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How Baby Yoda Became the Surprise Breakout Star of ‘The Mandalorian’ – And This Emmy Season

TheWrap Emmy magazine: “I don’t think anybody anticipated the degree to which he would catch on,” executive producer and Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy says

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This story about “The Mandalorian” first appeared in the Emmy Hot List issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

Before we learned about Joe Exotic and before the pandemic turned everything upside down, the breakout star of the 2019-2020 television season was unquestionably a 50-year-old infant from Disney+’s series “The Mandalorian.” His official name was “The Child” but everybody called him Baby Yoda, a pint-size and unbearably cute specimen from the same species as the Jedi master so central to the Star Wars universe.

“He was part of our plans from the beginning,” Lucasfilm president and “Mandalorian” executive producer Kathleen Kennedy said. “We didn’t know exactly what he was going to look like, and we didn’t necessarily call him Baby Yoda, but we were attracted to the character as he evolved. And we knew from how everybody was reacting to him on the set that he would certainly be a popular character, but I don’t think anybody anticipated the degree to which he would catch on.”

Most people didn’t anticipate the degree to which “The Mandalorian” would catch on with Emmy voters, either. While the series seemed likely to land below-the-line recognition, it ended up with 15 nominations, putting it in fifth place among all programs. And while it wasn’t surprising to find the show nominated for production design, cinematography, costumes, picture editing, sound, visual effects and stunts, it also crashed the Outstanding Drama Series category, where it was the only first-year show in that category.

The first live-action television series in the Star Wars franchise came about because Kennedy had known of director Jon Favreau’s interest in Lucasfilm’s crown jewel for years, as well as his recent work on CG-heavy “live-action” updates of Disney animated classics.

“The thing that bonded Jon and I right away is we both had a fascination with technology,” Kennedy said. “We’d been talking for a while about the fact that there was an opportunity to really change things and create a workflow that’s different than what has essentially existed for the last hundred years. Jon had come off ‘The Jungle Book’ and was segueing into ‘The Lion King,’ and he showed me what he was doing with the tech. It just seemed like a natural progression to approach the show that way when we got this opportunity to move into television.”

The show drew heavily from gaming technology to create its world using LED screens and laser technology, but its high-tech tools helped create a series that feels like the lower-tech world of George Lucas’ original “Star Wars” film. “It’s interesting that the advanced technology is allowing you to feel that way,” Kennedy said. “In an interesting way, it has all the DNA of what George was always interested in it. The technology has never been an attempt to try to move this further into some kind of science-fiction world — it’s still very much in service to that original feeling.”

With last December’s “The Rise of Skywalker” ending the last of three trilogies devoted to the franchise’s central mythology, the “Star Wars” world is now at a crossroads of sorts. “It’s an ever-evolving process,” Kennedy said. “We needed the time to step back and really absorb what George has created and then start to think about where things might go. And that’s what we’ve been doing.”

In the future of the franchise, she added, television will play an increasingly significant role. “We’ve already seen evidence of that,” she said. “With the ability to be very character-driven with extended and connected storytelling, I think this space offers us a great opportunity.”

Read more from Emmy Hot List here. The full interview with Kathleen Kennedy is available at WrapPRO.

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