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  • Writer's pictureLaura Kelly

The Child for our time

This cover feature for The Big Issue came out not long after the magazine had to stop being sold on the streets due to the coronavirus pandemic. It's from the 6 April 2020 magazine.

It’s the little green face that launched a thousand memes, and a million GIFs. Whether peeking out from behind his blanket, drinking a bowl of soup, raising his hand to summon the Force, or merely blinking in wide-eyed amazement, you’d have to have been hiding out in a galaxy far, far away to miss the cutest new character in the Star Wars universe.

When Disney+ debuted in the States in November, The Mandalorian was an instant hit. Jon Favreau’s take on the George Lucas universe is steeped in Spaghetti Westerns, its titular hero a frontiersman gun-for-hire. Watching is akin to stepping away from Han in the Mos Eisley cantina to see what’s going on beyond the Skywalker soap opera. But the moment The Mandalorian truly comes alive is the reveal of Baby Yoda, more properly known as The Child.

The makers knew they had an ace in the hole with this pint-sized scene-stealer. So protective were they of the character that they forsook the sure-to-be-explosive Christmas toy market (factories being a notorious source of character leaks) to keep the big reveal a surprise for US viewers.

The UK has had to wait an extra four months for Disney+, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to fall any less hard for this big-hearted bundle of mischief. Arriving over the coming months in weekly instalments – just when we need him most – Baby Yoda may be just a Child, but he has much to teach us. Here’s our (spoiler-light) guide to his Teachings.

1. Cuteness is good for you

Let’s not beat about the bush, Baby Yoda is weapons-grade cute. But did you know that there’s a reason why looking at him makes you feel good? It’s all down to the ‘baby schema’ effect, as proposed by ethologist Konrad Lorenz. Baby Yoda’s infantile physical features – large head, round face and big eyes – are the same as those evolved in Earth-based nature to enhance offspring survival. It works by motivating caretaking behaviour in other individuals. Basically, those big round peepers are flooding your brain’s reward centre with dopamine, creating feelings of pleasure. Sure, dopamine’s role in addiction may also explain why, once you’ve started looking at the Child, you can’t stop. But let’s face it, adorable baby animals are one of the better things to get addicted to whilst you’re social-distancing. There have also been studies showing that looking at a cute picture (or Baby Yoda GIF) can help you snap to attention and concentrate on your next task – possibly handy when your attention starts to wander as you work from home.

2. Look after your parents

The Child is all alone in the world until he crosses paths with Mando, but their bond grows strong as the bounty hunter becomes a father figure to the little guy. The protective instinct goes both ways, though, and Baby Yoda will step into danger to rescue his dad. As the coronavirus is so much more dangerous for older people than youngsters, we have to follow his example. Making a sacrifice to help someone in their time of need (whether that is putting your life on the line to rescue them from a space rhino, or merely staying in to keep them safe from disease) is the right thing to do.

3. Waste not, want not

The latest figures from WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) show that each year UK households waste a massive 4.5 million tonnes of food that could have been eaten. That equates to ten billion meals. As supermarket shelves empty, it’s a good time to reflect on using what we have efficiently. Here, too, we can look to Baby Yoda for inspiration. He knows that food is precious. You need only witness him slurp up a whole frog in one go to know that he’s a true proponent of nose-to-tail eating.

4. Power has consequences

For the Child, wielding the Force is not without cost. It’s a draining experience – leaving him weakened. Our governments must also balance how they use their powers to coerce us into doing the right thing in this crisis. Their actions will come at a price. As the UK and Europe scramble towards a response to the spread of COVID-19, the WHO and others have been quick to praise authoritarian measures taken in China. Yet Human Rights Watch has warned against uncritical praise of the country’s response. China’s exercise of power has had serious human consequences. Whilst the majority of these have been whitewashed thanks to the Communist Party’s control of the media, the stories that have leaked are horrifying – including people who died in quarantine because their existing health needs were not met. Across the world, the pandemic gives leaders the opportunity to grab more power, often with public support. This has historical precedence. From the Black Death on, when people fear death, they look for strong leadership and are more willing to give up their freedoms. We have no way of knowing how long it will take for us to regain what we lose.

5. Some things are best left to the experts

Such as epidemiology, creating vaccines, medicine, and flying spaceships. Up until now, the 21st century has seen an unprecedented erosion in the esteem afforded to expertise. But, just as Baby Yoda learned that he should leave flying to Mando lest they crash into an asteroid, so we are once again now grateful for the people with actual knowledge.

6. Soup is good for what ails you

Whether you're a Force sensitive baby, or an adult who needs comfort – a hearty bowl of soup will make you feel better. Soup is also a great way of using up any veg that’s lurking in your fridge, and getting your five a day. Triple win!

7. Stay curious

Just because you’re stuck inside, doesn’t mean you can’t emulate the Child’s wide-eyed curiosity. Just don’t follow his example by putting everything in your mouth (in fact, best avoid touching your face altogether). Maybe some documentaries, podcasts, online learning, or reading The Big Issue would be a better plan.

8. We are all connected

The interconnected nature of The Mandalorian only becomes clear as the series continues, but the broad narrative arc is a reminder that all of us are part of an entwined story. As Eddie Izzard would tell us: “No man is an island, unless his name is Madagascar.” In other words, all of our actions affect others, so we need to behave as a community, for the good of all of our society. Think of our doctors and nurses risking their lives on the front line if you’re tempted to ignore social distancing rules.

9. Just because you're small doesn't mean you can’t be powerful

It’s easy to feel like we’re tiny and powerless – but we are not. You may not be brimming with Midi-chlorians that allow you to harness the Force, but we can all take responsibility for our own actions. Each of us has the chance to stop the virus spreading. In our new reality, the how-to of being a hero has shifted to include: washing our hands; staying home; remaining two metres away from anyone not in our household; only buying what we need. Try to use your power for the good of all.

10. There’s no shame in hiding under your duvet sometimes

The coming weeks are going to be rough on all of us. It’s ok to feel scared, sad or anxious. You might be a mysteriously powerful toddler recharging in his floating crib, or a regular person hiding under their duvet, either way – making time to take care of your wellbeing is a valuable aim.

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