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The Child (Star Wars)

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The Child
Star Wars character
The Child aka Baby Yoda (Star Wars).jpg
First appearance"Chapter 1: The Mandalorian" (2019; The Mandalorian)
Created byJon Favreau
Portrayed bySeveral puppeteers
Voiced byDavid Acord (with effects)
Information
SpeciesYoda's species
GenderMale
FamilyThe Mandalorian (adoptive father)
HomeworldUnknown

The Child, colloquially known as "Baby Yoda" among fans and the media, is a character from the Star Wars Disney+ original television series The Mandalorian. He is an infant member of the same unnamed alien species as the popular Star Wars character Yoda, with whom he shares a strong ability with the Force. In the series, the protagonist known as "The Mandalorian" is hired to track down and capture the Child for a remnant of the fallen Galactic Empire, but instead becomes his adoptive father and protects him from the Imperials.

The Child and the Mandalorian are the only characters who have appeared in every episode of the series. He was created by The Mandalorian creator and showrunner Jon Favreau based upon his desire to explore the mystery around Yoda and his species. The character was further developed in early conversations between Favreau and executive producer Dave Filoni, and the character's imagery was defined by concept artist Christian Alzmann. The Child is mostly a work of animatronics and puppetry, although accentuated with computer-generated imagery.

The puppet was designed by Legacy Effects and cost about $5 million to make. It is controlled by two technicians, one who operates the eyes and mouth and another who controls other facial expressions. The character's voice and sounds were created using a combination of adult and infant vocals, as well as recordings of a bat-eared fox and kinkajou. The dynamic between the Mandalorian and the Child embody a theme of parenting and fatherhood prevalent in The Mandalorian, and the Child character has also raised questions about good and evil and nature versus nurture in the show.

The Child has received a positive reception from fans and reviewers, is widely considered the show's breakout character, and quickly became a popular Internet meme. The Guardian called him "2019's biggest new character",[1] and The Hollywood Reporter has said the character "represents the future of Hollywood".[2] Many writers have described the Child as a key part in the success of Disney+. The Child was kept secret and was deliberately withheld from The Mandalorian's prerelease marketing and merchandise plans to avoid leaks before the show aired. As a result, merchandise of the Child was not immediately available after the show debuted, which some analysts say cost Disney $2.7 million in revenue, but Bob Iger, Disney's CEO at the time of The Mandalorian's premiere, has defended the strategy.

Appearances

The Child is a member of the same alien species as the popular Star Wars character Yoda.[3][4] He is 50 years old during the events of The Mandalorian, but still appears to be an infant because of the pace at which that species ages.[5][6][7] The species has never been given a proper name because Star Wars creator George Lucas wanted Yoda to maintain a sense of mystery.[8][1][9] As of the end of Season 1 of The Mandalorian, the Child has not been identified by a proper name, being referred to by other characters as "the child", "the kid", or "the baby".[4][10] He is the only character to appear in all eight episodes of the series other than the titular Mandalorian bounty hunter character, "The Mandalorian" (Pedro Pascal).[11]

The Child first appears in the series debut, "Chapter 1: The Mandalorian", when the Mandalorian accepts a valuable commission from a mysterious man known only as "The Client" (Werner Herzog), who works for a remnant of the now-fallen Galactic Empire. The assignment is to track down and capture an unidentified fifty-year-old target.[12][13][14] The Mandalorian and a fellow bounty hunter droid IG-11 (Taika Waititi) infiltrate a remote and heavily-defended encampment on the planet Arvala-7 and find the Child. When IG-11 attempts to kill the child, the Mandalorian protects him and instead shoots and kills IG-11[14][15][16] In "Chapter 2: The Child", the Child is present when the Mandalorian is attacked by a giant rhinoceros-like creature called a Mudhorn. As the beast rushes toward the Mandalorian for the kill, the Child uses the Force to levitate the mudhorn, allowing a surprised Mandalorian to kill it.[17][18][19] The Mandalorian delivers the Child to the Client on the planet Nevarro and collects his bounty in "Chapter 3: The Sin", after which the Client orders his colleague, Dr. Pershing (Omid Abtahi), to "extract the necessary material" from the Child.[20][21] The Mandalorian later has second thoughts and returns to the Imperial compound to rescue the Child, killing multiple stormtroopers.[22][23] This violates the code of the Bounty Hunters' Guild, and a group of bounty hunters led by guild leader Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) ambush the Mandalorian and attempt to take the Child back from him.[24][25][26] The Mandalorian and the Child are saved when fellow warriors from the Mandalorian's tribe come out of hiding to defend them, allowing them to escape Nevarro.[20][26]

In "Chapter 4: Sanctuary", the Mandalorian seeks refuge in the sparsely populated planet Sorgan. He plans to leave the Child in a village there under the care of a widow named Omera (Julia Jones), but after another bounty hunter tracks them down, he realizes the planet is not safe.[27][28][29] The Mandalorian and the Child visit the planet Tatooine in "Chapter 5: The Gunslinger", during which the Mandalorian leaves the Child in the care of a mechanic named Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris). The Child and Peli are briefly abducted by a bounty hunter named Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale), whom the Mandalorian kills.[30] In "Chapter 6: The Prisoner", the Mandalorian participates in a rescue job as part of by team of mercenaries organized by Ranzar Malk (Mark Boone Junior). The Mandalorian keeps the Child hidden on his ship during the mission, but the other mercenaries eventually find him. One of them, a droid named Q9-0 (Richard Ayoade), learns of the bounty on the Child and tries to kill him, but is himself destroyed by the Mandalorian.[31][32][33] At the start of the first season's penultimate episode, "Chapter 7: The Reckoning", the Mandalorian is contacted by Greef Karga, who says the Client has tightened his control over Nevarro as a result of the Mandalorian's actions there. Greef proposes that the Mandalorian help him kill the Client and eliminate the Imperial presence from the planet, and in exchange he and the Child will be safe from any further reprisals from the Guild.[34][35][36]

The proposal is a trap, and Greef plans to ambush and kill the Mandalorian and return the Child to the Client.[24][36][37] Nevertheless, the Mandalorian accepts the offer and returns to the planet along with the Child and his allies Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Kuiil (Nick Nolte), and the recently-rebuilt IG-11, whom Kuiil has reprogrammed to be a nurse droid and protector for the Child.[34][35][37] During their voyage, the party is attacked by pterodactyl-like creatures and Greef receives what would have been a fatal injury, but the Child uses the Force to heal him.[35][38][39] Greef is so moved that he has a change of heart and informs the others about the trap.[24][38][25] They devise a new plan in which Kuiil will bring the Child back to the Mandalorian's ship, while the others will kill the Client and his troops.[35][36][37] The plan goes wrong and Kuiil is killed by Imperial Scout Troopers,[40][41][42] who briefly abduct the Child before he is rescued by IG-11 at the start of the first-season finale, "Chapter 8: Redemption".[43] IG-11 brings the Child back to the Mandalorian, Cara, and Greef and helps defend them against an ambush by the Imperial leader Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), who is revealed to have been seeking the Child all along.[44][45][46] He does not reveal why he wants the Child, but says he "means more to me than you will ever know".[47]

After surviving an attack by Gideon's stormtroopers, during which the Child uses the Force to deflect the fire of an attacking stormtrooper's flamethrower back against him, the group escapes with the Child through a sewer grate. They seek help from the hidden Mandalorian tribe, but it is revealed the Imperials wiped out the tribe after they revealed themselves in "Chapter 3: The Sin".[48] The tribe's leader, "The Armorer" (Emily Swallow), instructs the Mandalorian to watch over and protect the Child,[49][50][51] who she formally adopts into the Mandalorian culture as a "foundling", like the Mandalorian once was himself.[50][52] She instructs the Mandalorian to seek out and deliver the Child to the others of his kind, and that until this occurs, the Mandalorian and the Child are a "clan of two", and that the Mandalorian will be like a father to him.[52][53] She declares their "signet" to be a likeness of a Mudhorn, the creature the Mandalorian and the Child worked together to kill in "Chapter 2: The Child".[54] The group departs, and IG-11 sacrifices himself to destroy an entire squad of stormtroopers to protect the Child.[44] After fending off a final attack from Moff Gideon, the Mandalorian once again departs from Nevarro with the Child.[48]

Characterization

Physically, the Child very closely resembles Yoda, with his same signature green skin and long, pointed ears.[55] The Child is small in size, with wide eyes, short hairs, and wrinkled skin.[56][57] The Child is capable of sitting up, crawling, walking and eating. He appears capable of understanding some language spoken around him, but cannot speak except in baby-like babble noises.[58] Gina Carano feels the Child brings a warmth to a series that acts as a counterbalance to the Mandalorian himself, who otherwise acts aloof and unemotional. Carano believes in this way, the Child "raises the emotional level and the stakes" of the series.[59] Anthony Breznican of Vanity Fair echoed this sentiment: "There is an emotional transference happening here. The audience cares more about the unnamed, faceless Mandalorian because he cares so much about Baby Yoda."[59] Rebecca Keegan of The Hollywood Reporter believes the Child displays a form of wisdom despite his young age, describing him as "a Dalai Lama in toddler form.[2] Jeanne Cavelos, former NASA astrophysicist and author of The Science of Star Wars, also believes the Child demonstrates intelligence beyond his years, noting his awareness and empathy toward beings even when their faces or bodies are covered completely, as well as his ability to recognize injury in others and attempt to repair it.[58]

Despite his youth, the Child demonstrates a considerable ability to use and manipulate the Force, such as when he lifts the large Mudhorn creature into the air in "Chapter 2: The Child",[17][60] and when he deflected the fire of an attacking stormtrooper's flamethrower back against him in "Chapter 8: Redemption".[48] Kevin Melrose of Comic Book Resources noted that in the original Star Wars trilogy film The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Luke Skywalker struggled to lift an X-wing fighter due to its large size, so the fact that the Child can lift heavy objects despite his diminutive size and young age demonstrates the vastness of his Force powers.[60] The Child also repeatedly shows a desire to use the Force to help those around him, such as when he attempts to heal the Mandalorian's wounds in "Chapter 2: The Child",[17] and when he heals Greef Karga's near-fatal wounds in "Chapter 7: The Reckoning".[35][38] However, after using the Force in this manner, the Child is often exhausted and slips into unconsciousness,[61][62][63] indicating that the Child is still developing his power and does not yet have the skills to fully control it. Despite his raw natural ability with the Force, the Child is untrained and still depends heavily on the assistance of the Mandalorian and other allies for protection.[61] The Child has a sweet temperament,[2] and comes across as innocent and kindhearted to most of the people he encounters,[61] but is also occasionally capable of violence, such as during a scene in "Chapter 7: The Reckoning" when he uses the Force to choke Cara Dune while she is engaging the Mandalorian in a friendly arm wrestling match.[64][65][66]

Concept and creation

Conception

The Child was created by The Mandalorian creator and showrunner Jon Favreau (left), and the character was developed in early conversations between Favreau and executive producer Dave Filoni (right).

The Child was conceived and created by Jon Favreau, the creator and showrunner of The Mandalorian.[3] Upon learning that Lucasfilm had been sold to The Walt Disney Company in 2012, Favreau began imagining working on a Star Wars project, and was particularly interested in exploring the events after the original Star Wars trilogy.[2] He conceived the Child based upon a desire to explore the mystery around Yoda and his species,[3] and an interest in presenting a character from Yoda's species at the beginning of his journey, in contrast to Yoda ending his own journey in Return of the Jedi (1983).[2] Favreau believed part of the appeal of Yoda was that George Lucas deliberately kept his origins and details about the species mysterious, and Favreau believed that sense of mystery would extend to the Child: "I think that's why people are so curious about this little one of the same species."[3][67]

In mid-2017, shortly after Favreau pitched The Mandalorian to Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, she suggested he meet with Dave Filoni, who had co-created several Star Wars animated series. The character of the Child was further developed in early conversations between Favreau and Filoni, the latter of whom drew a rough sketch of the character on cocktail napkins during the talks.[2] Multiple artists worked to refine the image of the Child created by Filoni, but the definitive imagery came from a concept drawing by artist Christian Alzmann, which depicted the character's makeshift garment.[2] Favreau said of this rendering: "It looked cute, but it also looked a little weird. That's part of Yoda. It can't just be cute. It can't just be a straight-up Disney baby, it has to be a little bit tweaked."[2] The team sought to establish mannerisms and expressions for the Child that would remind viewers of a pet with whom they might share a connection. These characteristics include the Child's ears, posture, and the way he cocks his head.[2]

Disney CEO Bob Iger said of the Child: "The moment I laid eyes on the character, I had a strong feeling that it was going to connect with audiences. So cute, so interesting, so compelling. So familiar and yet so new."[2] Favreau has clarified that the Child is not a younger version of Yoda himself,[3][4][67] but has declined to comment upon whether he is related to Yoda or otherwise connected to him.[4] Both Iger and Carl Weathers, the actor who portrays Greef Karga, have said the Child has a proper name that has not yet been revealed, and they have not disclosed it.[8][68][69]

Development

The Child is mostly a work of animatronics and puppetry, although accentuated with computer-generated imagery (CGI).[3] Legacy Effects, the special effects studio started by protégés of special make-up effects creator Stan Winston, designed the Child puppet and supplied the puppeteers to animate it during filming.[70][71] The puppet cost about $5 million to make,[72] and is relatively heavy due to the amount of wires and animatronic technology inside it.[73] It is controlled by two technicians, one who operates the eyes and mouth and another who controls other facial expressions.[10][74] There are several stand-in versions for the Child used in filming in addition to the primary puppet.[75] The crew of The Mandalorian wanted to use animatronics for the Child as often as possible.[76] However, they also shot versions of the character's scenes both with and without the puppet, so they had the option of replacing it with a CGI effect in post-production if the puppet did not look satisfactory.[76][77] When CGI is utilized, Favreau said they try to make the character obey the same physical laws that he would if he were a puppet, adding: "I think a lot of times CG makes itself too obvious where you don't create parameters creatively that allow the character to keep the same identity and charm."[3]

The voice and sounds of the Child were created by sound editors Matthew Wood (left) and David Acord (right).

The voice and sounds of the Child were created by David Acord and Matthew Wood, sound editors with Skywalker Sound, who had previously worked on various Star Wars projects. Acord recorded animals' noises at a wildlife rescue near San Diego,[78] and used recordings of a bat-eared fox and kinkajou to make the initial version of the Child's voice.[8][78][79] However, Favreau suggested the voice needed to sound more human-like and relatable to audiences, so instead the animal sounds were scaled back and used only for small grunts and cooing noises. Actual infant vocals were used to create the new version of the Child's voice, and Acord used a highly-pitched version of his own voice for some of the more articulated vocalizations.[78] Acord also previously voiced Rotta the Hutt, the young Huttlet son of Jabba the Hutt, in the animated film Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008).[79]

Filming

The character was referred to as "The Child" in screenplays for The Mandalorian, though Bryce Dallas Howard, who directed "Chapter 4: Sanctuary", said she always referred to him on set simply as "Baby",[70] and other cast members called it "The Being".[9] During filming, the director of each episode would communicate with the Child's puppeteers to discuss what was happening in the scene, what emotions the Child should express, and what actions the character should take.[10][59] Director Deborah Chow said in this way, it was similar to providing direction to a living actor.[59][80] Favreau encouraged the editors to test and push the boundaries of the Child puppet during filming, urging them to experiment and attempt to get the most realistic movements and mannerisms possible from the character.[70] Brendan Wayne, a body double for the Mandalorian character, said the puppet looked so realistic that performing against it felt like working with an actual child actor.[71] Rick Famuyiwa, the director of "Chapter 2: The Child", said he was shocked when he learned that the premiere episode of The Mandalorian ended with the introduction of the Child, because it meant he would be directing the next episode that further expanded upon the character.[76]

The Child puppet was extremely popular among the cast and crew on the set of The Mandalorian.[59][81] Chow said: "With the baby, every time it came on set, the whole crew would respond to it. Even the grip department, every production assistant is coming to the monitors, trying to see it."[81] Howard screamed in excitement when she first saw it,[70] and Gina Carano said of the Child: "That was our precious. Our precious is this being that we all end up taking care of in some way."[59] Emily Swallow said she "fell in love with it like everybody else",[82][83] adding: "I was thrilled when they brought him in that little bag for the scene that I got to have with it. I just wanted to snuggle it."[84][85] Amy Sedaris said the animatronic Child puppet made everyone on the set happy: "The minute you looked into Baby Yoda's eyes you just got lost."[86] Likewise, Giancarlo Esposito said he enjoyed interacting with the Child puppet during filming: "It melts my heart, because the reality is, this little baby does things that you could never imagine and when you look at those eyes and that little body, how can you not help but fall in love?"[87] Carl Weathers has said of him: "He is very interesting and very knowledgeable and very cute. I never use that word, but he is a cute little guy."[69][88]

A man with thinning great hair wearing a green shirt looks off-camera.
Werner Herzog, who portrays The Client in The Mandalorian, strongly urged the show's producers to remain committed to the animatronics and puppetry for the Child, calling them "cowards" for considering using computer-generated imagery.

Werner Herzog particularly enjoyed filming scenes with the animatronic Child puppet, which he called "heartbreakingly beautiful".[74][89][90] Chow said directing the scene between Herzog and the Child in "Chapter 3: The Sin" was "one of the weirdest" moments of her career,[59][81][91] because he had so much affection for the puppet and was interacting with it like it was a living being.[81][91][92] She said: "I literally think that he had forgotten that it's not a real-live creature and he had fallen in love with it."[91] Herzog strongly urged the Mandalorian filmmakers to use the puppet for the character and not CGI. While filming one scene, Dave Filoni began to remove the puppet to shoot an alternate take, in case they decided to use a CGI version of the Child in its place. Herzog passionately urged him not to do so and to remain committed to the animatronics and puppetry, saying: "You are cowards. Leave it. Leave it."[76][77] When this story was later told to the public, some media reports mistakenly described it as if the producers of The Mandalorian were entirely replacing the Child puppet with a CGI creation until Herzog convinced them otherwise.[59][93] Esposito has also said having an actual Child puppet to perform against has been beneficial for the cast, because "that space allows all of us to be so wowed by its presence".[75]

Misty Rosas, who delivered the motion capture performance for Kuiil, often held the Child puppet during her scenes in "Chapter 7: The Reckoning". This occasionally proved challenging for Rosas, who also had to manage the weight of the animatronics in her own costume and face mask, as well as the weight of the Child prop.[73] One full day of filming the episode focused upon Kuiil riding the blurrg creature, a process Rosas described as "intense" due to the amount of time she spent on the fake creature and the speeds at which it was made to run. The process was made further challenging because she was carrying the heavy animatronic Child puppet throughout the scenes, and she occasionally needed breaks between takes. Rosas said: "My legs are not exactly long, so I was squeezing for dear life and holding the baby."[94] Nevertheless, Rosas said she enjoyed working with the Child character, saying: "He just melts my heart, he's so cute."[73]

During the opening scene of "Chapter 8: Redemption", an Imperial Scout Trooper portrayed by comedian Adam Pally punched the Child. During the first take of filming the scene, Pally punched the animatronic Child puppet very hard, prompting Favreau to inform the actor that the puppet costs about $5 million to make. This made Pally so nervous that he missed the Child altogether when he tried to punch him in the three subsequent takes.[95][96][97] Pally joked about working with the Child: "I gotta tell you, the truth is that Baby Yoda is a bit of a diva. He's constantly vaping."[98][99][100] At some point during filming of The Mandalorian, George Lucas visited the set and held the Child puppet. Favreau posted a picture of Lucas holding the Child on Instagram on January 16, 2020, which drew considerable Internet attention.[101][102][103]

Prerelease

Jon Favreau has credited actor Donald Glover (pictured) with inspiring the decision to keep the Child's revelation a secret.

The Child was kept secret and was deliberately withheld from The Mandalorian's prerelease marketing and merchandise plans due to the risk that details about the character could leak before the show aired.[3][2][104][105] Favreau said of this plan: "I think that part of what people really value is to be surprised and delighted, and I think that's becoming all too rare."[3] Favreau has credited Donald Glover as the source of that strategy. While developing The Mandalorian, Favreau was simultaneously directing Glover in the photorealistic remake of The Lion King (2019). While discussing music and pop culture, Glover told Favreau that people enjoy being surprised, because true surprises had become much less common in the era of the Internet. As an example, Glover cited the excitement generated by the sudden releases of surprise albums by singer and songwriter Beyoncé.[2][106] Favreau felt keeping the Child a secret until he was revealed would allow fans to connect with the character and "discover the story as it was unfolding".[3] The leadership and marketing team at The Walt Disney Company was supportive of this strategy.[3] Screeners of the pilot episode were not distributed to reviewers to avoid leaks about the Child,[107] and the official Lucasfilm and Star Wars social media accounts did not start posting messages about the Child until about a week after the series debuted, to avoid spoiling the character's debut as much as possible.[107][108][109]

Themes

Parenting and fatherhood

One of the primary themes of The Mandalorian is parenting and fatherhood, particularly through the father-son relationship dynamic between the Mandalorian and the Child.[110][111][112] Ryan Britt of Fatherly wrote: "For years the Star Wars franchise avoided depicting a parent-child dynamic. With Mando and Baby Yoda, that’s finally changing."[110] Vulture writer Kathryn VanArendonk argued that parenting has been the subject of past Star Wars stories, but almost always during later stages of parenthood, rather than an infant in early developmental stages such as the Child. As examples, she cited Obi-Wan Kenobi serving as a mentor to the adolescent Anakin Skywalker, Princess Leia lamenting over her grown son Kylo Ren, or the absence of Rey's parents.[113] Several reviewers have compared the dynamic between the Child and the Mandalorian to Lone Wolf and Cub, a manga about a samurai warrior and his young son.[114][115][116][117] The Child makes the Mandalorian a softer and more relatable character;[5][118] he changes in a positive way because of raising the Child, becoming less selfish and self-absorbed.[119] Several examples of the Mandalorian parenting the Child appear throughout the series, such as when he stops the Child from pressing random buttons in the cockput of the Mandalorian's spaceship, ultimately by holding him in his lap.[110] In another example, the Mandalorian sets up a car seat for the Child in the cockpit of his ship, so he can be seated safely and comfortably during their travels.[120]

The relationship between the Mandalorian and the Child is an example of unexpected fatherhood.[113][119] The Mandalorian feels a connection and parental bond with the Child because of his own childhood, when he was orphaned upon the death of his parents and was adopted by the Mandalorian culture as a "foundling".[113] Nevertheless, fatherhood was not a role the Mandalorian was initially seeking, and he makes repeated initial attempts to avoid this responsibility.[119] He first does so in "Chapter 3: The Sin", when he leaves the Child with the Client,[119] and then again in "Chapter 4" Sanctuary", when he plans to leave the Child with Omera, a protective mother on the planet Sorgan who is willing to take the Child into her own family.[113] The Mandalorian does not fully commit to the role of fatherhood until the first season finale, "Chapter 8: Redemption", when the Child himself is also adopted into the Mandalorian culture as a "foundling" and the Mandalorian is formally declared to be his father figure.[113]

Anthony Breznican of Vanity Fair has noted that none of the day-to-day difficulties of parenthood are portrayed in the series: "There is no shrill squawking from Baby Yoda, no tantrum, no spit-up, no uncontrollable shrieking that burrows into a parent’s psyche like a dentist’s drill shredding a soft, pink nerve."[59] Likewise, Vulture writer Kathryn VanArendonk said the show ignores or does not address many parenting details that make fatherhood difficult, such as what the Child eats, when he goes him to sleep, and whether he wears diapers. She wrote: "The Mandalorian is uninterested in diapers, and so Mando gets to be a very particular image of fatherhood: the guy who doesn't have to sweat the small stuff."[113] VanAnderonk described this as a wish fulfillment fantasy for parents or prospective parents: "a vision of parenting stripped so thoroughly of all detail and specificity that all that’s left are archetypes: the parent, the child".[113]

The Child encounters a handful of other protector figures throughout the first season, including Omera, IG-11, and Peli Motto.[113] Some observers have criticized the series for the fact that the Mandalorian repeatedly leaves the Child alone or in the hands of relative strangers,[111] as well as for making decisions that place the Child in danger. One example is in "Chapter 6: The Prisoner", when he allows a team of dangerous mercenaries to use his ship while the Child is on board, nearly resulting in the Child's death.[111][121] An interaction the Mandalorian has with Peli Motto in "Chapter 5: The Gunslinger" is one of the most overt discussions about the challenges of caring for the Child. When the Mandalorian accidentally wakes the child, who had been sleeping in Peli's arms, she chides him: "Do you have any idea how long it took me to get it to sleep?"[113] She also condemns the Mandalorian for leaving the child alone on the ship, saying: "you have an awful lot to learn about raising a young one".[30] ScreenCrush writer Matt Singer argued the Mandalorian's parenting errors makes the show that much more appealing and relatable because making mistakes is a large part of being a parent.[111]

Good and evil; nature versus nurture

One scene in "Chapter 7: The Reckoning" led many fans to reevaluate the Child and question whether he may demonstrate evil tendencies. During a scene on the Mandalorian's spaceship, the Child observes as the Mandalorian and Cara Dune engage in a friendly arm wrestling match. During the contest, the Child uses the Force to choke Cara, nearly strangling her before the Mandalorian intervened.[64][65][66] Throughout the Star Wars franchise, that ability has been most commonly associated with the Dark Side of the Force, and particularly with the antagonist character Darth Vader.[122][123][124] Sarah Bea Milner of Screen Rant wrote: "The moment is genuinely shocking — and more than a little disturbing."[122] Some reviewers noted, however, that the Child likely mistakenly believed the Mandalorian was in danger and intervened to help.[124][125] Additionally, in the same episode, the Child uses Force to heal and save Greef Karga, a power typically associated with the Light Side.[122][64][125] Peter Foy of Comic Book Resources wrote: "It doesn't exactly seem realistic that Disney would blow its merchandising potential with the little cutie by going all Damien (The Omen) in his storyline."[64]

Nevertheless, some writers have suggested viewers had been underestimating the Child's capacity for evil because he is cute.[66][124][126] Fans speculated the Child could be presenting a false personality or using the Force to manipulate people into caring about him to help ensure his survival.[65] Esquire writer Matt Miller noted that Yoda lied about his identity during his initial appearance in The Empire Strikes Back, posing as a simple-minded observer to Luke Skywalker before revealing himself to be a Jedi Master. Miller suggested the Child could be putting on a similar performance.[124] One fan theory suggests the Child could be related to a prophecy in a past Star Wars work that predicted an evil that could consume the galaxy. The prophecy, described in the novel Star Wars: Master and Apprentice (2019), says: "The danger of the past is not past, but sleeps in an egg. When the egg cracks, it will threaten the galaxy entire." Fans theorized this could refer to the Child, who sleeps in an egg-like bassinet in The Mandalorian.[126] Others have theorized the reason the Imperial remnant wants the Child is to turn him over to the Dark Side of the Force,[122] or for use as a weapon.[64] Moff Gideon in the season finale says: "You may think you have some idea what you’re in possession of, but you do not." Peter Foy of Comic Book Resources suggested this could allude to the Child's potential to cause mass destruction.[64]

Caitlin Gallagher of Bustle suggested rather than building toward the Child becoming evil, the show could be suggesting the Mandalorian needs to find a way to raise the Child in a less violent environment.[65] All season long, the Child has witnessed those around him committing violent acts.[122][65] For example, Vulture writer Keith Phipps noticed that when IG-11 kills multiple stormtroopers in front of him, the Child has a "look of wonder" in his eyes, which Phipps said "is hilarious, but also a little chilling".[45] Some writers applied a nature versus nurture argument to this, contending the Child is becoming violent because of what he is learning based on the actions around him.[65] This suggests the Child is not inherently good or evil,[122][64] but that instead, like all children, he is impressionable and does not fully understand the events occurring around him. He is learning about life and needs guidance as he develops his abilities.[121][122][123] This is why he uses Force powers generally associated with both the Light and Dark sides of the Force.[64] It will largely fall to the Mandalorian to provide this guidance,[121] as when the Mandalorian stops him from strangling Cara.[122]

Cultural impact

Critical reception

The Child has received a positive reception from fans and reviewers,[1][59] and is widely considered the show's breakout character.[8][127][128] Fans immediately adopted the nickname "Baby Yoda" to describe the character,[4][129][130] a moniker Favreau has embraced as "the easiest, shortest, most hashtagable way to identify that character".[4] However, the nickname is not used internally by the crew of The Mandalorian, and Disney CEO Bob Iger said he "got my wrist slapped" by Favreau for using calling the character Baby Yoda in e-mail messages.[68][131] The Guardian called Baby Yoda "2019's biggest new character",[1] and many writers have described him as a key part in the success of Disney+.[1][132][133] Julia Alexander of The Verge wrote: "There’s no question that Baby Yoda is driving interest in Disney+".[132] Carolyn Giardina of The Hollywood Reporter said The Mandalorian "accomplished the feat of impacting the zeitgeist, in no small part because of the introduction of Baby Yoda".[3] Bryan Alexander of USA Today wrote: "There's nothing hotter in the universe than Baby Yoda."[4]

Vulture writer Madison Malone Kircher described the Child as "the latest in a series of cute and viral characters whose fame nearly eclipses that of their franchises", comparing him to the Porgs from Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), and Baby Groot from the Guardians of the Galaxy films.[56] Samuel Spencer of Newsweek wrote that "The entire internet has fallen in love with the character".[10] Anthony Breznican of Vanity Fair wrote that the Child "has become an instant and indelible pop-culture phenomenon. Its fandom is obsessive, transcending age and experience. In an era of bitter division on nearly all matters, there is seemingly unanimous adoration for this tiny alien creature."[59] NPR reporter Mandalit del Barco said the Child "steals the show every time it appears".[104] Wired writer Emma Grey Ellis wrote that the character is so lovable that its lovability is evidence of storytellers and character designers at the peak of their powers".[127] Julia Alexander wrote: "There is no one I love more, real or fictional, than Baby Yoda."[128] Ryan Britt of Fatherly that the Child has made Star Wars relevant to an even wider range of audiences.[67] Likewise, Vox writer Allegra Frank said the Child made The Mandalorian "instantly more memorable and evocative", and alleviated the solitude and tension that might otherwise have surrounded the show's protagonist.[5]

The Guardian writer Zach Vasquez wrote: "The mysterious green tyke has been dominating pop culture and social media ever since episode one." He noted past Star Wars works had featured young characters that have not resonated as strongly as the Child, so he credited his success with the character's designers and special effects.[1] Leah Asmelash of CNN called the Child a "perfect creature" and "the cutest character to probably ever grace our collective TV screens".[134] Mashable writer Kellen Beck called the Child "one of the greatest things to come out of the Star Wars universe".[135] Mike Jones of Screen Rant said the character experienced a "whirlwind of fame" since his release, and that there had not been this much "genuine excitement" about the unveiling of a new Star Wars character in decades.[136] Ben Kuchera called the Child "the best character the Star Wars franchise has ever included in anything".[109] Insider writer Jim Renfro wrote: "Very rarely do new TV characters come along that seemingly unite entire fandoms in glowing adoration. But the tiny Baby Yoda on The Mandalorian has done just that in less than one week."[137] Variety writer Caroline Framke said she fell in love with the character even despite acknowledging that he is an "inherently manipulative product of the most powerful media conglomerate".[138]

The Child was featured on the cover of the December 2019 issue of The Hollywood Reporter, along with the headline: "Baby Yoda represents the future of Hollywood".[2] In an article in the magazine, writer Rebecca Keegan argued the Child is the culmination of several shifts and trends in the entertainment industry over the decade prior to the release of The Mandalorian. These include the decline of the traditional movie star, the growth of streaming media services, the rise of Internet culture, and technological advances in CGI.[2] An online report conducted an analysis of which U.S. states responded most positively to the Child, finding that interest in him was highest in Utah, and lowest in Mississippi.[139] Robyn Bahr of The Hollywood Reporter said the response to the Child, along with that of the show The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, demonstrate that audiences still desire puppetry, animatronics, and practical effects rather than only CGI. Bahr wrote: "If Baby Yoda were entirely 3D animation, he wouldn't have become an icon the minute we laid our eyes on him."[57] Actress Elisabeth Moss said of the Child: "I feel like Baby Yoda has united the country in a way that is very necessary."[140] Later commenting on the critical response to the Child, Bob Iger said the scale of the reaction was "beyond my expectations by a wide margin".[136][141]

Not all reviews of the Child were positive. Rolling Stone writer Alan Sepinwall said the reveal of the Child was a rehash of the appearance of Rotta the Hutt in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.[142] Emily Todd VanDerWerff of Vox described the character as "yet another merchandising opportunity" and did not feel the character was worth Disney attempting to keep secret before his reveal.[143] BBC writer Caryn James said he did not believe anyone without an emotional attachment to Star Wars would care about the Child.[144] Jeremy Gordon of The Outline called the Child the "product of a merciless capitalist machine" intended primarily to generate merchandising revenue for Disney. Gordon wrote: "It's not really Baby Yoda I hate, of course. He's really cute. It's the feeling that I'm being pandered to, that all of this is a foregone conclusion."[145] Emma Gray Ellis wrote that there was some backlash to the Child on social media in response to the character's massive Internet popularity. She wrote: "There's something grindingly, performatively grouchy in leaping forward to damn something that 'everyone' likes, in no small part because everyone likes it."[127] The Child ranked first on several Screen Rant lists about the series, including the most interesting characters from the first season of The Mandalorian,[25] the best characters from the show,[146] and the best costumes from the first season.[147]

Internet memes

The Child quickly became a popular Internet meme.[129][148][149] In the week following the debut of The Mandalorian, the Child was driving almost twice as many social media interactions on news stories about it as any of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.[3][150][151] The Baby Yoda search term saw continuous growth on Google Trends in the weeks following the release of The Mandalorian.[56] There were 2.28 million social media interactions about the characters on news stories in the first two weeks after the release of The Mandalorian,[151] and 2 million tweets featuring the words "Baby Yoda" were sent on Twitter between November 12 and December 5, 2019.[56] When Favreau tweeted a concept art image of the character by artist Christian Alzmann on November 19, it received more than 34,000 retweets and 217,000 likes within one week.[59] Various celebrities have tweeted about the character, including Ariana Grande,[56] Elon Musk,[152] Dwayne Johnson, Russell Wilson, Alex Rodriguez,[148] and Donald Trump Jr.[153] Zach Vasquez of The Guardian wrote: "It's now practically impossible to scroll through any social media platform without being inundated with pics, videos, memes and gifs of the bug-eyed, big-eared tot."[1] The Los Angeles Times included the Child in its list of "2019's Internet obsessions", with writer Christie D'Zurilla writing: "Baby Yoda won the internet in 2019."[152]

One of the more popular memes involved a screenshot from "Chapter 4: Sanctuary" in which the Child casually sips from a mug of soup,[56][154][155] which has been compared to a similar meme of Kermit the Frog passive-aggressively sipping a glass of tea.[156][157][158] Another popular meme utilized a scene from that episode in which the Child randomly presses buttons in the cockpit of the Mandalorian's spaceship,[56][159][160] with most of the memes changing the audio so that it appeared the Child was trying to put various songs on the radio.[159][160][161] In late November 2019, the online GIF database Giphy temporarily removed its GIFs of the Child due to "confusion" over the legal status of the images, sparking outrage among fans. However, they were quickly restored,[162][163][164] and Giphy issued an apology to Disney for having removed them.[162][163] Various sports teams have created their own memes with the Child, including Los Angeles Clippers, New York Islanders, Phoenix Suns, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco Giants, Sacramento Kings, Seattle Mariners, and Tennessee Volunteers football.[148]

Cultural references

In December 2019, artwork of Disney CEO Bob Iger with the Child appeared in the Time magazine article naming Iger their Businessperson of the Year.[165] The New Yorker published a cartoon of a woman pushing a baby stroller and saying to the baby inside it: "No offense, but Baby Yoda, like, blows you out of the water."[59] Ice2Ice, a musician associated with the website The Ringer, released "Dear Baby Yoda: A Love Song" on December 3, 2019, with the music based upon the song "Dear Theodosia" from the musical Hamilton.[166][167][168] The character was also parodied in the December 2019 South Park episode "Basic Cable". In the episode, a character named Scott Malkinson attempts to secure a streaming television show because the woman he is interested in loves the Child, so he believes she will love him too if he gets his own series.[169] The Child was also parodied in the December 14, 2019 episode of Saturday Night Live. He was portrayed by comedian Kyle Mooney in a Weekend Update segment, in which he gossiped about the Mandalorian cast, talked about his future business ventures, and threatened Baby Groot.[170][171] At the 77th Golden Globe Awards, host Ricky Gervais jokingly mistook Joe Pesci for "Baby Yoda".[172] On February 20, the United States Army revealed that a M1 Abrams tank belonging to the 3rd Infantry Division of Fort Stewart in Georgia had been named after the Child, with the words "BABY YODA" printed on the barrel of its gun.[173][174]

Merchandise

I think that part of what people really value is to be surprised and delighted, and I think that's becoming all too rare. It's very difficult to keep secrets about projects you're working on. By holding back on that one product, we knew that we may have had the disadvantage of not having toys available day and date, but what we got in exchange was an excitement surrounding the character, because everybody felt like they discovered him together.

Jon Favreau[3]

Due to the secrecy surrounding the Child, designs of the character were withheld from product manufacturers in the months prior to the release of The Mandalorian. As a result, toys and merchandise of the character were not available in time for the 2019 Christmas season, despite a high demand for them.[4][175] The Walt Disney Company accepted this plan despite knowing it would cost the company merchandising revenue in the short term; Favreau said "they understood the value of it".[3] Iger said if the Child's design had been distributed for toys before the show's release, "it would have gone out to hundreds and hundreds of people, probably all over the world, and we didn't want to do that".[175] Iger reiterated that Disney is a story-first company which has "never set out to tell a story simply because it can become a toy or a game or a consumer product of some sort",[175] and he described the wait to unveil the Child as "worth it".[136][141] The Amazon product research tool Jungle Scout projected that Disney may have lost $2.7 million in revenue because of the delay in release merchandise of the Child;[176] demand for toys of the Child were so high that Amazon customers searched for Baby Yoda products more than 90,000 times in one month.[177] David Lazarus, consumer columnist for the Los Angeles Times, said he understood Disney's strategy, but felt the company missed out on significant commercial opportunity: "The fact that they didn't anticipate that this was going to be a commercial goldmine is insane, and that they let this opportunity slip away strikes me as sheer madness."[104]

Due to the scarcity of licensed merchandise of the Child, many unlicensed products featuring the character were created and sold through the Internet, including via websites like Etsy.[59][104][178] These included felt and crocheted dolls, shirts, jewellery, Christmas ornaments, art prints, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, and more.[59][178] Do it yourself videos were also produced showing how fans could make their own toys based upon the Child.[104] The top 47 unofficial Child products by Amazon merchants sold an average of 1,842 pieces of merchandise in the month following the show's release, at an average of $23 per product.[177] In mid-January 2020, Disney issued takedown notices against several Etsy sellers using the words "Star Wars", "Mandalorian", and "Yoda", citing copyright violations.[101][179][180] Official soft goods such as T-shirts were the first to be made available because they were the easiest to produce.[4][59] The first two official dolls of the Child released were a 10-inch Funko figurine and an 11-inch plush toy from Mattel,[181] which began shipping in February.[104] Pre-orders for the Funko doll made it the top toy on Amazon upon its release.[131] More official merchandise is expected to be released in early 2020.[56][177][182] In December 2019, the Electronic Arts video game The Sims 4 added "The Child Statue" as a purchasable decoration.[183]

Several toys of the Child were announced American International Toy Fair in New York City in February 2020,[184][185] most notably a nearly life-sized animatronic Child toy by Hasbro, which moves, blinks, and makes sounds like the actual character.[128][184] The toy sold out within days of its announcement, with new deliveries not expected until December 2020.[186] Other toys announced at the Fair include a Child waffle iron,[187] Chia Pets of the Child,[188] and a vehicle set as part of Hasbro's Mission Fleet toyline, which include the Mandalorian on a speeder bike and the Child in his floating bassinet.[185] Build-A-Bear Workshop has also announced it will release a version of a Child doll in early 2020.[189] Lego has announced plans for an August 2020 release of BrickHeadz figures of both the Child and the Mandalorian, as well as a September 2020 release of a Lego set for the Mandalorian's Razor Crest spaceship, which will include a small figurine of Child.[190] In March 2020, an unofficial user-created mod for the video game Star Wars Battlefront II allowed the character BB-8 to be replaced with a playable version of the Child.[191][192][193]

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Works cited

External links