Baby Yoda (how a return to basics sometimes works)

The Mandalorian series writer Jon Favreau at San Diego Comic Con in 2012. Image courtesy of Genevieve Via Flickr.

Just two years ago, Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released into theaters, and one might have thought the Star Wars franchise would up and die like a snotty child so carried away with their own amusement that they forgot they were poking a live bear known as the cosmically committed Star Wars fanbase. Fires were set ablaze in forests, storms were brought down to wreck suburban homes, and tsunamis flooded the streets of every major city on both coasts of the U.S.; at least that was what was occurring in the minds of everyone on Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube that happened to be a Star Wars fan. While I will not give my own opinion on the film itself or even whether or not the fans deserved to cause such commotion, Walt Disney Studios realized an important lesson: introducing radically different ideas to a beloved series will almost never please the target audience in an efficient way. As Abraham Lincoln said, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Did I just quote one of the most important United States presidents in history in an article about Baby Yoda? Yes, but only because Abraham Lincoln and said adorable alien both evince the idea that traditional honesty and simplicity may just be what actually wins over a crowd.

Many factors other than Baby Yoda’s charm must be considered when trying to evaluate what has made Disney’s The Mandaloriansuch a success: the classic production design and excellent special effects (the budget of $15 million per episode really shows), the cast of familiar yet thought-out characters, and the sincere, adventure-focused storytelling of writer Jon Favreau. To predict Favreau’s competence on this project should have been obvious a year ago, since he has succeeded in the past with hits including 2003’s Elf, 2014’s Chef, and the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself, 2008’s Iron Man. Bringing these other elements to light may make Baby Yoda appear as a smaller gear in a larger machine, but they only prove the fundamental idea behind Baby Yoda to be true. Depth, complexity, twists, and even subversions of expectations will only carry appeal to so many people for so much of the time (see, the Abraham Lincoln quote does come to relevance), while putting honest work into simple ideas with a great deal of potential will certainly make for engaging entertainment, regardless of if the viewer already enjoys the established media. This is not to say that playing things as safely as possible will conjure a success every time, since both Dark Phoenix and Terminator: Dark Fate both proved that playing it too safe could lead to dark box office results due to uninvested audiences. Traditional ideas require mixing up when reused so as to not turn every single element of one’s show into a cliche.

While the series is analogous to old western fi lms, the cast and crew throughout The Mandalorian use just enough of the right combinations to bring the familiar yet interesting characters to life. The Mandalorian himself parallels Baby Yoda strongly, at least from a production point-of-view. A previously popular icon that is revamped into something new with a unique purpose in the story and the personality of a well-known archetype; it is no wonder why people love the rugged, quiet, and capable bounty hunter as a contrast to the silly, loveable, and often too lucky infant. Both are characters audiences have seen many times, but it is the commitment by Jon Favreau and crew to figure out what traditional ideas work and which do not that makes them feel unique. There appears to be a lot of focus by Favreau and company when mixing their ingredients into the pot of the industrial Disney kitchen. Hopefully, with the next season already ordered for the Fall of 2020, not only will The Mandalorian prove to strike gold by following through on the ideas set up in its adolescent episodes, but it will also prove to other media companies that less is more. Especially when that less is the cutest internet trend to arise in years.



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