SPOILER ALERT: The article below contains minor spoilers about The Mandalorian.
Save us all, Baby Yoda will.
In an era of internet polarization, carefully-packaged nostalgia and mass-marketed pop culture, a surprising new Star Wars character is doing what others do not: he’s uniting people online, and he’s doing it without a merchandising campaign behind him. Yet.
You may be vaguely aware of Baby Yoda even if you haven’t watched The Mandalorian, the live-action Star Wars series that debuted on Disney+ on Nov. 12. Baby Yoda is The Mandalorian’s first mission in the show, and he steals absolutely every moment of screentime after he’s introduced at the end of Episode 1.
If you’re not familiar with the cutest creature in a galaxy far, far away, here’s what you need to know:
- Baby Yoda is a 50-year-old baby. “Species age differently,” one character explains in the show.
- He’s basically a toddler. He can walk a bit, but he can’t seem to talk and he spends most of his time in a floating stroller.
- His babysitter is The Mandalorian, a masked bounty hunter who kills without mercy.
- He looks like Yoda, the wizened puppet Jedi Master who trained Luke Skywalker.
- He’s not Yoda, because The Mandalorian is set a few years after Yoda’s death.
- Everyone calls him “Baby Yoda,” anyway, because the show hasn’t given him a name after two episodes.
- He’s cute. Like, obscenely cute.
Baby Yoda is an oddity in the 40-year history of Star Wars, because his first appearance was truly a surprise. There were no early promotional images or stuffed toys for sale before he appeared on the show. Fans didn’t know he existed until the final minutes of The Mandalorian‘s first episode on Nov. 12. They still don’t know everything about him.
In many ways, Baby Yoda bucks the trend for how Star Wars typically unveils its “cute” characters.
In 2017, for example, Star Wars unveiled the beady-eyed, puffin-inspired porgs nearly eight months before the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Disney teased the porgs in a video that April, released all the details about them in July and dumped a boatload of toys on the market well ahead of the movie’s release date in December.
By the time the movie came out, many Star Wars fans had already decided whether they loved or hated the porgs. It became yet another battleground for fans to argue over online.
The franchise took a similar approach with BB-8, the rolly-polly droid that debuted in 2015 with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Disney boss Bob Iger told Fortune at the time that BB-8 was designed in collaboration with a toy company — and those toys were already on the market when the movie came out in December.
Not so with Baby Yoda. His surprisingly understated debut seems to have won people over on social media — even if they haven’t watched The Mandalorian.
Baby Yoda has even won over Werner Herzog, the German actor/director who had never seen Star Wars before he was cast in The Mandalorian.
“I have seen it on the set,” Herzog told Variety. “I’ve seen it on the set and it’s heartbreaking! It’s heartbreakingly beautiful.”
Herzog added that he was impressed by the puppeteer work that goes into portraying Baby Yoda.
“On the set, it looked absolutely convincing,” he said. “It made you cry when you saw it.”
The Mandalorian showrunner Jon Favreau says he convinced Disney to hold back its marketing division in order to preserve the Baby Yoda surprise.
“The way the cat usually gets out of the bag with that stuff is merchandising and toy catalogues and things like that,” Favreau said in a red carpet interview on Tuesday. He said he wanted people to discover Baby Yoda for themselves.
“That requires a lot of restraint from the people who are footing the bill, saying they’re going to hold back on certain things,” he said. “Part of that was holding back on some of the merchandise.”
Star Wars‘ official Twitter account appeared to let Baby Yoda out of the bag on Monday, with a pair of tweets showing the Mandalorian and “the Child,” as Episode 2 calls it.
Nerdist writer Lindsey Romain seemed to capture the internet’s fascination with Baby Yoda in a tweet on Wednesday.
“I’ve never seen the entire internet united by undying love for something like Baby Yoda and I refuse to be cynical about it,” she wrote.
Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel also touched on the character’s appeal earlier this week, saying that Baby Yoda “might be able to unite the country.”
He added: “Baby Yoda is going to finally bring us together.”
Of course, there are some who remain on the dark side when it comes to Baby Yoda.
As many have pointed out, Christmas is only a month away and it’s a matter of time until toy stores are flush with plushy Baby Yodas.
We don’t even know the character’s real name yet, or whether he is the child of Yoda. Baby Yoda’s parentage has touched off some wild speculation online, including stories debating the sex life of everyone’s favourite little green Jedi Master.
CNBC reported on Thursday that Disney is poised to roll out the Baby Yoda merchandise “just in time for the holidays.” The outlet says that Baby Yoda — whom Disney is calling “the Child” — will appear on a wide range of merchandise, from toys to T-shirts.
Regardless of when the first Baby Yoda toys arrive, the character is clearly a hit with fans.
Like the Force, it’s safe to assume that Baby Yoda will be with us, always.