The debate is on! No, not the presidential debates, those only impact how we'll be governed for the next several years (and maybe forever?). We're talking about the much more important cultural debate: Who is cuter, Baby Yoda or Baby Jabba?
Baby Yoda, officially known as the Child, made waves across the internet when he debuted in the first episode of The Mandalorian on Disney+. Since then, he's been the inspiration for official merchandise, countless memes, and at least one rumored celebrity romance.
The Star Wars franchise is well known for giving us adorable creatures to obsess over. While it’s been going on since the OG-trilogy, the sequel trilogy has been particularly successful at it. BB-8, porgs, Babu Frik, and D-O are all weapons-grade adorable. Still, none of them hold a candle to the one true Champion of Charming, Baby Yoda. (Editor's note: I prefer Babu Frik.)
But another contender has entered the ring.
Leonardo Viti is a 3D artist based in London. His Instagram is filled with sculptures and images, many of which blur the line between cute and terrifying. Creating a baby Hutt is the artwork he was born for; taking something traditionally cringe-inducing and making it lovable takes a certain set of skills, and Viti has them.
He first posted his images last year, where they've sat mostly dormant, incubating, waiting for the right moment to hatch inside our collective minds. That viral moment, thankfully, has come. There’s no denying the miniature Hutt is cute. Despite what he will inevitably become, you can't help but want to squeeze him and protect him from harm. Which is weird, because Hutts are undeniably slugs. They shouldn't be cute, and yet …
All of which raises the question, what is cuteness? What specific switches need to be flipped in our minds to activate that primal reaction? How does an artist take one of the vilest, most disgusting creatures in this, or any other, galaxy and make them endearing?
WHAT IS CUTENESS?
In the mid-20th century, zoologist and Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz introduced the idea of the baby schema, a group of traits that stimulate a specific, positive response in our minds, namely that of cuteness. He suggested these traits elicit a caregiver response as we innately conclude the subject to be vulnerable and in need of protection.
While the cuteness response is still not wholly understood, there are a number of features that seem to trigger a positive reaction when we see them. The baby schema, as we know it, includes but is not limited to: large head-to-body ratios, large eyes, shortened noses, chubby cheeks, rounded limbs, and a high forehead.
This is likely an important evolutionary development, specifically because human babies require significant care during the first few years of life. Cuteness helps to override what is otherwise an objectively unpleasant relationship, at times. Babies can be loud, demanding, dirty, and selfish. In short, your brain is being hijacked by primal evolutionary overrides. You're being manipulated and, worse, you’re being made to enjoy it.
While this cognitive response was probably driven by an evolutionary need to protect and care for our vulnerable human offspring, it is co-opted by other things with similar traits. The brain isn't very good at distinguishing. It recognizes patterns and concerns itself only with accomplishing its intended goal, regardless of any collateral consequences.
It's why we see shapes in clouds, or faces in random noise. It's why optical illusions work at all. Your unconscious mind is making decisions and having emotional reactions to sets of stimuli that check boxes needed for some necessary survival process.
As a consequence, cuteness is not a purely human trait, it extends to all manner of things. The more obvious among them are non-human animals with similar features. Baby mammals are almost universally regarded as cute. But similar proportions result in similar emotional responses. It's why certain cars, like Volkswagen Beetles and Mini Coopers, are considered cuter than larger, boxier vehicles. And, obviously, it extends to artificial constructs like animated on-screen characters.
Interestingly, our innate response to cuteness isn’t all good. While exposure to cuteness triggers a release of dopamine, which makes us feel good, many people also experience an unexplained urge toward violence. This phenomenon is known as cute aggression and might be linked to some crossed wires in the brain. It's your mind’s way of telling you not to be too overwhelmed by the sensations you’re feeling. Don't be taken in, it seems to be saying; that thing might be cute, but you also sort of want to smash it.
SO, WHO'S CUTER?
Given what we know about the baby schema, we should be able to analyze babies Yoda and Jabba and come to a conclusion about who better manipulates our meat machines.
At first glance, Baby Yoda is coming out ahead. He clearly has the larger eye-to-head ratio. His eyes take up nearly half of his total head space. He also has a larger forehead. Baby Jabba's eyes are set high on his face, with his eyebrows marking near the top of his head. But the game isn't over yet.
Baby Jabba might just win out when it comes to head-to-body ratio, and he clearly has the chubbier cheeks and rounded limbs on lock.
The question of noses is a little more ambiguous. Baby Jabba's is smaller, but only inasmuch as it doesn’t really exist at all. Instead, his nose is little more than a couple of holes in his face, which, for our purposes, though technically smaller, probably counts against him.
Moreover, there's something about Baby Jabba that, while cute, is also a little off-putting. Maybe it's the little bit of spittle at the corner of his mouth, or the texture of his skin; maybe it's just the background knowledge that he's a slug. Like a tiger cub, there's something deep-seated that says, you may be cute now, but that will end one day soon. But I don’t think that’s it, at least not entirely.
What makes Baby Jabba the lesser of two cute things is something simpler. Our cuteness response may be hijacked by non-human animals and objects, but it was designed in the evolutionary crucible to be fine-tuned for things that look like us. And Baby Jabba is just a little too different.
Baby Yoda, on the other hand, ticks almost all of the boxes our brains look for when seeking out a vulnerable, infantile child in need of our undying love and support. He's also got the added benefit of an entire live-action series filled with his adorable hijinks. We've seen him waddle in his oversized closed. We’ve seen him save the day. Cuteness might begin with an initial first reaction based on image alone, but it ends with a whole host of other stimuli including sounds and actions. In those regards, Baby Jabba just can't compete.
He may be kinda cute, if you put on an apron and squint a little, but Baby Yoda is unendingly cute, in both his features and behaviors.
Our cuteness response is evolutionarily tied to a reward system for a reason. Our lizard brains are telling us it will give us a bunch of extra dopamine if we just put up with the baggage for a few years. It does this because, in the end, you’re left with an individual who can meaningfully contribute to the group. Baby Yoda hits this mark, as well.
Baby Jabba, instead, is a potential threat. The cost-benefit analysis just doesn't weigh out. Maybe cute aggression isn't so crazy after all.