The following column is loaded with spoilers for both Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker as well as the Disney+ series, The Mandalorian**, so please stop reading now if you don’t want to know any details about either**.
The Star Wars universe is obsessed with a cool new character. He has captured the hearts of a global fan base in ways that previous legendary characters like R2-D2, Yoda, Chewbacca and the Ewoks had done before. He has attained the polar opposite status of Jar Jar Binks, being instantly embraced and celebrated, while also maintaining a sense of mystery that keeps the Star Wars fans coming back in droves to see the character again and again.
I’m talking about Baby Yoda, the breakout star of the Disney+ series The Mandalorian. But I SHOULD be talking about characters from the Star War film saga, yet the only one who has punctuated the conversation around Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the truly memorable droid tinkerer, Babu Frik.
That’s a mild problem, to a certain extent. Here’s why. Babu Frik is an all-time great Star Wars character. He’s bizarre and hilarious. He shows up unexpectedly, during a trip to Kijimi to rewire C-3PO so that the droid can overrun safeguards in his programming and translate Sith dialogue for Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega).
Babu Frik does exactly what the most memorable Star Wars characters have done over the years. He steals scenes, mainly by being weird (and weirdly adorable). He disrupts the main characters during their quest, helps in unexpected ways, then vanishes, leaving behind a legacy that is continued on in Internet memes. BB-8 had that impact after Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The porgs had that impact in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. If there’s ANY character I am going to remember from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in a year, it will be Babu Frik, who appeared in all of two whole scenes.
The Star Wars films have been consistent with regards to introducing new and memorable characters for generations of film fans to launch on to and celebrate. I lived during the age of the Ewoks, and history might not be so kind to them as Star Wars fare, but at the time, they dominated the pop-culture circuit. There were toys and songs, clothing and costumes. The Ewoks were a big part of the reason why Return of the Jedi was as beloved as it was at the time.
The Prequels began that steady decline away from introducing long-lasting characters that could be embraced by the fandom. Let’s leave Jar Jar out of it for a moment. Mace Windu is a cool Jedi who’s largely sidelined to a council seat. And Darth Maul could have been an iconic villain, had he not been eliminated at the end of The Phantom Menace.
Instead, the Prequels focused on characters that we already knew and loved, a problem that plagues Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The ingenuity escapes the Star Wars saga in this latest chapter, needing to focus so squarely on both the legacy characters (Leia, Luke and Han) as well as the heroes of the new trilogy (Rey, Finn and Poe) that any unique additions get glanced over (whomever Keri Russell is playing in the movie… I still have no clue what her name is or why she matters) or coldly ignored (Kelly Marie Tran).
Babu Frik cuts through that in his very limited screen time, because he represents everything that Star Wars used to mean to fans when it comes to unexpected alien creatures and droids. The shops run by the likes of special effects artist Neal Scanlan, Stuart Freeborn, Ralph McQuarrie and more opened up amazing galaxies of creatures and droids for Star Wars audiences to revel in.
That ingenuity has now been shifted to Star Wars television shows. It started on The Clones Wars, and transitioned to Star Wars Rebels. Lately, though, it’s The Mandalorian that is introducing new and incredible creatures that dominate the Star Wars chatter amongst the fanbase. Have you heard about Baby Yoda? He’s not alone. Fans have embraced the badass former Shocktrooper, Cara Dune (Gina Carano). And many felt that the tragic fate of the solemn, wise, Nick Nolte-voiced Kuiil had as much weight (if not more) than the death of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in The Force Awakens.
There are memorable new characters in the latest trilogy of Star Wars films. I mentioned BB-8, and the porgs certainly captured the hearts of many. But the emphasis on nostalgia that has fueled both of J.J. Abrams’ installments meant that the creativity and ingenuity that packed a Tatooine cantina with assorted oddities has largely been sacrificed.
That helps Babu Frik stand out. He’s odd. He’s original. He’s adorable. He’s very strange, but he sticks out and stands apart from the rest, which largely feels recycled. He’s almost a throwback to the types of creatures that showed up on the regular in movies like Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. His roost may be in Salacious B. Crumb, the pet that was found in Jabba the Hutt’s palace. But he’s also feel right at home amongst the Jawas, the Ewoks and the Gamorreans, who used to thrill us when they showed up on screen in the latest adventure cooked up by disciples of George Lucas.
What do you guys think? Do you agree with me that Babu Frik, the pint-sized and chatty droidsmith who comes to the aid of Poe Dameron, is an all-timer Star Wars creature who harkens back to the bets memories of the earliest days of the saga? Or do you feel that the best examples of that creature design are now relegated to the Disney+ series The Mandalorian, and the movies as of late have disappointed in terms of the new and memorable beings that have been introduced to the fandom? Weigh in with your opinions below.
J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is packing crowds into theaters to see the end of the saga. The box office numbers from the opening weekend are here. And our review is live. What did y’all think of it?