extremely online

How Baby Yoda Took Over the Internet

Baby Yoda flipping a switch in The Mandalorian.
*flips switch* Photo: Disney+

I do not really watch The Mandalorian. I do, however, watch the internet. A lot of it. Almost certainly too much of it. Which means I, possibly like you, have had a Twitter timeline filled with nothing but Baby Yoda in recent weeks. Upon seeing Baby Yoda — who, I learned this week from a New York copy editor who took pity on me, is not the titular Mandalorian — the reason is immediately clear. He’s adorable, green, squishy, and little. He has tiny hands and big, wide-set eyes and peach-fuzz hair growing over his wrinkly, but youthful skin. Ariana Grande tweeted about him. He made Bryce Dallas Howard scream. He made Warner Herzog cry. That’s the power Baby Yoda has.

That power was also seemingly calculated for virality. Just look at the Google search interest for Baby Yoda, which has been steadily increasing since early November. While searches for “The Mandalorian” peaked on November 12, when the show launched on Disney+, “Baby Yoda” continues to trend upward. (I’m going to at least partially attribute this to the beautiful wackos I call colleagues who have written about Baby Yoda from almost every angle possible.) In that time, 2 million tweets with the words “Baby Yoda” have been sent, a Twitter spokesperson told me when I inquired about the little dude’s sudden everywhere-ness online. If you factor in all the tweets containing images and GIFs and videos, that number is likely significantly higher. The biggest spike to date was over Thanksgiving weekend, which Twitter attributed to the highly memeable clip of Baby Yoda flipping a switch on the Mandalorian’s ship.

There’s a bit of internet wisdom that warns if you are a famous figure, you should avoid holding up a sign because inevitably that sign will be edited by somebody on the internet to say something it originally did not. (This used to happen to Trump a lot back in that simpler time when he was just a presidential candidate.) It’s the kind of internet gag that you can anticipate, a blank canvas for meme fodder. The Baby Yoda switch flipping clip has the same energy. It’s such an easy bit for viewers to reinterpret as a Twitter joke, you can’t help but wonder if the show’s creators weren’t wholly aware of what they were doing when they wrote it.

There’s another scene that feels equally designed to be memed: Baby Yoda sipping from a cup of broth. In case you’re not familiar — if you’ve read this far I know you are familiar, but let me cover my bases here — there’s a popular meme that involves Kermit the Frog sipping tea. The tea being literal, but also metaphorical. You can’t force viral content, but you sure can do your darnedest to create the ideal conditions for it to flourish, like, say, putting a wee cup of soup in the hands of your most adorable character. There’s a nonzero chance this was just dumb luck, but if you have even the slightest understanding of how internet culture works, this was bound to be memed the second the li’l guy grabbed that li’l broth bowl.

The conversation online surrounding Baby Yoda was already loud and plentiful prior to these two particular memes emerging. But each time a new episode offers up a low-hanging meme moment, the (I’m sorry) Force grows stronger. Whereas early on, you might simply have been tweeting pictures of Baby Thee Yoda in his cradle and declaring you’d die for him, now you’ve got Baby Yoda options. You can make him flip a switch and listen to “Old Town Road.” You can drop a picture of him as a reaction to a thread of hot gossip. The easier Baby Yoda becomes to meme, the broader his reach online.

Baby Yoda is the latest in a series of cute and viral characters whose fame nearly eclipses that of their franchises, at least as far as internet culture is concerned. Disney knew exactly what it was doing when it gave us Porgs in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Porgs being, of course, the tiny, cute, birdlike creatures which my colleague Nate Jones aptly wrote “you are contractually obligated to love.” Consider them 2017’s answer to the Ewoks. They’re cute. They’re cuddly. They make a great stuffed toy you can sell for $25 a pop.

An even better example is Baby Groot over in the Guardians of the Galaxy universe. This is another movie I have not seen, but I’m fully aware of Baby Groot’s existence and importance. (The Twitter spokesperson also told me “Groot” was among the top words in tweets about Baby Yoda, along with words like “soup,” “cute,” “want,” and “love.”) People wanted to protect Baby Groot at all costs; now they are willing to kill him for Baby Yoda. This virality is the kind of grassroots advertising most executives can only dream about.

Thus far, The Mandalorian has given the people plenty of Baby Yoda meme options. (It has not, however, given the people that other thing they want, which is Baby Yoda merchandise. Series creator Jon Favreau said he asked Disney to delay Baby Yoda toys to ensure the character’s existence wouldn’t leak in advance of The Mandalorian. The first batch of toys will roll out in spring of next year.) We can only hope the memes will continue and, frankly, Disney can only hope that, too. The best outcome for them is that Baby Yoda continues to offer the internet a blank canvas on which to paint jokes. Given the first few episodes, it seems that this outcome is also the most likely one. We’re all in on Baby Yoda and ready to obsess over whatever micro-movement he does next. Which, again, is good for Disney. But also it’s good for us. See you on Twitter.

How Baby Yoda Took Over the Internet