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SYFY WIRE The Mandalorian

Will Baby Yoda's inevitable Emmy presence boost flagging award show ratings?

By Brian Silliman
Baby Yoda in The Mandalorian

The 72nd Emmy Awards has decided to bring The Mandalorian in warm, and it's not doing it with carbonite. It did it by giving the first live-action Star Wars series a nomination for Best Drama Series. As the phantom menace himself once said: “A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one.” 

There’s one very clear reason that I can see as to why the Emmy Awards has done this. It's highly cynical and makes me feel terrible, so I'm going to try to talk myself out of it. 

We’re well past the days of genre television being ignored by Lord Emmy. Although four seasons of Battlestar Galactica came and went with no attention for that series (or Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, James Callis, and so on), things have changed. Tatiana Maslany’s work on Orphan Black was so extraordinary that attention simply had to be paid, and Game of Thrones, of course, flew in burning hot one year and held court for as long as it was on the air.

This year’s nominations alone (partially announced by Maslany) also included a Best Drama Series nomination for Stranger Things, and, thankfully, a nomination for Watchmen in the Best Limited Series category (plus 25 additional, well-deserved noms).

Season 1 of The Mandalorian only had eight chapters, some were shorter than others, and now the groundbreaking series has landed this nomination with its first toss of the chance cube. The nomination is not surprising because it’s a genre show, it’s surprising because it’s Star Wars

The Daytime Emmys have always been good to animated Star Wars fare, but this is different. The Mandalorian is special in a number of ways, all of which are on full display in the recently released The Disney Gallery: Star Wars: The Mandalorian. The blend of old techniques married to modern technology is incredible, and it brings the live-action galaxy far, far away to our televisions in a seamless way that we’d never thought possible. 

The Star Wars fanatic in me says, “Damn right, this nomination is totally warranted, it was probably my favorite show last year.” The show is now on the same list of nominees as The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Succession. But if I force myself to live in the real world, however, and let go of my obsessive madness, I start to wonder: How the hell is The Mandalorian now vying for an award with Succession?

I feel like the Emmys are playing a new version of Boar on the Floor, and the fanatic side of me gives way to the cynic, and suddenly a very logical reason pops right up as to why this nomination has happened. It could have nothing to do with the quality of the effects, the story, or the acting, right? This is the way? They don’t care. The Emmys want people to watch an awards show in quarantine, and now that The Mandalorian has officially been invited, there’s one very special guest who simply must attend. 

Who else could it be? Baby Yoda will inevitably now appear on whatever virtual Emmys take place, and this will get people to watch. Right?

Ratings for the Emmys have been in the vac tube for two years in a row, at least. According to The Hollywood Reporter, last year's telecast brought in an all-time low of 6.9 million viewers, down almost a third of its viewership from 2018, which was no winner either. That was without this good ol' quarantine life. This year's BET Awards (a virtual extravaganza, just like the 2020 Emmys will be) managed to do well in June, right in the middle of quarantine (per Variety), but it was given an assist by being simulcast on CBS for the first time. If the Emmys were hoping for the magic quarantine streaming surge to help, that petered out 100 years ago — more sanely put: that streaming spike was in March and April. Things have leveled off, and will likely continue to do so by the time we reach the Emmys ceremony in September. What do the Emmys have to do to fix dwindling numbers in the midst of this brave new world? 

Put Baby Yoda in prison and people will try to get locked up in that prison. Put Baby Yoda on the Hindenberg and people will buy tickets. Put him on a bucket of slop, and everyone will ask how much that bucket of slop costs. There was a chance that the undisputed pop culture champ of 2019 was going to make an appearance anyway, but now? Lucasfilm has to let its latest sensation out of the pram to go and play with Brian Cox, Regina King, and Olivia Colman. 

That’s one way to get the most popular kid in school at your virtual birthday party.

It bears repeating: This is highly cynical thinking. I don’t want this to be the reason; I’d love it if this was a nomination based on merit. And it is. I do think The Mandalorian is deserving of a Best Drama Series nomination, even when I do my best to put my fanatic hat aside and observe from a distance.

When looking at the big list of noms, some casting crossovers make me a little less cynical. We should have expected this, right? Star Wars is such a gargantuan part of pop culture that it has long overlapped with other A-list names on the regular. Taika Waititi made the original What We Do in the Shadows movie with Jemaine Clement, and worked on the first season of the show of the same name. Clement took over fully in Season 2, because, among other projects, Waititi was directing an episode of The Mandalorian (getting his feet wet for his upcoming Star Wars feature film). Giancarlo Esposito appears in The Mandalorian, and he also appears in Better Call Saul, also nominated for Best Drama Series. 

But the big crossovers don't stop at The Mandalorian. Digging even deeper, Tobias Menzies is one of the leads on The Crown, and he voices an Imperial scumbag in Season 4 of Star Wars Rebels. Jodie Comer is nominated for Killing Eve, and she just popped up as Rey’s mom in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Why do I think that the Emmy Awards hate Star Wars, especially when there are all of these amazing, A-list connections, to say nothing of the aforementioned love from the Daytime Emmys? 

I think it's because I don’t think it’s real. It hasn't sunk in yet. Pain is the only thing that is real in 2020. We’re in the middle of a pandemic amidst countless other ongoing crises. There's no end in sight, and who knows what fresh hell the rest of 2020 will bring? Awards shows could not possibly matter less (unless you yourself are nominated, and I wasn’t), and a virtual award show in quarantine? It feels pointless...

... unless Baby Yoda is gonna be on that virtual stage. If that little scene-stealer is there, you just guaranteed yourself an audience. How do you ensure that he’ll be there? Give his show a nomination. 

I hope that's not the reason. But 2020, am I right? Weirder things have happened (and will continue to happen). Hopefully, the little guy will have some fun with Villanelle, Ozymandias, Eleven, and Kominsky’s method in the Zoom afterparty.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.