The Mandalorian almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory due to a Star Wars custody battle over Baby Yoda. As Star Wars’ very first live-action TV series (not to mention Disney+’s original content debut), much rested upon The Mandalorian’s armored shoulders. Despite that pressure, Din Djarin’s solo series is a roaring success by virtually every conceivable metric. As well as rave reviews and positive fan reaction, The Mandalorian’s prosperity triggered an influx of Disney+ Star Wars content, and its influence can even be felt in the MCU, with Thor: Love & Thunder utilizing the same innovative filming environment.
Pedro Pascal may star in the title role, but anyone familiar with The Mandalorian (and probably those who aren’t) will know the real star is a small green puppet called The Child and “Baby Yoda” before Ahsoka Tano finally confirmed the youngster’s name as Grogu. Din Djarin’s egg-munching companion is a powerful Force-sensitive and belongs to the same mysterious, unnamed species as Yoda… but his presence in The Mandalorian almost didn’t happen. Speaking to VanityFair, Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy explained, “There was a lot of discussion around whether that was something we should or shouldn’t do… He [Jon Favreau] and Dave [Filoni] debated that quite ferociously.”
Kennedy reaffirms Filoni was only “cautious” about Grogu. He wasn’t creeping into Lucasfilm’s props department at night, axe in hand. Filoni’s reluctance stems from George Lucas’ desire to keep Yoda shrouded in unknown, and as the Star Wars traditionalist of The Mandalorian’s creative duo, it’s not hugely surprising to hear he didn’t offer “Baby Yoda” his blessing right away. Favreau obviously talked his colleague around, but what if Filoni’s cautious attitude won out, and Lucasfilm decided partnering Din Djarin with a green ball of sass wasn’t worth the trouble? From the canny balance of old and new Star Wars to awesome guest stars and breathtaking visuals, The Mandalorian has plenty going for it, and probably would’ve achieved success even sans Grogu. That said, it’s nigh-on impossible to imagine The Mandalorian enjoying the same massive mainstream impact and critical adulation had Jon Favreau’s Grogu idea been altered or abandoned.
It doesn’t take an advertising guru to realize Grogu represents both marketing gold and a massive Star Wars merchandising opportunity (even if said merchandise wasn’t produced quickly enough). His instantly recognizable design and obvious cuteness helped push The Mandalorian toward a wider demographic that wouldn’t typically engage with Star Wars outside a movie theater. More than just a mascot, Grogu’s the perfect MacGuffin in The Mandalorian season 1 – Force-sensitive, familiar and unknown in equal measure, and capable of both comedy and drama. The pea-green protagonist also continues a long-standing Star Wars tradition of using puppetry to humanize alien characters.
Kicking on into The Mandalorian season 2, Grogu becomes the emotional heart of the entire show, his father-son relationship with Din Djarin transforming into an unstoppable narrative engine. After 2 seasons (3 if one counts The Book of Boba Fett, which you might as well), The Mandalorian is fundamentally a story about a father and his child. Take that child out of the equation, and The Mandalorian loses something irreplaceable.
Dave Filoni’s Yoda-pprehension is completely understandable. Had The Mandalorian sauntered onto Disney+ and immediately answered every lingering question about Yoda’s species, both Grogu and his green senior would’ve become much less interesting. Fortunately, The Mandalorian does a sterling job of introducing a new character from Yoda’s race while keeping the species’ aura of enigma wholly intact. The Child simply doesn’t work as well if he’s any other kind of Star Wars alien. Audiences know Yoda’s people are strong with the Force, which sets up Moff Gideon’s obsession over capturing the little guy, while the Yoda connection also opens doors toward reintegrating legacy characters such as Luke Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano. The Mandalorian doesn’t reap those rewards – and doesn’t attain the same mammoth success – if Grogu is absent, or a Jawa, or a Bith, or – god forbid – a Gungan.