The event was officially described as a showcase for merchandise inspired by the live-action “The Mandalorian” and the animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” two Disney Plus hits that represent the best of the fictional universe after the polarizing “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
But there was no denying that everyone was here for products tied to the most famous 50-year-old child in Hollywood — which were strangely unavailable in shops in the wake of his viral fame in the fall.
That child, by the way, is officially just the Child, having yet to be named on “The Mandalorian” despite fans affectionately dubbing him Baby Yoda because of a strong likeness to the legendary Star Wars Jedi master. After the show’s debut in November, “the Child” became a sensation through memes and GIFs, especially one that showed him sipping soup.
And on Thursday at the Dream Hotel in Manhattan, the Child was everywhere. Legos, action figures, costumes, backpacks, hats, shirts, wallets and socks were all on display. An image of the now-classic moment in “The Mandalorian” when a young Baby Yoda reaches out of a capsule and extends the cutest finger in the universe for the first time? Framed and ready for your wall. Also available is an animatronic Baby Yoda that blinks, coos and will melt your heart, for $60.
Build-A-Bear employees were there to show onlookers that if you squeezed their soon-to-be-available plush Baby Yoda’s left hand, he made baby noises. Squeeze the right hand, and Ludwig Göransson’s earworm theme song from “The Mandalorian” begins to play.
An espresso machine, seemingly guided by the Force itself, churned out Baby Yoda lattes.
One thing you wouldn’t find was a mea culpa from Lucasfilm and Disney for seemingly missing out on millions by not having product ready for the 2019 holiday season. Bootleg product ended up appearing on eBay and Etsy, and Disney made efforts to remove them.
But attendees got confirmation of what was already assumed: The only way to keep Baby Yoda’s end-of-Episode-1 debut a secret was to not have any products ready for purchase. Those products would have been seen online months ahead of “The Mandalorian’s” debut, so showrunner Jon Favreau asked the powers that be at Disney and Lucasfilm to hold off on production until the first episode was released — thus creating a streaming, 21st-century “I am your father” moment.
The goal of holding back on products was to give Star Wars fans the same feeling they had when they discovered George Lucas’s universe for the first time, according to “The Mandalorian” producer Dave Filoni, who spoke via a satellite feed from the set of the show’s second season, during a panel with Lucasfilm executives. If that meant millions were left on the table, so be it.
“It’s so hard to do surprises anymore,” Filoni said. “We wanted the audience to experience meeting the Child with Mando,” the bounty hunter title character.
That meant more than a few sad faces come the recent holiday season, but Filoni said Disney and Lucasfilm knew “they could come up with product quickly.”
Paul Southern, Lucasfilm’s senior vice president of licensing and franchise, was one of the few on “The Mandalorian’s” product production side who knew of Baby Yoda’s existence before the series aired.
“We live in a world with Star Wars where the fans, they have a voracious appetite for news. It’s very difficult for us to manage the security and confidentiality of everything once things are in development. It just touches too many people,” Southern said. “The last three months have been a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get this product to market quickly.”
JoAnn McLaughlin, the senior vice president of brand merchandising and product design at Lucasfilm, didn’t know the Baby Yoda storm was brewing because the decision to keep the character a secret came before she was officially onboard. But she later became a quick study.
“The phone didn’t stop ringing from the powers that be at Disney saying, ‘Okay, how fast are you going to get this done?’ ” said McLaughlin. She also said fans should expect to see a heavy “Mandalorian” product presence at Disney Parks in California and Florida soon. And she’s been taking calls from retailers in regions where Disney Plus isn’t even available yet.
“China. Latin America. This is truly a global [event],” McLaughlin said. “[These regions] are reaching out, saying ‘What have you got? People here want the Child.’ ”
Toy companies often have to take precautions to not reveal key plot points from movies or series. And sometimes they do so anyway. A few years ago, a trenchcoat-wearing Batman action figure was called Knightmare Batman, which tipped off fans that when Ben Affleck put on the coat in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” he was dreaming.
Hasbro, which frequently collaborates on action figures with Lucasfilm and Marvel Entertainment (also owned by Disney), is often a part of secret agreements that ensure big reveals remain a surprise, said the company’s senior director of global brand marketing, Michael Ballog. When asked if he knew the actual name of the Child, he laughed and said even if he did know (he didn’t), he’d be sworn to secrecy.
“That’s a big part of the relationship and the trust [Disney and Lucasfilm] have in us and we take it very seriously,” Ballog said.
The Baby Yoda products will be rolled out starting in March, and some — such as Lego products on Amazon — won’t come until as late as August.
Midtown Comics in Times Square, a two-level shop that has just as many action figures for sale as they do comic books, began receiving calls for Baby Yoda products the same day “The Mandalorian” debuted, according to assistant manager Jadrian Schmidt. He said he quickly sold out of the Mandalorian products he did have — figurines of the title character — and he spent most of the holidays letting customers know the green guy wouldn’t arrive until spring.
Schmidt called the choice to preserve the surprise a “genius” move, but he doesn’t think the demand this spring will be anything like what he experienced this winter. That won’t stop Midtown Comics from ordering as much of the Child as they can.
“We’re going to order [Baby Yoda] products pretty heavy,” Schmidt said. “Because we know it’s going to sell.”
Correction: This story originally stated that the animatronic Baby Yoda comes with a capsule. The capsule is not available. Sorry, folks.