Why Baby Yoda is so important to the storytelling in ‘The Mandalorian’ (and it’s not just because he’s ridiculously adorable!)

Yes, I know that technically, Lucasfilm does not want us to call Baby Yoda “Baby Yoda.” In the Disney+ series “The Mandalorian,” he is known simply as “The Child.”

However, as soon as the Child appeared at the end of episode 1, people fell in love with this adorable little creature and have been calling him “Baby Yoda” ever since. (Note: In this article, I’ll refer to him here on out as the Child, so that it’s more official, but just know that in my heart, I’m still calling him Baby Yoda).

The appearance of a mysterious child from Yoda’s still-unnamed species was a shocking surprise that very few fans saw coming. Before I watched the first episode of “The Mandalorian,” I’d expected it to be a gritty space-Western, with the Mandalorian (played by Pedro Pascal) basically functioning as a galactic Clint Eastwood.

To a certain extent, “The Mandalorian” was absolutely the gritty space-Western I’d always dreamed of seeing in the Star Wars universe, but it’s also something much deeper and even more powerful. “The Mandalorian” is a story of a man who’s been brutalized by trauma and loss and turned into a faceless mercenary…who rediscovers his compassion and longing for family after he rescues the Child.

Thanks to the Child, “The Mandalorian” strikes that perfect balance that makes Star Wars feel like Star Wars: action, adventure, family, and love.

Why it matters that the Child was ‘the asset’

When the Mandalorian is first sent out to capture an asset that’s actually the Child, the story does an excellent job taking advantage of the viewers’ assumptions in order to catch us off guard later with the “big reveal.”

We hear that the asset is 50 years old, and we immediately think of a middle-aged person or alien. We never imagined (or at least most people I know didn’t) that the asset could belong to a species that ages differently than others and could still be young.

I’m sure that many of us gasped as the end of episode one when that little pod opened (of course, we were all dying to know what was inside) and revealed a tiny little creature who looked like Yoda. We immediately wonder: who is this baby and how did it get here? Is it a dark Imperial experiment, such as a secret clone of Yoda? Will it turn out to be Force sensitive, like Yoda was?

If the asset was an adult person, the Mandalorian probably would have had no trouble fulfilling his bounty hunter contract. He would have turned the asset over, and not felt a great deal of guilt about it.

But seeing the asset as a small, (seemingly) vulnerable child triggers something within the Mandalorian. Deep down he knows it’s not right to turn over the baby to the bad guys with alleged Imperial connections, especially since he doesn’t know what sort of experiments they may or may not do to the Child.

However, breaking away from a long-practiced pattern of behavior is hard, and at first the Mandalorian does leave the Child with the Imperials, in a heartbreaking scene. Thankfully, the Mandalorian doesn’t get far before his guilt catches up to him, and he goes back to save the baby.

The uniqueness of the asset and the feelings it inspires within the Mandalorian serve as the foundation for the first season’s storytelling, as the Mandalorian basically walks away from his livelihood and identity in order to go into hiding and keep the Child safe.

What the Child teaches the Mandalorian

Even though he is a bounty hunter, we never truly see the Mandalorian as a villain. We catch little flashes of his humanity and vulnerability beneath the mask, especially as he interacts with the Child.

The Child teaches the Mandalorian that a job is not always “just a job.” Sometimes, a contract may be morally wrong, and though it requires great risk to break it, that’s the right thing to do. The Mandalorian’s life would have been a lot easier if he just turned over the Child and went his own way, but if he’d done that, the guilt would have eaten away at him for the rest of his life and maybe even destroyed him.

The Child and the Mandalorian’s unlikely bond drives home the theme of found family, which is also a powerful theme at the heart of the Star Wars sequel trilogy. The Child and the Mandalorian may come from completely different backgrounds, but they need each other and care about each other. In becoming a father figure to the Child, the Mandalorian learns to see life as more than just a struggle for survival, and rediscovers the importance of family.

Star Wars is all about broken people — Darth Vader, Kylo Ren, even the Jedi Order itself — becoming whole again. The Mandalorian’s path to redemption obviously isn’t going to be as challenging as Darth Vader’s journey, and he’s already well on his way. Losing his family during the Clone Wars hardened the Mandalorian, but thanks to the Child, some of those old wounds are healing.

Who knows where the Mandalorian and the Child will go in season two, but even if they never find the Child’s original home, I have a feeling he’ll always have a home with the Mandalorian.

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