space parenting

The Mandalorian Let Baby Yoda Be a Baby, and It Was Good

Frogs are friends, not food. Photo: Disney+

Spoilers ahead for season two of The Mandalorian.

When I look back at the most memorable moments from The Mandalorian’s second season, several things stand out. There was, of course, the unhelmeting, and the moment when Baby Yoda’s name is revealed, and that great ice-spider battle. There were some particularly good guest appearances, including the return of Boba Fett, Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano, and Timothy Olyphant, Space Marshal. There was Baby Yoda vibing on the rock. But the breakout that most surprised me was external to the show itself: the dustup about Baby Yoda eating a bunch of frog eggs, which upset a lot of people.

In the second and third episodes of this season, Mando picks up a passenger in the process of trying to find more Mandalorians — a Frog Lady carrying an incubated canister of her unfertilized eggs. She needs Mando to help her reunite with her husband so that the eggs can be fertilized. It’s a very moving little story, except that it’s plagued by Baby Yoda in full Troublesome Toddler mode. He has a documented fondness for frogs (to eat, not to befriend), and when he gets unsupervised time staring at a giant bowl of his favorite snack, he does something utterly unsurprising to any parent. He eats them. And he keeps eating them, even after Mando tells him not to.

Video: Disney+

I am no stranger to complaining about The Mandalorian and its depiction of parenting. In the first season, I complained that the show was a distinct kind of fatherhood fantasy, full of love but also totally unmoored from all the actually hard implications of being a single-father space freelancer. Tsk-tsking about an absence of Baby Yoda diapering scenes is petty, but it speaks to The Mandalorian’s priorities. In season one, Baby Yoda was not really a child. He was a prop to spur Mando’s development.

From that perspective, the outrage against Baby Yoda, frog-egg-eater, really surprised me. Some of the criticism was that Baby Yoda’s behavior was clearly inappropriate, and yet Mando did nothing to stop him. (Aside from saying “No, don’t do that,” which obviously did squat.) Some of the pushback was that Baby Yoda is supposed to be cute, and eating a desperate woman’s one chance of having a family is extremely not cute. I think most of it, though, was about the show’s audience stumbling over exactly how The Mandalorian intended that little snacking scene to feel. Was it comic relief? Or was it meant to be disturbing? If it was meant to be disturbing, then fine — the show has acknowledged the behavior is cruel. But if it was meant to be a little Star Wars-y moment of humor, then Baby Yoda is a monster and The Mandalorian is laughing at the impossible gravity of parenthood.

It’s hard to read that sequence on its own. It does seem twisted toward comedy in an uncomfortable way, to an extent that no reassurances about the eggs being unfertilized can really assuage. But from the vantage of The Mandalorian’s larger season-two project, that little moment of terrible, childish misbehavior feels more purposeful. It’s a season about Mando trying to come to terms with how to parent Baby Yoda, which is a choice about who should teach him, and also a choice about how to best help Baby Yoda grow into himself. The weight of that decision stems from all of season one’s work to develop Mando as a father figure — the stakes are that if Baby Yoda leaves, Mando will be sad! But it makes clear that season two’s little egg-eating scenes are more than possibly misguided comic relief. They’re additional evidence of why this decision matters so much. If Baby Yoda is not trained properly, if he’s not parented well, he can do harm without even realizing it, because he doesn’t know any better.

This is a giant duh, especially in the Star Wars universe, where the idea that mentorship matters is basically stamped in all-cap letters on every scene. And yet I nevertheless found it surprisingly moving. I don’t know anyone with a toddler who has not experienced exactly the mixture of humor and horror that Mando expresses when he sees Grogu slipping that egg into his mouth. It’s a clarifying moment. Of course he’s eating them; he loves them and he’s hungry and he has no idea that he’s potentially destroying this poor frog woman’s entire life. The feeling that comes with it isn’t disgust at Baby Yoda’s behavior — it’s the weight of Mando newly understanding how much work it will be to turn this frighteningly powerful, adorable, frog-eating monster into a compassionate, thoughtful, responsible being.

The egg-eating sequence was not the only moment like this in season two. At first I was fascinated that all the biggest moments of Baby Yoda striking out on his own or using the Force for his own purposes this season were food-based. He swipes a kid’s blue space macarons, he tries to nab those frog eggs, and he cracks open the spider eggs so he can eat those, too. But when Moff Gideon later smiles as Baby Yoda uses the Force to throw a bunch of Stormtroopers around like they’re rag dolls, all of those earlier moments shift into a different gear. The point isn’t just that Baby Yoda is cute and loves food; the point is that he is dangerous. He’s not evil. He’s a baby, full of chaos and desire and anger and the need to be soothed and protected, and meeting all those needs is really, really hard. And this is Star Wars. The dark side is always right there, waiting.

Video: Disney+

Adding that element into their relationship makes Mando’s love for him more meaningful, and it makes the finale’s big final reveal much, much more poignant. Sending off your fun, cute mascot to go live with a new teacher is very different than handing off an actual child, capable of immense destruction and deep love. The really effective emotion of that moment (the helmet! I teared up!) is only possible because The Mandalorian used all those little half-comic Baby Yoda bits to let him be something closer to an actual child. Mando’s loss is greater, but so is our awareness of how important it is to get this right.

Turning Mando into a father was incredibly compelling in season one, and letting Baby Yoda be a baby is one of the smartest things The Mandalorian did in season two. It made their love more complicated, and more tender. And if they’re not reunited in season three I will burn this whole thing to the ground.

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The Mandalorian Let Baby Yoda Be a Baby, and It Was Good