If you have spent any time on the internet, then you have likely seen the tiny, force-sensitive creature affectionately known across social media as Baby Yoda. It was a quick climb to viral fame with little to no explanation outside of some very large eyes, some very large ears, and one very, very large heart. How did such a small creature get so big? Why is everyone willing die for a two-episode breakout star?
To answer these questions, Baby Yoda must be seen for what it truly is: an extremely successful meme.
Those entrenched in internet culture have spent the last decade growing gradually more familiar with memes in their various forms. We know one when we see it, to the extent that we don’t even have to think about it anymore. But while the internet has irrevocably changed their form, memes are long established in our history.
Once upon a time, memes were more likely to be expressed through songs, writings, or gestures. With the rise of a global online culture, the vast majority of our memes are now expressed via relatable images or quick video snippets that, while they certainly have grown in complexity, have more or less remained consistent with our knowledge of cultural evolution. In short: we know a lot about memes, even if we’re still learning about how the internet affects the expression of them.
While we often think of them as simple images to scroll through, at their core, memes are ideas. Ideas that spread.
It’s the infectiousness of a meme that truly defines it. All throughout memetic theory, the prevailing idea is that of a replicator—a single idea that is consumed, understood, and elicits a certain level of relatability that causes someone to adopt the idea and potentially express it further. More so than the structure or the format, the overall accessibility of an idea is what makes it a meme.
So it follows that there is a direct correlation between the relatability of a meme and its overall popularity. The more people to connect with an idea, the more that idea is shared, understood, and replicated. And nothing is quite as well understood right now as Baby Yoda.
Typically, memes are only recognizable within certain sects of human culture that have the necessary context to understand them. An idea conveyed through Spanish won’t be understood by someone who doesn’t speak it. An idea specific to Star Wars won’t be relatable to someone who hasn’t seen any of the movies. There are plenty of ways that humans consciously and unconsciously select memes, mercilessly filtering through them. The Baby Yoda meme finds success in its appeal across multiple sects.
Baby Yoda does so well because it is relatable in many different ways to many different people. Some are intrigued by the creature’s connection to Yoda. Others look forward to it as a collectable item. Many, many people are deeply invested in the nurturing instinct that the creature’s babyish features triggers in them. The Baby Yoda meme thrives because every community has a piece of it—reddit, twitter, pinterest. Audiences that, in a very general sense, tend to remain separate are finding a common interest in this single character.
These are divisive times, desperate for some aggressive agreement. By charming people across multiple backgrounds and beliefs, Baby Yoda unites us. As we watch, week after week, we all have a common cause to fight for and it brings us a little closer together. Indeed, Baby Yoda is breathtakingly, cheek-squishingly small, but in reality, that little green frog eater is so much bigger than any one of us.