Mandalorian’s Baby Yoda became an instant Star Wars fan-favorite because of how cute The Child is. But the early designs for it are horrifying.
Baby Yoda was the breakout star of The Mandalorian, in large part because of his cute appearance. But one early concept design for the new Star Wars character was quite ugly and rather terrifying. The Mandalorian debuted on Disney+ back in November 2019, and delivered a shock to the galaxy far, far away with the reveal of an infant who looks a lot like Yoda at the end of episode 1. After that, Baby Yoda took over the heart of the titular Mando, Star Wars fans, and the Internet in general, becoming a meme and a (belated) merchandise goldmine for Disney.
In episode 5 of Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian. The BTS documentary looking at the work that goes into the show. The focus is on the practical effects, which inevitably means lots of time spent talking about Baby Yoda. While much of this is simply the cast and crew discussing how cute The Child is, the process of creating Baby Yoda is detailed alongside how “the baby” was filmed, including the emphasis on using the real puppet that was made rather than CGI in order to better commit to the magic of it.
While Baby Yoda’s appearance is a huge part of its charm and The Mandalorian’s success, it wasn’t always the way. The Mandalorian documentary reveals some of the early designs for Baby Yoda, including one that is rather horrifying. All that they had to go on from the script was that it was a baby who looked like Yoda. And so they ran through a number of different options for what the character might look like. As The Mandalorian creator Jon Favreau says in the documentary: “We got lots and lots of drawings. Some of them were too cute, some of them were too ugly, some of them were the wrong proportions.”
Favreau’s not wrong when he mentions that one of them is too ugly – one piece of concept art (at the top of the page) includes Baby Yoda with a much bigger face and generally more rounded figure, looking rather more bulbous in design than the one that was eventually used, and with extra hair that makes him look older and creepier. Unlike the one used, this isn’t something people want to look at.
Eventually the team landed on the right design for Baby Yoda, which became the basis for the puppet that was then used in the show. In the doc, Favreau explains: “It was finally that one image that Chris Alzmann did that had him wrapped up in what looked like a piece of a flight jacket or something. And his eyes were a little weird, and he looked a little out of it, there was something a little off with it. But we found it charming, and that became the rallying image that we said, ‘This is good.'” It’s a good job that they did land upon that image.
If they had gone with the ugly early design of Baby Yoda. It’s very hard to imagine the character working at all. It clearly has a real impact on Din Djarin when he first sees it. And that is felt by the audience too. If Baby Yoda had looked ugly or terrifying as in its early design. Then fans wouldn’t have taken to the character, and so much of The Mandalorian’s heart would’ve been lost.
In the end, Baby Yoda was The Mandalorian’s biggest secret and, subsequently, its best surprise. The character became much more than just a simple twist, forming a key bond with the Mandalorian and becoming an important (and powerful) character in his own right, which is something that season 2 should continue. But although there are still a number of mysteries surrounding Baby Yoda. Including where he came from and what exactly Yoda’s species even is. There’s also no denying that Disney struck gold when it comes to the cute design of the character. The way it was then brought to life helps make it so special. But it all started with choosing the right concept – and thankfully avoiding its most terrifying possibility.