By now, the adorably ambiguous enunciations and coos of The Mandalorian’s Baby Yoda, a.k.a. The Child, are well known to Star Wars fans who have embraced the runaway hit launch title of streaming platform Disney+. However, as the show’s sound designer reveals, the seemingly simple samples were the culmination of a process that started in a completely different direction.
David Acord, a veteran sound editor who recently earned an Oscar nomination – his second overall – for his work on Sequel Trilogy closer Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, recently appeared on THR’s “Behind the Screen” podcast, on which he explains the surprising creative direction that both he and series creator Jon Favreau explored to create Baby Yoda’s voice before ultimately conjuring the auditory pièce de résistance that helped make the character the meme-spawning global pop culture phenomenon we now know. As Acord explains of the Baby Yoda voice process:
“I was recording animals at this wildlife rescue outside of San Diego. Two of the animals I recorded had this really cute, almost childlike quality to them. One was a bat-eared fox and one is a kinkajou. The initial [The Child] vocals were just made up of those two creatures.”
However, the animalistic audio wasn’t enough for Favreau, who felt Baby Yoda’s voice needed more anthropomorphic infant qualities. As Acord continues:
“Then Jon Favreau thought that they needed to be more human-sounding, something a little more relatable. So, we dialed way back on the animal part, and now that’s just there for little grunts and coos and purring – that’s really what the animal vocals are used for now. We used some real baby vocals for when he [The Child] gets really fussy and that kind of thing. Then I have some of my own vocals in there, too, for more of the articulated vocalizations, pitched way up. – So, it’s a combination of things.”
Of course, the Baby Yoda phenomenon has – in a poetic parallel to the character’s youth – injected new life to the Star Wars franchise, which just pulled past the finish line with December 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker. While that film is a certified global financial smash in true franchise fashion, having just passed the $1 billion worldwide mark, it also represents the (some might say welcome) end of the first unofficial phase of Disney’s tenure of the property, which will likely be remembered for its dangerous oversaturation of films. Indeed, upon its November 12, 2019 premiere, The Mandalorian signaled a more methodical strategy less focused on frequent film releases, instead bringing a back-to-basics presentation that evokes classic franchise motifs in a new serial format on a new platform.
Moreover, Baby Yoda is the subject of a flood of merchandise that has yet to be sold, due to Favreau and the creative coalition keeping the character a secret. Consequently, said flood has, in a way, brought the Star Wars franchise full circle, back to the days when the surprise nature of the 1977 original film’s success left it without proper merchandise (which takes up to a year in advance to produce), resulting in IOU efforts like Kenner’s infamous “empty box” Early Bird Set, which marketed vouchers to children for the first crack at belated action figures for the following year. Likewise, shortly after The Mandalorian’s grinning green infant started stealing hearts back in November 2019, the action figures, dolls and miscellaneous tchotchkes that everyone wanted right away were immediately previewed for their release… in May 2020.
Well, as a wise character famously said, “Having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” – Wait a minute, that’s the wrong franchise! Sorry.