As The Rise of Skywalker readies to put a bow on a chapter in Star Wars lore, the franchise's omnipresence has shifted its fandom

With all due respect to Greta Thunberg and Billie Eilish, nobody had a better 2019 than Baby Yoda. The real star of the Disney+ flagship Star Wars series The Mandalorian, the little green puppeteering/CGI marvel (aka "the Child") might be the most adorable creature ever created. He's instantly vaulted near the top of the Star Wars character pantheon, become a hyper-memeable internet sensation, and Laura Dern even said she spotted him at a basketball game (???). He's dominated Star Wars discussion.

Oh, on that note, The Rise of Skywalker, the (alleged) final chapter in the nine-film saga that began in 1977, hits theaters this week. It's kind of weird that that doesn't feel like a bigger deal, right? While we love him with every fiber of our beings, has Baby Yoda become the empty-calorie sweet treat that's ruined our appetite for the main course? Perhaps. But a clearer culprit is Disney, which has turned the franchise into an even more omnipresent force of the Force.

Here's the thing: Star Wars has always been the dominant culture. You can't make an inflation-adjusted $3.06 billion dollars at the box office with a niche product. But during the 16 dormant cinematic years between 1983's Return of the Jedi and 1999's The Phantom Menace, Star Wars became something that the actively nerdy among us had to seek out through expanded universe novels, action figure magazines, video gaming and other less zeitgeist-focused outlets. So growing up a Star Wars megafan in the 1990s, it felt like my own little corner of the galaxy (albeit one far, far away). But it's hard not to feel like the combination of Disney lordship over the franchise and modern technology has somewhat dampened that kyber crystal-powered fandom spark.

There's no mistaking that Star Wars has been commodified better than any pop culture entity. In addition to his creative brilliance, George Lucas was undeniably a merchandising genius. But while his characters adorned everything from action figures to Taco Bell meals, he kept the actual filmed depictions of his universe to a minimum. This was in part because moviemaking technology wasn't advanced enough to fully realize his visions, but he also understood the value of scarcity. Everybody freaked out when The Phantom Menace arrived in 1999 because it had been over a decade and a half since a Star Wars film.

To put it mildly, Disney has not adhered to this philosophy. After acquiring the Star Wars rights from Lucas in 2012, the company decided to accelerate the Star Wars release schedule in a manner that's closer to its Marvel monoculture saturation than Lucas' blueprint. Starting with 2015's The Force Awakens, Disney has released a Star Wars movie every year. The results? Not great. It turns out there's something special in scarcity. After Solo underperformed last year, Disney scrapped multiple Star Wars films in development.

It took Lucas nearly 28 years to make six Star Wars movies. Rise of Skywalker marks Disney's fifth in five years. It's hard to internally generate the same hype when fandom schedules become routine.

Part of the issue was that Disney tried too hard to stick to standard Star Wars storytelling formulas with the spin-offs. Why not try a galactic Boba Fett noir/spy thriller, or make Solo a buddy comedy? Thankfully, Disney appears to be learning while pushing into the television realm with the Western adventure-of-the-week style of The Mandalorian.

The internet has also made it less fun to be a Star Wars fan. While the web's early days offered intriguing connections speculating about the prequels, things have gone overboard with further technological breakthroughs. Social media has platformed the worst Star Wars "fans."

You think Mos Eisley spaceport is a wretched hive of scum and villainy? Just wait till you check out Twitter.

The human womp rats made it their mission to tear down The Last Jedi for a litany of what they perceived as felony-level crimes against the franchise. Luke Skywalker wouldn't act like that! Rey's parents have to matter! The film is too feminine! The trolls even online harassed actress Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose Tico, to the point where she left social media and needed therapy. It's hard to muster up the same enthusiasm for something when you don't want to be associated with a loud minority of cretins attempting to hijack the franchise you love.

My peak Star Wars fandom is probably in the rearview mirror, but there's still enough there to love even if it's become more challenging. I have no idea what Rise of Skywalker will bring, but the possibilities have me buzzing. I'm delighted by the idea of Twitter's Sith edgelords choking on a rumored film trilogy with The Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson at the helm. And, of course, I remain vigilant in protecting Baby Yoda at all costs.

There have been disturbances in the Force, but the Force is still strong with this one. ♦

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    About The Author

    Seth Sommerfeld

    Seth Sommerfeld is a freelance contributor to The Inlander and an alumnus of Gonzaga University.