No matter how frequently it happens, when people online love something obsessively, when they simply must stan, it always brings out the cynics. Their cynicism, in turn, will be understood as intellectual seriousness. As maturity. To wit: This week the internet pledged its fealty to Baby Yoda—the tiny alien from Disney+’s The Mandalorian—and was immediately met with the rationale of Adult Nerds eager to pronounce each fan a nerf-herding sap who doesn’t really understand the object of their affection. It’s a reality created by clicks as much as crotchetiness. Baby Yoda hype has produced beatific meme-collection posts showcasing how many adherents would die for the li’l green cherub, speculations about what role Baby Yoda will play in The Mandalorian, and beyond. Naysaying is the obvious next step. Baby Yoda backlash has already begun.
Take the bait, I will not.
Reasons to be suspicious of the creature, and its popularity, do exist. The best one is that Baby Yoda is a bit of marketing calculus on Disney’s part, a being engineered to be cute enough to move scores of toys this holiday season. OK, sure. There is Baby Yoda merch on the way, but, historically speaking, there have been toys, T-shirts, keychains, and all manner of schwag for nearly every Star Wars character regardless of their adorableness level. Even if Disney didn’t release official items, someone else would, as evidenced by the “black market” guides to Baby Yoda gear that went up before news broke about the official products.
The Star Wars universe also has a mixed track record with its ritual infusions of cuteness. Jar Jar Binks is an insipid scaly rabbit-frog who never needed to exist, and porgs are a mostly plot-irrelevant bit of filler designed to mask puffin infiltration. Hating ewoks is a meme of its own, though the reason most give for hating them—that they disrupt the original trilogy’s supposed seriousness and grit with their mawkish fluffiness—is a bit much. Are the ewoks, who brutally murder multiple stormtroopers and were instrumental in helping the rebels capture the Empire’s base on Endor really more of a distraction than C-3PO’s constant dithering and disassembly? Or do people hate them out of spite because they know they’re supposed to love them, but a part of them can’t help but do just that?
We must resist this ewokification of Baby Yoda, because it hurts everyone invested in Star Wars. There’s something grindingly, performatively grouchy in leaping forward to damn something that “everyone” likes, in no small part because everyone likes it. It’s like when stuffy grown-ups poo-poo anything teenage girls like because they believe their youthful enthusiasm is somehow tainting art. As Adult Yoda says, “Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Yes, people love Baby Yoda. Yes, people are meant to. But suggesting that Disney and The Mandalorian are somehow cheating by making Baby Yoda so cute that it brought Werner Herzog to tears (a real thing that happened) is like faulting a chef for salting their food.
Spoilers: Baby Yoda has done next to nothing in The Mandalorian except float in an egg-cradle, nap, eat a frog, and use the Force to help the Mandalorian kill a beast so he could steal its baby, which isn’t even a very Light-side move. Despite this, Baby Yoda is, in fact, so lovable that its lovability is evidence of storytellers and character designers at the peak of their powers. Typically, building a character out of elements people are sure to adore is a ticket to Try-Hardsville. (If your mind is like mine and only hangs onto bizarro scraps of internet culture, the ultimate example is Mountain Dew’s 2016 Super Bowl commercial, “Puppy Monkey Baby,” featuring a creature that was a nightmarish amalgam of what should have been the internet’s favorite things.) Baby Yoda is different. The character is simply a mashup of the most beloved being in the Star Wars universe, Disney’s cuteness formula, and a superbaby. The adorableness of its innocent corgi-monkey-gremlin face is only enhanced by your memory of Yoda’s wisened visage; it easily unseats Baby Groot as the best babified grizzled genre character. Internet obsession with Baby Yoda was bound to happen—it’s science. Love it, you must. OK to enjoy things, it is.
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