Mind the drool: Why everyone has fallen for Baby Yoda
Keep in mind that the show is called The Mandalorian. The title character of the first live-action Star Wars TV series streamed on Disney+ is a kind of masked bounty hunter, hired by powerful people to find a mysterious 50-year-old target (wanted dead or alive, but preferably alive).
The Mandalorian’s quest takes him to a faraway fortress, where he fends off competing thugs to find the thing he seeks. It turns out to be a 50-year-old baby that looks like Yoda. And it’s the thing that will eclipse the man after whom the show is named.
The Mandalorian’s discovery (and ours) has set off a storm that no one saw coming. What they’re calling ‘The Child’ on the weekly show is clearly in the infancy of its 900-year lifespan. It isn’t talking yet, so it can’t tell us much. We know he’s not a young Yoda; the show is set in a time after Yoda’s death in Return of the Jedi. We don’t even know if it’s a ‘him’. So we’re stuck calling it Baby Yoda, even though it is neither.
Baby Yoda is powerful – and we don’t just mean when it uses the Force. It’s a cute little thing, big eyes, slow blinks, pointy ears, an appetite for frogs and bone broth, and a love for naps. And on the strength of that cuteness alone, it’s taken over pop culture. Since Baby Yoda’s debut in the opening episode on November 12, it’s sparked memes, gifs, Twitter accounts, a hashtag with 3 lakh posts, TikTok musical riffs, fan art, clothing lines (the overalls are called Yoderalls), crochet dolls, latte art, tattoos, even Christmas tree ornaments.
Even other celebrities are gushing. The legendary German director and actor, Werner Herzog, who plays The Client who has tasked the Mandalorian with his mission, was apparently so taken with Baby Yoda that when he first saw the character, he wept. What chance did we mere mortals have?
The reason you (and me, and Herzog, and the Mandalorian, who’s abandoned his mission to care for The Child) are obsessed is no accident. The Mandalorian has a $15 million budget for each episode. And Baby Yoda is engineered by a team of master animatronic puppeteers, using the best tech available, to tug at your heartstrings.
There’s a dedicated technician just for the eyes and mouth (to orchestrate that wide-eyed, mouth agape smile that’s got everyone going ‘Awww’). Another puppeteer manages other facial expressions — a head-tilt, the cheeks, those ears that shake gently in sync even when The Child is napping. Something as simple as Baby Yoda shrinking back when a door opens, and looking to the Mandalorian for comfort, requires discussion, synchronised moves and several takes for the expression to come out right.
Plus, Disney, which took over the Star Wars franchise in 2012, has been paying attention. People loved BB8, that adorable R2D2-type ball from The Force Awakens. It watched Minions go from side characters in 2010’s Despicable Me to having their own film by 2015. As anyone who can recognise Taimur Ali Khan knows: the world loves babies.
Who’s The Child anyway? Fans speculate that he might be the baby of Yoda and Yaddle, a female of the species who featured briefly as part of the Jedi Council in the background of Episode I – The Phantom Menace, and died in Attack of the Clones. They’re they only other Yoda-like creatures we’ve seen. And the timeline certainly aligns to result in a 50-year-old baby.
But there’s a twist: baby-making is forbidden for Jedi. Remember the last Jedi baby? Little Anakin who grew up to become Darth Vader? The Child may well be another result of rule-breaking.
It’s also likely that Baby Yoda is a clone of Yoda, the old master who trained Luke Skywalker. The Client has been working with a doctor of a race that used cloning tech to create those clone troopers in Episode II.
Perhaps he’s a reincarnation. Maybe he’s a horcrux, say Reddit fans who’ve long dreamed up Star Wars-Harry Potter crossovers. If he turns out to be a she, does that make her a Disney princess?
While we work that out, seven of eight episodes of The Mandalorian have aired. And Disney is doing what it does best: Mythmaking, merchandising and marketing. Baby Yoda has gently used the Force to steer the conversation away from the technical glitches of the Disney+ launch. The streaming service has more than 22 million subscribers. It’s created a talking point with a Star Wars show. And with Baby Yoda, it’s got an internet-ready gimmick that keeps viewers hooked before the next Star Wars film, Rise of Skywalker, hits theatres around Christmas.
Yes. Hmmm. A good move this is. But as Yoda himself would have said it: Wait until Baby Yoda speaks we must.