Recently, the internet has caught wind of something so maximally cute and memeable that it has shot its conceptual tendrils through our entire media ecosystem: Baby Yoda. The small creature is of the same species as Star Wars master Jedi/rude-ass gremlin, Yoda, and it is the breakout star of the new show The Mandelorian airing over on the Disney+ streaming service. Baby Yoda is all I know about this show, and I refuse to learn anything else. It’s cute. It is nice. Werner Herzog said that it was “heartbreakingly beautiful.”
Baby Yoda is not without controversy. It has been established that everyone who loves Baby Yoda is a fool who has had the wool pulled over their eyes by executives driven only by money accrued by big eyes and honkin’ ears. It has also been argued that hating Baby Yoda is culturally bad and that we have a right — nay an obligation — to love this weird green lump. The Baby Yoda Wars will go on for many years.
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But here are the facts: I’ll go see a Star War, though I’m not a Star Wars guy. I’m a video games guy. And I want to know where my own goddamn Baby Yoda is.
Video games are always chasing cuteness, but I have never seen a single creature in a video game that made me think the thought “objectively, if this existed, I would put my life on the line for it.” I thought that with Baby Yoda. What is it about this small creature that makes it so good? Is it the oblong noggin? The sleepy demeanor? There is a world of cuteness here that video games have never managed to match.
A running list of cute creatures in video games: Pichu; any given ooblet; BB from Death Stranding; Kirby; Dragon Quest slimes; some other obviously cute thing. None of them hold a candle to the extremely miniature space wizard of the mind. Its puppety movement combined with CGI wizardry gives him the confident air of a real-life incompetent baby. It moves and expresses with the inefficiency of the truly realistic. It has been grown in an intellectual property lab to not just make us consider its cuteness but to believe that this living, breathing weirdo could be out there in the world and that I could, one day, even in a fantasy, die for it.
Baby Yoda or Bust
I have never had that intense of a reaction to a cute video game character, and that might be because these media fundamentally work in different ways. With The Mandelorian, my job is to sit and watch and consider. I see the explosions and the lasers, and the work is having an emotional reaction. My job when I see that Baby Yoda is to feel something. In contrast, when I summon Pikachu out of his techno-egg to eliminate the giant sleepy creature owned by my arch rival, I need it to do things for me. While Pikachu is cute, it is also something that provides utility in the world. It has a use — diluting its Platonic existence as “cute thing” with “powerful tool.” In contrast, Baby Yoda is useless to me.
To generate this kind of deep emotional resonance from a cute video game entity, we’re going to have to accept uselessness. I need more creatures whose entire existence is to wrench a feeling of protection out of me. When Sianne Ngai wrote about cuteness in her book Our Aesthetic Categories, she discussed cute things in the context of a weakness that is a strength. Baby Yoda needs protection, and it summons our feelings like a suit of armor for itself.
BB is my buddy and a piece of equipment. I’ve gotta slay those Dragon Quest slimes. All of them pass through gameplay, and when they do, they lose some of the power of cuteness. Maybe one day we can have our Baby Yoda, but it will require a passive play the likes of which we rarely see in games. But I yearn for that moment.