Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back features one of the most memorable twists in cinematic history, if not in all of fiction, with the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father. The iconic scene shocked fans, and changed the course of the franchise, as it transformed from a story of rebellion into generational saga about the battle between the light and dark sides of the Force, with the Skywalker family at its center.
Yet, as epic as that twist was, Star Wars has potentially introduced an even larger one with "Baby Yoda" on The Mandalorian.
That isn't to take anything away from that moment in The Empire Strikes Back, but over the decades, the impact of the revelation has, of course, lessened. The franchise is now is new positioning Rey as the new Chosen One, and toying with the notion that anyone can use the Force. In that light, the Skywalker line doesn't seem quite so important considering that, in theory, that virtually anyone could bring balance to the Force, and to the galaxy. In that sense, The Mandalorian's Baby Yoda twist matters more because it does what the Vader moment ultimately failed to do: blow the franchise wide open.
Even after Luke accepted Vader as his father, his mission remained the same: to destroy the Empire. That was never going to change; redeeming Anakin Skywalker was merely a bonus. So, as seismic as it was, ultimately, the revelation of Luke's parentage didn't change the course of the story. However, Baby Yoda's existence absolutely does.
The existence of another Force-manipulating member of Yoda and Yaddle's mysterious, unnamed species -- whether he's a clone or not -- shakes the modern canon established following Disney's 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm. Set five years after the events of Return of the Jedi, The Mandalorian promised gun-slinging adventure in a dusty corner of the galaxy left lawless by the fall of the Empire and just out of the reach of the New Republic. However, the introduction of "the Kid," as the Mandalorian now calls the little scene-stealer, firmly establishes the Disney+ series is more than a fun Western in space, or s space-opera spin on Lone Wolf and Cub. It's firmly rooted in the original and prequel trilogies -- seriously, is Dr. Pershing involved with Kamino cloning? -- while also positioned to expand the mythology of the franchise.
We're left asking questions about the nature, and fate, of Yoda's species, and what the secret employer of Werner Herzog's Client wants with the infant. Beyond mere plot points in a single series (or even a single season of a series), the Kid creates potentially far-reaching ramifications, arriving as he does before the rise of the First Order and the founding of Luke Skywalker's doomed Jedi Academy. It opens the door for more stories, across television, film, comics and prose, permitting the Star Wars universe to paint a picture we didn't realize existed -- and, given the love for Baby Yoda, one we didn't even know we wanted.
As well-executed as it was, the Vader twist was self-contained and, in terms of scope, tunnel-visioned. On the other hand, the Kid breathes fresh life into the franchise the way directors like J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson promised. It's subjective as to whether these directors delivered on that promise, but Baby Yoda certainly has. That said, as much as the character expands the Star Wars mythos, it also still stays true to the essence of George Lucas' vision.
In the process, The Mandalorian has changed our view of Mandalorians, transforming them as much into protectors as mercenaries. In the grand scheme, the Baby Yoda reveal illustrates exactly how Star Wars should evolve, while still remaining respectful of the franchise's foundations. This will keep purists and decades-long fans hooked, minimize alienation and reel in new audiences.
What's all the more impressive is the secret was kept so well. Baby Yoda was a pleasant surprise, leaving fans wanting more, and unlike the movies, it's uniting Star Wars lovers rather than dividing them.
Created by Jon Favreau, The Mandalorian stars Pedro Pascal, Gina Carano, Carl Weathers, Giancarlo Esposito, Emily Swallow, Omid Abtahi, Werner Herzog and Nick Nolte. A new episode arrives each Friday on Disney+.