We need more Baby Yoda in The Mandalorian season 2, and not just ‘cuz he’s cute.
Baby Yoda, the internet’s verdigrised miracle child, was clearly the breakout star of the first season of Disney+’s The Mandalorian. But even though he captured just about every heart in existence, the season still didn’t quite take full advantage of what Baby Yoda offers both The Mandalorian and the Mandalorian — and that needs to be remedied when the series returns in Fall 2020.
Let’s put aside the fact that Baby Yoda is the sweetest and most perfect precious green muffin in existence. Let’s look beyond the reality that The Mandalorian automatically becomes 175% more delightful every second he is on screen. Let’s not be swayed by the life-giving GIFs and memes that Baby Yoda makes so phenomenally possible.
It’s not that all of this isn’t true — it is — or important — it definitely is — but Baby Yoda’s incredible cuteness is (I know, incredibly) secondary to what the child contributes to the overall integrity of the project.
That’s because season 1 of The Mandalorian designed itself around a challenging concept: A main character whose face was unseen, who rarely emoted, whose fundamental motivations were obscured in armor, ritual, and vague flashbacks. He was, to borrow a phrase, a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in beskar.
Like almost everyone who interacted with Mando within the story, the audience was, by design, sharply limited in its perception of the story’s protagonist. That’s a seriously risky proposition, even for a property as forgiving as Star Wars.
Deep, multifaceted characters are one of the most appealing attractions of serialized storytelling, and it’s very difficult to conjure such complexities for what amounts to a statue with fighting skillz and a flamethrower. Effective characters are built through careful recipes of dialogue, expression, movement, and intonation; in deliberately denying the audience access to most of these elements, The Mandalorian risked creating a hollow, alien space just where its heart needs to be.
But showrunner Jon Favreau crafted the story with an ace up his sleeve — the little green miracle known as Baby Yoda.
The child, in its wordless innocence, plowed through the barriers mounted against the usual routes to a characters’ interiority. Without compromising his Code, without dissipating the power of the cool-guy-in-a-mask thing, Baby Yoda allowed the audience access to the Mandalorian’s emotional self — in essence, his humanity.
Yes, Baby Yoda is super cute. But more than that, he’s a canny mechanism too easily lost in the tidal wave of merchandise and memes. In a show that rooted itself in simple stories and stark archetypes, it’s worth focusing on just how capably the presence of Baby Yoda managed to create nuance and through the Mandalorian’s otherwise-obscured interiority.
Baby Yoda effects change on the Mandalorian’s voice too, shifting gruffness toward a revealing softness, even as his words remain as brusk as ever. Take the exchange with Amy Sedaris’ Peli Motto in episode five, when Mando returns to discover that the mechanic has taken charge of the child in his absence. Anger and anxiety, his go-to aggression, transforms into a brief “Thank you” that contains unspoken paragraphs of meaning when he learns the child is safe in her care.
(Or, you know. Safe enough.)
The differences between Mando-with-kid and Mando-without-kid are glaring. In episodes where the Mandalorian and his mission are a thing apart from Baby Yoda the audience loses almost all of its privilege into our hero’s thought process and goals. We’re left to parse the story and the man it’s about with limited senses, like we too are looking through the crappy visor of a stormtrooper’s helmet.
That’s defensible enough in the premiere, working as a display of contrast and diverted expectations. But the diversion of the Mandalorian’s attention has a palpably deadening effect on episodes 5 and 6.
These episodes struggled less because they failed to advance the overall plot, and more because they lacked an emotional anchor to the action. If the character and his unique relationship to the child (and through this, the audience) is the point of this tale, then the fool’s errand of hunting an assassin and an ill-advised rendezvous with dangerously gross old friends are effectively identical mechanisms — and not very effective at that.
Removing Baby Yoda as the prime value of Mando’s equation leaves us adrift, no more privileged to his psyche, his motives, or his hopes than any of the goons that bounce around his armored shell. We must share the exterior view with the likes of Toro Calican or Mayfeld, forcing a hard reset of the audience’s position to an already-challenging character.
What’s more, Baby Yoda is largely responsible for the viable connections that the Mandalorian does manage to build over the course of the series. The child facilitates a guarded protectiveness in Mando, yes, but also openness and trust.
All in all, Din Djarin (as we can now call him, though we probably won’t) is a richer, more nuanced, and more effective character when The Mandalorian allows the light of Baby Yoda to shine through its protagonist. What’s more, the show itself is at its best when it does so. What might have easily been a lukewarm adventure hinging on the aesthetic of a man in a mask became a powerful personal drama about family and mutual strength, in the vein of the very best Star Wars can be.
The Mandalorian season 2 can’t afford to regress on that development. We may have been drawn to the series for the mystery, for the chance to peer beneath that impassive shell.
But thanks to Baby Yoda, it really doesn’t matter if we never see Mando’s face again — we’ve already got everything we need to to power an adventure as intimate and empathetic as it is bound to be epic.
Plus, you know. All the GIFs.