One of the downsides to watching genre series and movies airing on TV channels aimed at younger audiences is the barrage of toy ads you’re forced to sit through, each of them trying to convince you that you need to buy whatever the product in question happens to be. Often, these ads are surefire ways to give you a headache, but every now and then, they manage to surprise you.
Earlier this week, Disney revealed its upcoming wave of Star Wars merchandise, and while there were plenty of action figures, plushes, and Lego sets for fans of The Mandalorian to set their sights on, one toy in particular stood out for reasons that should be obvious.
Much like Sphereo’s now discontinued BB-8 toys that rolled around like the real thing, Hasbro’s animatronic Baby Yoda immediately draws the eye because of how uncannily lifelike it is, all things considered. Just a few months back, you’d have been hard-pressed to find an officially licensed piece of Baby Yoda merch that would blink and gurgle and use the Force at you before falling asleep like a small, unnervingly green child.
The most interesting thing about the animatronic Baby Yoda, though, is how Hasbro’s marketing it. The company’s first commercial for the toy is rather simple and to the point. After a kid’s hand dips into the frame to press a button in the Child’s head, it springs to life, cooing, gurgling, and fidgeting in a way that makes clear that this is pretty much everything that the toy does.
When the toy gets tired, it goes to sleep and snores, and while all of this might sound a bit dull for an action figure, that’s because this is clearly not meant to be an action figure. In a very literal sense, the Baby Yoda toy is a baby doll that you’re meant to fawn over and take care of, much in the same way that the Mandalorian looks after his young charge.
The franchise is uniquely positioned in the world of branded merchandise simply because of the sheer volume of Star Wars toys in circulation at any given moment. When new Star Wars merch drops, people pay attention, and in this instance, the public’s attention’s being drawn to a commercial in which a young boy is having the time of his life taking care of a baby, which isn’t something you see in toy advertisements all that often.
Stories about gruff men becoming father figures to young people they don’t understand are very much a part of our pop cultural canon (see: Logan, Stranger Things, The Witcher, etc.), but it’s rare to see the paternal, caring aspects of those characters elevated outside the context of the stories they appear in. To be fair, The Mandalorian itself does explicitly focus on how Mando comes to care for the Child the way that a parent would. But considering how the vast majority of toys focused on nurturing are primarily aimed at young girls, the animatronic Baby Yoda still stands out if only because it’s saying “I literally do not know what gender roles are, please pick me up.”