A year and a half ago, Lucasfilm announced that writer/producer Jon Favreau’s new Star Wars series would be called The Mandalorian and would feature Bryce Dallas Howard as director for its fourth episode. For Howard, already a seasoned actress, Mandalorian would not only be her first major directing gig, but also the first time a woman would sit behind the camera for one of the most successful movie franchises in history. And yet, when Variety asked Howard how it felt to be in this career-making, culturally exalted position, she was clear about what the real thrill was.
“It was of course directing Baby Yoda,” she said.
Just a few months back, Americans might have responded with “Baby who?”—but not now. Baby Yoda—whose formal name is the Child from the Mandalorian, but nobody ever called him that—is easily the most popular movie imp since the Minions and seems on track to exceed the popularity of Yoda himself. Movie critters mean movie critter toys, of course, and while Baby Yoda merchandise already includes everything from video games to a Lego set, the front-runner is Hasbro’s animatronic plush doll that’s capable of 25 different sound/motion combinations. The $60 moppet went on preorder in February and promptly sold out. It’s slated for a Dec. 1 release.
“Will this be the hot toy of Christmas? Yes,” ventured Global Toy Experts founder and CEO Richard Gottlieb, who explained that the Covid-19 epidemic has, inadvertently, kept the cute little creature top of mind better than marketing could. “[At] the start of the year, the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda just overwhelmed everybody—and then the entire culture froze up,” he said. “There’s been nothing else, nothing to distract us. So, we should expect [him] to be highly successful.”
Baby Yoda’s timing has indeed been almost perfect. November of last year saw the much-buzzed-about launch of Disney+, with the Mandalorian leading its lineup of new programming. By the first week of December, the cooing, gurgling little scamp was notching double the social media attention that the 2020 presidential candidates were getting. At the time, Disney chairman Bob Iger said that Baby Yoda’s popularity has gone “beyond my expectations.”
But the reasons for Baby Yoda’s fame also go beyond his cuteness. While the Mandalorian’s time frame is five years after the Return of the Jedi (hence, Baby Yoda cannot be the original Yoda), the lovable and bewitching sprite rekindles devotions for Master Yoda, who trains Luke Skywalker in the ways of the Force in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. That film, part of the original Star Wars trilogy, “was a generation-defining moment,” said Shannon Symonds, a curator at the Strong National Museum of Play. “There’s something about him that connects with people, no matter who you are or what your age is.”
Little wonder, then, Yoda’s heir apparent has won such a following.
It remains to be seen just how well Baby Yoda toys and collectibles will perform during the holiday season, but it seems a good bet that if the little thing can levitate a Mudhorn in the air, moving stuff off the shelves at Target should pose few problems.