Complaining about cute things, on an internet specifically engineered to deliver us cute things, carries the risk of sounding an like an unbearable scold. What’s wrong with cute things? You hate fun? Do you have no soul?, advocates of hedgehogs and Korean Pomeranians and inter-species friendships might reply.
But this is my blog, and my website, so I’m gonna talk about a cute thing I could do without. The Mandalorian, which is set in the Star Wars universe, is the flagship show of Disney+, the media corporation’s newly launched streaming service that collects almost all of its film and TV offerings under one banner — plus the Marvel movies, and the Star Wars movies, and a soon-to-be-steady stream of original shows that take place in those respective universes. The Mandalorian, which is directed by Jon Favreau and stars a lineup of critically respectable actors (Pedro Pascal, Nick Nolte, uhhhh Werner Herzog), takes place a few years after The Return of the Jedi, and centers on an unnamed bounty hunter from the fictitious planet Mandalore — same as Star Wars fave Boba Fett, to whom he bears a visual resemblance. (If you are not a dork, think about it like a movie about an American bounty hunter called The American, like the actual film The American.)
The show has received mostly positive reviews; by now the Disney-Marvel-Lucasfilm content machine operates so efficiently they never really do worse than “aggressively fine.” But the intricacies of the plot, the quality of the acting, and the meticulousness of the cinematography haven’t received as much combined attention as one standout character: Baby Yoda.
THIS IS NOW A BABY YODA STAN ACCOUNT pic.twitter.com/az6FdLrYje— 𝐌𝐈𝐀 (@gyIIenhaII) November 19, 2019
Love me you will. pic.twitter.com/f6TcRo0JkK— Baby Yoda (@BabyYodaBaby) November 19, 2019
Aw. Awwww. Isn’t he a little darling thing? A sweetie honey diamond? A sweetie baby precious angel, whom I want to suck into my orbit like the Death Star’s tractor beam, and squeeze with the strength of Darth Vader’s force choke? Is your soul not stirred by the curious expression? Do your parental instincts not kick in? Don’t you want to swaddle him against your chest? Aren’t you searching Etsy for “baby yoda doll” right now? Does he not inspire you to tweet a GIF of him (any one, they’re all delightful) with a caption like, “we stan” or “I would die for him” or “BA [hand clap emoji] BY [hand clap emoji] YO [hand clap emoji] DA [hand clap emoji]”?
I’m sorry, but no. Obviously Baby Yoda is cute, in the way of those hedgehogs and Korean Pomeranians and cows who befriend goats. The wide eyes, the tufts of fur on the ears, the tiny lil’ hand he stretches when using his already considerable Force powers… I almost love him. Don’t you? Werner Herzog cried when he saw him, and he made Fitzcarraldo — he knows how to recognizable improbable and groundbreaking beauty.
Star Wars has a long history of introducing cute aliens for the kids to latch onto. The Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, the Porgs in The Last Jedi, Jar-Jar Binks (sort of) — it’s a dynamic old as the series itself. Marvel has done this in recent years, too: 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy introduced the character of Baby Groot, a diminutive version of the monosyllabic tree-based hero whose adorable dancing and expressions have been chronicled in GIFs and toys and fan art the world over. (That’s not considering Marvel’s long tradition of baby-inspired heroes, like the X-Babies.)
Hence Baby Yoda, because… why not, if there’s a storytelling reason like he’s really powerful and unique, and the Mandalorian has to protect him? (To be painfully clear, this is not a literal baby version of Yoda, the wise Jedi Master from the Star Wars movies we know and love — his species has never been officially named, so “Baby Yoda” is a colloquial nickname.) It’s a license to print money, given the Star Wars merchandising empire, and the upcoming holiday season, and the fact that he’s so freakin’ widdle and charming.
But, and I am sorry to be a gigantic hater, he is widdle and charming by design, the product of a merciless capitalist machine bent on one goal: buy our shit. It’s the logical endpoint of a sinister company with decades of experience at tapping deeply into the human need to nurture something small and charming, literally designed in a lab to provoke devotion and love. Given The Mandalorian’s adult pretensions, it’s not even like anyone can credibly claim this is for the kids, like the Ewoks and the Porgs and Jar-Jar. It’s for their parents, who signed up for the service in order for the cartoons, and the nerds, who refuse to graduate into more adult pleasures and also really love merchandise. The Baby Yoda Funko Pop is surely in development.
Alright, maybe that’s needlessly cynical — after all, isn’t that the ultimate goal of any commercially accessible art? Sure. But the Disney-Marvel-Lucasfilm content machine is historically singular: following its merger with Fox, Disney now commands 35 percent of the film industry’s market. It’s not uncharitable to suggest they’re bent on repressive domination, especially when you consider how their original content has controlled the box office for the last 10 years and counting, and their plans for infinite more Star Wars and Marvel movies. They don’t want you to care about other content; they want you to care about this.
So credit to Disney for mastering the game, for employing a million hyper-competent graphic artists and a million marketing executives who’ve focus-tested Baby Yoda across America to conclude that it will inspire a million viral tweets. And from here, why not keep the baby train rolling as long as possible? Why not Baby Chewbacca? Baby Jawas? Baby C-3PO? Baby Darth Maul? Let us all float on a sea of baby-inspired cultural detritus to prevent us from glimpsing the vast depth below, given Disney’s tireless resources and monastic intent on staying in the news cycle.
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. I know Disney thinks it knows what we want; given the response to Baby Yoda, they’re not wrong. But it’s not what we need.