, most of you had probably already come to that conclusion before I illustrated it in painstaking detail above. “So what?”, one might say, “The dumb internet campaign lied about making 200 million dollars. What’s the big deal?”
The big deal is the frighteningly high possibility that RemakeTheLastJedi.com has been committing fraud and stealing money from innocent people – and nobody’s been taking it seriously. This, by no means, is an accusation – but if you stick with me, you’ll see why I’m concerned. For one, there is a deeply suspicious level of anonymity behind this whole project. The amount of attention that the campaign has garnered over the last week or so seems like the perfect opportunity for someone to cash in their fifteen minutes of fame, right? Yet after searching through @RMthelastjedi’s Twitter, and their website, there is no hint of the identity of the organizer – or any of their collaborators. Second, the campaign is being run through their own personal website, instead of a credible, verified middleman such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo. The combination of these two factors allow for very little accountability on the part of the organizers.
Furthermore, while there is a very non-committal vibe surrounding the process of “pledging” donations – no financial information is requested by the website at the time of donation, for example – what each donor is unknowingly participating in is a written contract, agreeing to pay cash, that could be legally enforced by the organizers. According to Frank A. Monti, writing for InsidePhilanthropy.com, “…a charitable pledge is a contract between a donor and a charity in which the donor promises to make a contribution in the future… a written pledge is preferable [over an oral pledge] and donors are well advised to reduce all oral pledges to writing as soon as possible. In a disagreement, nothing trumps the written word” (Monti). He goes on to write that there are “three essential elements of a contract”, necessary before the contract becomes valid, and by extension, legally enforceable. The first element is the offer – in my case, selecting $10 on the Google form – and the second is acceptance – simply the response the form gave me in acknowledgement of my pledge (both pictured below).
The third element is called “consideration” – and this is by far the most nebulous – but the most relevant definition to this context would be the agreement to publicly recognize the donor. In much more legitimate matters of charity, this could take the form of agreeing to name a recently-funded library after the most prestigious donor. In the case of RemakeTheLastJedi.com, it could take the form of say, this offer:
It’s worth noting that the above image was a screenshot from their website on June 22nd, and the award information has since been deleted (but can still be viewed at the end of the YouTube video in their header, if you can power through the first two minutes). Even in its absence, their promise to let the fans’ voices be heard in exchange for their pledge would likely constitute consideration. Again, so what, right? Most people who “pledged” likely have the intention to donate regardless – and those who did it as a prank (myself included) were simply foolish enough to rope themselves into a legally-enforceable financial obligation. If the concept of this sketchy, understated legalese doesn’t make you worry about the intentions of the organizers, allow me to elaborate on why this might constitute fraud.
Even though the total amount of donations being reported by RemakeTheLastJedi.com is likely wildly inaccurate, it’s very difficult to argue that they haven’t had any legitimate donations by now. For as controversial as The Last Jedi was, and with how much press the website has received, it’s almost unavoidable that at least a dozen or so individuals have pledged real, actual cash that they fully intend to fork over when the time comes. The real problem comes in when you consider the motivations for these pledges. The organizers have been very public on Twitter that their ultimate goal is to raise 200 million dollars:
As of writing this, they’re less than 3 million away from their goal. That’s one hell of a motivator for any on-the-fence backer debating whether or not to pledge their cash. Let’s make the entirely valid assumption that their current figure is completely falsified. Put yourselves in the shoes of a real-life, The Last Jedi-hating donor: you hear about this campaign, raising money for a cause you can really get behind, but you go to their website and see that they’ve only raised $12,000 out of 200 million. Are you going to shell out even ten dollars? Probably not – that campaign’s likely never going to reach its goal. Now, what if they say they’ve already raised $197 million? Now you might feel that $10 burning a hole in your pocket. If the campaign’s ostensibly massive backing is the backer’s primary motivation for forking over $50 on payday, they’re agreeing to a financial contract under false pretences. According to what comes up if you look up the definition of fraud, it’s “wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain”. Which, let’s be honest, is a pretty apt description of what I’ve just described.
Lastly, and I cannot emphasize this enough: this article is, by no means, an accusation of fraud or any criminal wrongdoing. As unlikely as it sounds, it is completely possible that everything that RemakeTheLastJedi.com has done is completely legitimate. That being said, the cynic in me wants to assume all of this is a devious plot to rob people of their cash, but to be honest, I’m starting to wonder if I’ve put more thought into this campaign than the organizers have. The point I’m trying to make here is that the portrait that RemakeTheLastJedi.com has painted of themselves is very hard to place trust in. The striking level of anonymity, lack of communication, and lack of structure or planning in what they actually intend to do once the project has been funded all contribute to my general mistrust of the organizers. They say that all the cash will be refunded “if” Disney doesn’t fall head over heels with the idea of letting a random cohort of fans remake one of their most profitable films ever – which they will never, ever do – but again, I find it very difficult to trust the organizers for all the reasons stated above. Considering I now have twenty bucks on the line, I hope I’m wrong.
Guest Writer: Liam Guise