This Star Wars: The Mandalorian article contains spoilers.
The Mandalorian is here. With the first live-action Star Wars TV series come new nooks and crannies of the beloved universe to explore. In the first episode, the eponymous Mandalorian is hired to go after a 50-year old target whose identity is otherwise obscured. This bounty takes him to a remote fortress, where the identity of the mark opens up even more questions about the show and the galaxy as a whole.
After a shootout with armed thugs and a quirky assassin droid, the Mandalorian finally reaches his target, and it’s definitely not who he expected. Inside a high-tech bassinet is a baby that looks just like Yoda, 50 years old but still in the very early stages of its 900-year lifespan. What does this new character mean for the show going forward and for the Mandalorian? Let’s discuss…
What is Yoda’s species?
We don’t exactly know. Not only is their home planet unknown, but so is the species’ real name (if it even has one), which is why it’s simply refered to as “Yoda’s species.”
When George Lucas originally created the character, Yoda was intended as a mysterious creature, an open-ended question in a wide universe. “He’s a mystery character,” Lucas said in an interview with Moviefone. “He’s a magical character. He has no background. He comes and he goes. He’s the subversive secret mysterious stranger that enters the film and then exits at the end.”
Puppeteering and voice acting by Frank Oz catapulted the character into fame. In some original concept art, Yoda is more elf-like than alien, with longer legs and a pointed hat that wouldn’t be out of place on a classic gnome. The pointed ears are the surviving trait that display the character’s fantasy influence.
There is one other member of this species in Star Wars canon: Yaddle, a Jedi Master who sat on the Jedi Council in the Prequel era. She was known for both exuding patience and kindness, and having exceptionally deadly Force powers that could trap a person in stasis.
The species is so rare and mysterious that no one knows what exactly is so mysterious about them. Is it happenstance that their species produced the greatest Jedi Master in the modern era? Perhaps there is something inherently powerful in the Force about them. Perhaps they’re no more or less likely to be great Jedi than humans are.
Episode 2, “The Child,” might offer an answer. Early in the episode, the baby reaches out a hand as if trying to use the Force to heal the wounded Mando, who puts him back in the bassinet before anything can happen (we later learn in episode 7 that Baby Yoda can indeed heal severe wounds). The fact that Baby Yoda is Force-sensitive is confirmed later in episode 2 when the baby lifts the charging Mud Horn monster with the Force. It clearly takes a lot out of the child, a Herculean effort of a task that would be challenging even for an adult Jedi. Remember how Luke struggled to lift his X-Wing out of the swamp? This baby can use the Force before it can even talk. Clearly it has a lot of power, and it makes sense based on what we know about this species that the power could be inherent in its biology.
What does Baby Yoda mean for the show?
Part of the reason the episode 1 reveal is so remarkable is that Lucas has long advocated for keeping Yoda’s species secret. When everything in Star Wars is explained, the universe feels big, but it can also feel rote. The Yoda species remains an element that cannot be canonized, cannot be commodified. It gestures at Star Wars’ fantasy influences while not going so far as to outright explain the motivation behind the gesture.
Adding a member of Yoda’s species to the show is bound to make fans wonder if the Jedi are somehow connected to the child. So far, The Mandalorian exists in the underworld of Star Wars. Characters scrape by on the strength of their wallets and their fists. Jedi don’t often venture into this world unless it’s to stop a crime lord who has severely rattled someone in the upper echelons. Could this Force-sensitive child give The Mandalorian a way to connect its otherwise Force-secular story to the mystical side of the galaxy?
The age of the child, 50, is notable. The Mandalorian takes place shortly five years after Return of the Jedi. That means the alien was born before even the start of the Clone Wars, when the Republic was just beginning its slide toward galaxy-wide coflict. The child could be related to Yoda, but Jedi of old aren’t supposed to have children. So was the child a war refugee? A desperate attempt at continuity for a species that only has one or two members at a time? Or just one of many children gone missing in a dangerous world?
Whatever the case, the origin of Baby Yoda remains one of the show’s central mysteries.
So where did Baby Yoda come from?
Maybe “Baby Yoda” is just what his name implies. As Slashfilm points out via sharp-eyed Twitter users, Doctor Pershing (Omid Abtahi) might offer a clue. The man employed by Werner Herzog’s character in episode 1 has a symbol on his sleeve that might match the one worn by Kaminoan cloners, which implies that this doctor has some pretty specific plans for Yoda’s species. We later see him running tests on Baby Yoda in episode 3, although those experiments are cut short when Mando rescues the child.
In episode 7, the Ugnaught farmer Kuill refers to Baby Yoda as a potential “Strand-Cast,” a term we’ve not heard in Star Wars before. Kuill seems to referring to a product of genetic engineering. If that’s indeed the case, this could be the best clue yet that the Child was born in a lab and not in a natural way.
Cloning has been a part of Star Wars since the very beginning, with the Clone Wars being mentioned as early as A New Hope, but not detailed until Attack of the Clones. This bit of weird sciene is going through a renaissance of sorts, thanks to fan theories about Rey’s orphan childhood as well as the return of Emperor Palpatine. If Rey is a clone, that establishes that Force sensitivity can be transferred to genetically identical people. What if this is a clone of Yoda? Perhaps one developed during the same experiments that resulted in Rey? Or, it’s possible that Pershing needs this Baby Yoda to begin cloning the species. Either way, this baby has the potential to seriously change the fabric of Star Wars going forward.
Other possibilities are more banal:
When it comes to the unknown in Star Wars, there is one direction fans can reliably look. The Unknown Regions, called as such because hyperspace navigation is so difficult in this anomalous region of space, exist at the edge of the galaxy. Some people have found ways to explore it, namely Grand Admiral Thrawn’s Chiss species and some members of the Empire.
Maybe Yoda’s species is from this region? Since the Mandalorian’s adventures mostly keep him in the relatively lawless Outer Rim of the galaxy, he’s geographically placed in the right spot to venture into this dangerous sector of space.
What does Baby Yoda mean for the Mandalorian himself?
Regardless of who he is and where he comes from, Baby Yoda has provided a major pivot point for Mando, who decides to break the Bounty Hunters’ Guild’s code to save the child from the Client in episode 3, taking the reward and the bounty itself with him to parts unknown. This not only makes Mando one of the most wanted men in the galaxy but also a confirmed anti-hero who chooses to do right when faced with a life-changing decision.
Throughout the season, Mando has been most concerned with what’s right for the child and finding a place where he might be safe from the other bounty hunters still looking to cash in. Mando hasn’t found that hideout yet, having been foiled at every turn by competitors, but he has found a heart where the show initially suggested there might not be one. We expect the Mandalorian’s fatherly role to only grow as long as he’s protecting his young ward.