The Importance of Baby Yoda
I love The Mandalorian. It's everything I wanted it to be. No more, no less. And while it might not quite wash the foul taste of TLJ or Solo out of my mouth, it's going a long way to repairing the damage. At least until Rise of Skywalker faceplants the franchise back into the mud.
But that's not what I'm here to talk about, even though I manage to find a way to crowbar how much I hate The Last Jedi into almost everything I do, including every stage show I've done since 2016. No, I want to talk about Baby Yoda. Specifically how he has a crucial narrative function.
Because Baby Yoda isn't just there to use his cuteness to fill some marketing quotient (although he undoubtedly is doing just that), he has a purpose in the story. Baby Yoda allows The Mandalorian to indulge in exposition without seeming ham-fisted.
The adage of "show, don't tell" is the oldest and strongest in storytelling for good reason. It is always more interesting to show the action than to describe it later. The problem is that if you have a lot of exposition, telling is a lot more efficient than showing. So how do you get away with telling the audience something without them feeling like they're being lectured?
You have a Baby Yoda.
Baby Yoda is a...well...a baby Yoda. He is someone that doesn't have any experience in the universe of the fiction. He's a tabula rasa, a blank slate. In this sense, he can serve as a proxy for the audience, who also do not have insider knowledge of the universe. This allows the writers the luxury of being able to describe action and events to the character without it seeming weird to the audience.
This kind of exposition dump seems uncomfortable when it's handled poorly. The best (or worst) example I can think of is the video game Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. This is another fictional world with a vast amount of lore relevant to the story but not particularly engaging to deliver. DXMD goes for the 'character dialogue expo-dump', but does it poorly and the dialogue suffers for it.
Much of the dialogue in the initial portions of the game is a clunky mess as characters vocalise things that they themselves would know, but the audience might not. So you get cringe-worthy sections of dialogue like "I know I only joined this task force two years ago, after The Incident - which as you know resulted in the augs, or augmented humans..." It's horrible. Why are you saying things that everyone already knows? "It's April, which, as you know, is the fourth month of the year using the Gregorian calendar."
Try making your spouse some breakfast in bed and bringing it in saying "I made you your favourite, eggs benedict. I know it's your favourite, because you told me when we were dating, which as you know was ten years ago." The response you get is the same one an audience would give you.
And this is why Baby Yoda is so awesome. You expect him to not know anything. He's a baby. An awesomely cute baby with agency (more on that in a later post). It doesn't break the fourth wall at all to have people explain things to him, because explaining things is what you do with babies. This is what allows the screenwriters of The Mandalorian to get away with sneaking exposition into their scenes and having the audience be none the wiser.
It was also crucial for The Mandalorian to have Baby Yoda from a purely mechanical point of view. The Mandalorian is a series about a mostly silent protagonist, noted for his taciturn stoicism. 'Mando' is a loner who doesn't talk much when he's in company and certainly wouldn't talk to himself when he's alone on his ship. This kind of setup makes it really hard to have any kind of exposition. But by introducing a character that Mando wants to talk to, that he wants to explain things to, that is entirely natural to give overwhelming amounts of detail to - detail that would feel weird in any other situation - we give the whole series a pass on expo-dumping and the script is a damn sight better for it.
Contrast this to a porg, which serves no function other than to lay a few more blows on that dead marketing horse you're flogging.
And that, right there, is a perfectly logical reason to love Baby Yoda. For an illogical reason to love Baby Yoda, just look at how damn cute he is. I want one. I've been ripping into Star Wars for years for terrible storytelling mechanics, I'll not be stingy in praise in the instances where it's done well.
This is the way,