THE PROBLEM WITH BABY YODA
BY SYNDI POWELL
I don't know if any of you have been watching the Disney+ series, The Mandalorian, but I'm sure you've seen images of Baby Yoda all over social media. While this childlike creature is only a secondary character, he has taken over the show which could prove to be a problem for the popular show.
The Mandalorian can be best described as a western set in space. You have Mando, a bounty hunter, who is hired to bring in an asset. He's not given many details, but because he's known as the best in the galaxy, he takes the job. The asset is The Child (more commonly known as Baby Yoda though he is about 50 years old and is a creature like Yoda but not actually Yoda). While Mando's original goal is to hand over the Child, things change when he bonds with the creature.
How many times do we read a book where a secondary character sparks our interest more than the hero and/or heroine? This is what has happened with Baby Yoda on this show. The audience is consumed with what will happen to the Child. Mando's life can be at stake, but don't mess with our Baby Yoda.
While I love the cuteness overload of Baby Yoda, it points out something that writers need to be aware of as we craft our stories. The popularity or likability of a secondary character can influence the story line in ways the writer might not want. If a reader is rooting for a secondary character but isn't invested in the main character, it's easier to put down the book or turn off the show.
Writers have even had to change major story points in order to pump up the secondary character who then steps into a starring role. Lost was like that. The character of Ben was only meant to be a short term role for one season, but audiences loved to hate him so much that his role was expanded in the subsequent seasons.
So how do writers tread the line of making interesting characters that stay secondary? How do we create memorable main characters who can hold the story on their own? It's a careful balancing act. The goals and motivations of the main character should be strong enough to make us root for them. They need to be heroic, yet flawed. Secondary characters should be there to support the main characters, but not take over the scene.
I'm struggling with this very thing right now in my current work in progress. Great Aunt Sarah is a feisty matchmaker who is working hard to bring the hero and heroine together. I enjoy writing scenes with her in them, but my hero and heroine should be able to hold scenes on their own that are just as fun and move the plot of the story forward.
The current popularity of The Mandalorian may be due to Baby Yoda, but the longevity of the series will depend on audiences getting behind Mando for the long haul.
Can you think of any other books or shows where a secondary character stole the show?