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Sex, Puppets & Rock ’n’ Roll: The Juvenile Future of ‘Star Wars’

Baby Yoda and ‘The Mandalorian’ expose a truism about the franchise: ‘Star Wars’ needs to be fun

Ringer illustration

The fundamental formula for Star Wars is simple. Laser swords. Big spaceships. Cute puppets. Space horniness.

That was until Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012. The big cheese descended upon Skywalker Ranch and nailed a new set of sanitized theses to the door like a rodent Martin Luther. Siblings kissing was fine and so was interspecies copulation and genocide as long as someone with the last name Skywalker enacted it. Unfortunately, Black people wielding space magic was frowned upon and so was having same-sex couples appear on-screen for more than five seconds (despite this being a galaxy far, far away where the whole racism and homophobia thing should’ve hopefully been settled).

For the bulk of the Disney Star Wars era, we’ve been robbed. For every scene of Adam Driver’s beefy torso, we’re left wondering how Donald Glover would consummate his relationship with the Millenium Falcon. Instead of Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes giving us another jizz ’n’ jatz jam, JJ Abrams lazily plops Ed Sheeran into the suit of a no-name alien. At the conclusion of The Rise of Skywalker, we’re left in a desert with a yellow lightsaber, but no Ewoks rejoicing in the trees. For all of Star Wars’ original faults, no one could say that it wasn’t an entertaining bastion for George Lucas’s never-ending parade of shenanigans. It was a world of furry alien bears, cute beeping robots, and bad rock music that could be marketed for infinity. “It’s a film for 12-year-olds,” George Lucas admitted in 2017 about his movie turned sentient Happy Meal. Star Wars sold its soul long ago to corporate overlords, but at least we used to get campy spectacle out of it.

Since The Force Awakens, the main Star Wars story line has focused on the wrong type of nostalgia. JJ Abrams and Co. built a story around Skywalkers and Palpatines, cheap cameos, and predictable story structures. But what those movies desperately needed was more puppets, more soap opera antics, and more swords. The Mandalorian has a chance to inherit Lucas’s original vision of Star Wars as a center of prepubescent and early teenaged entertainment. Season 2 of The Mandalorian, which debuts on Disney+ on Friday, doesn’t need to fix Star Wars—it merely has to revel in its history of excess.

In Season 1, The Mandalorian operates on a primal level where anytime the story drags, a cute bundle of joy rams his presence into our eye sockets. From the moment Baby Yoda appears on screen, the dopamine rush overtakes one’s lizard brain. You’re telling me this previously ancient green raisin is now smooth and cute? Amazing. The baby also drinks space tea while his adopted father gets his ass beat? Give me more of the gruel. The best part of The Mandalorian Season 1 wasn’t even a plot point. It was a bit where Baby Yoda touches buttons on the spaceship, even though his father tells him not to. The allure of Baby Yoda was so great that even Werner Herzog could not escape his thrall. As Herzog so eloquently told Variety in 2019, “I have seen it on the set. And it’s heartbreaking! It’s heartbreakingly beautiful. It looked absolutely convincing. It made you cry when you saw it.” Millions of memes were launched into the stratosphere: of Baby Yoda holding a mug like your mom on Christmas morning or blasting Lil Jon in the whip. Then a swath of endless Baby Yoda mugs, magnets, and Funko Pops quickly followed after Disney underestimated how popular the character would become.

The greatest triumph of The Mandalorian’s first season wasn’t its adherence to canon or the way it modeled itself after the Westerns of yore, but that it built a convincing family dynamic that rivals any soap opera or sitcom. It was more miraculous that it managed to achieve that in the space of eight episodes. Carl Weathers got to play a wily uncle, Taika Waititi was a part-time murder robot/full-time nanny, and Gina Carano was a surly aunt. In essence, it was a more successful remake of Full House (sorry, Fuller House), except in space.

And just like the hit ’80s show, the family needs to get bigger, the characters need to be cuter, and the bits need to be even grander. Baby Yoda can’t carry the show on his tiny back. Like any good Season 2 of television, the Din Djarin family needs to introduce a dog, annoying neighbor, and, most importantly, a will-they-won’t-they situation. If the Mandalorian in The Mandalorian is Uncle Jesse and Baby Yoda is little Michelle, then the family needs an Aunt Becky. In Episode 4 from Season 1, the audience gets a brief glimpse of suburban bliss as our strong and silent protagonist falls for a widowed farmer. Omera will most likely never grace the screen again, but that doesn’t mean her spirit can’t endure. Who among us is too good for a potential romance between Rosario Dawson’s (rumored) Ahsoka Tano and Pedro Pascal’s Mandalorian? If Pedro falls in love with the former jedi as he’s shredding in his garage jizz ’n’ jatz band, there will be zero complaints from the fandom.

The last component necessary for the long-term health of the Star Wars franchise is just lightsabers. There’s a reason no one wanted to see 2018’s Solo or why 2016’s Rogue One is a slog, no matter how much critics want to tell you otherwise. The best part of any Star Wars film is when characters hack their death swords at each other because their pesky ideals just won’t mesh. At the end of Season 1, Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon possesses the darksaber, which is a black lightsaber created by the first Mandalorian Jedi. The darksaber is this season’s Chekhov’s laser, and I swear if I don’t see the Mandalorian get into some good old-fashioned lightsaber duels with it, then Season 2 is a wash.

For 40 years, Star Wars has been in an endless cycle of existential dread. Every prequel, sequel, spinoff, and reboot is merely another lump of coal added to the raging fire of our discontent. On Friday, The Mandalorian Season 2 will become the latest offering to sit atop the pyre, but it doesn’t need to be a useless sacrifice. The Mandalorian doesn’t need to be the savior of Disney+ or fix post–Rise of Skywalker malaise. All it needs to do is ratchet up the puppets and CGI creatures and, bare minimum, not make them racist caricatures (looking at you, Jar Jar). It merely needs to lean in to the truth: There’s nothing wrong with a kids show being a kids show. All the world ever needed was some puppets, friendly romance, and lasers.