There is a lot that happens very quickly throughout the grand, saga-ending finale that is Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker, some of which is more than a little messy. But this is not a post where we’re going to get into all that. No, we’re gathered here to discuss the indisputable breakout star of the movie, and the requisite cute li’l guy of this Star Wars installment: Babu Frik. He’s small, he’s grumbly, he has dextrous hands, he speaks his own cute language (voiced by the Scottish great Shirley Henderson), and he is blissfully uninvolved in the movie’s various attempts to wrangle all the conflicting Star Wars lore. We regret to say that we love him.
Babu, as his friends (which we’ve decided to appoint ourselves) just might call him, is a little droidsmith who hangs out with Keri Russell’s badass helmet girl Zorii Bliss on her snowy planet and happens to be crucial to the plot of the movie because he can rewire C-3PO and allow him to translate the Sith language, which will [waves hands] let Rey and Poe and Finn find a device that will lead them to the potential location of Emperor Palpatine or something. Thankfully, other than his crucial droid skills, Babu doesn’t have to pontificate about the plot, and mostly just gets to sass C-3PO and, in the process of rebooting him, set up some silly little jokes about how 3PO can’t remember things anymore. Babu is most notable for the fact that his hands are disproportionately larger than his tiny body, and that he moves like an old-fashioned Star Wars character, with the kind of practical puppetry you might see in a cantina, for instance.
What makes Babu Frik so delightful, however, is precisely that he’s pretty much unnecessary to the plot. So much of The Rise of Skywalker is devoted to exposition, to dumb characters announcing that they suddenly have to go from one planet to the next, shouting about various prism-shaped MacGuffins, or unloading brief bits of information about their backstories before charging into the battle. Babu, by contrast, mostly just reminds you that the Star Wars galaxy is full of so many weird creatures we haven’t met yet, and there’s some delight in the pleasure of their existence. He’s akin to Baby Yoda, who is arguably cuter, but without the weight laid upon Baby Yoda of Star Wars lore and mystery. We know that Baby Yoda will have to be important in the grand scheme of things because we’ve already met a very important member of its species. Babu Frik is important mostly just because he can fix things and seems fun.
Babu Frik is also one part of Rise of Skywalker that most resembles the previous movie, The Last Jedi, which was filled with weird funny creatures on the casino world of Canto Bight, with the oh-so-cute porgs and, of course, the grumbly judgmental fish nuns. That movie may have pissed off a small, but very loud, portion of Star Wars viewers by making bold decisions about the movie’s central characters, but it showed a heartening interest in expanding the scope of its universe. Look, Rian Johnson seemed to imply, there are so many other cool things around the corner if you just stop focusing on those damn dynastic force-sensitive families for a second. Picking up the baton from Johnson, Abrams focuses pretty much entirely on the force-sensitive families, to this movie’s detriment, and also in a way that narrow’s the franchise’s field of vision. If you don’t take detours away from the Skywalkers into other nooks and crannies in the galaxy, where do you take this series once the Skywalker saga is over?
Babu Frik is not nearly important enough to land his own movie, but to my mind, creatures like him are the most interesting possible answer to that question. The thing that Star Wars has, aside from its grand mythology, is a whole playground full of weird space beings and planets and customs that Disney could wander around in, if only they could pull themselves away from stories about their most recognizable characters for a second. Maybe that wouldn’t give them the box-office guarantees that they want, but there’s definitely a constituency out there that would want to see more of weird beings like Babu Frik. Perhaps there’s a story in how he and Keri Russell first met. Maybe it was after she moved across the galaxy to chase a guy when she was first going to space college, and then had to decide between him and another guy and recorded a lot of voice notes about it. I realize this is just Felicity: In Space, and With Babu Frik, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.