Why Baby Yoda merch wasn't ready when 'The Mandalorian' debuted, and how 'Star Wars' history shows it might not be terrible for Disney

the mandalorian

Disney Plus

Baby Yoda, otherwise known as "The Child," in "The Mandalorian"

  • A Mattel plush and Funko Pop figures based on "The Mandalorian's" Baby Yoda are available to preorder but won't be delivered until the spring.
  • "The Mandalorian" creator Jon Favreau has said that Baby Yoda merchandise wasn't made ahead of time to avoid spoilers leaking, but the character has become a phenomenon since the Disney Plus series debuted.
  • It evokes the original 1977 "Star Wars" film, when toys weren't ready by that Christmas despite high demand.
  • The author and former Lucasfilm executive Stephen J. Sansweet wrote in his 1992 book, "Star Wars: From Concept To Screen To Collectible," that "true consumer-driven demand, not some false sense of need created by a massive advertising campaign or hype, became what propelled the products."
  • "The Mandalorian" is currently the most in-demand TV show in the world, according to Parrot Analytics.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Baby Yoda has become a phenomenon thanks to "The Mandalorian," the new live-action "Star Wars" series that debuted on Disney Plus last month.

Demand for toys and other merchandise based on the adorable Yoda-looking infant, which Disney refers to by its less trendy name of "The Child," has been extremely high. Unfortunately for fans, Baby Yoda merch won't be available until the spring and some official toys, such as Funko Pop figures and a plush from Mattel, only just became available to preorder this week.

A Funko representative told Business Insider that, shocking no one, "fans, press, and retailers have been absolutely blown away by the response."

the mandalorian baby yoda merch

ShopDisney.com/screenshot

Baby Yoda official merchandise is available to preorder at shopdisney.com.

So why isn't the Baby Yoda merchandise on store shelves yet?

"The Mandalorian" creator Jon Favreau has said that Disney wanted to keep the existence of Baby Yoda under wraps so as to not spoil the series. Some manufacturers were provided promotional materials ahead of the launch of Disney Plus, but none of it featured Baby Yoda, CNBC reported.

"The way the cat usually gets out of the bag with that stuff is merchandising and toy catalogues and things like that," he said.

Richard Gottlieb, the founder of Global Toy Group, told Polygon that companies usually reveal toy prototypes at showcases 15 months before a targeted Christmas season, meaning there was a risk that Baby Yoda toys could have leaked well ahead of Disney Plus' launch.

But the lack of, and high demand for, Baby Yoda merchandise is a rare disconnect for Disney, which otherwise excels at satisfying its vast audience. As the New York Times media reporter, Edmund Lee, pointed out on Twitter, "media beat out merchandise, which you could argue is very un-Disney."

It also evokes another big merchandising oversight for the original "Star Wars" movie in 1977.

baby yoda

Lucasfilm

Baby Yoda aka "The Child"

'Star Wars' toys weren't ready for the original movie's release

George Lucas, the creator of the "Star Wars" franchise, had declined $500,000 for directing the first movie in order to keep the licensing and merchandising rights for himself, which would eventually cost the studio Fox billions of dollars (to bring the story full circle, Fox is now owned by Disney, which owns "Star Wars").

After being turned down by major toy companies like Mattel and Hasbro, Lucas had sold the "Star Wars" toy-merchandising rights to the former toy company Kenner for $100,000, according to The Hollywood Reporter. But the products weren't ready for the holidays of 1977. Instead, Kenner sold an "Early Bird Certificate Package," which fans could later redeem for four "Star Wars" action figures and more.

The initial deal Lucas struck with Kenner turned out to be terrible for him and great for Kenner. By 1978, when the toys were finally ready, the "Star Wars" toy line had grown to 20 figures. By the end of that year, over 40 million of the toys had been sold for gross sales of more than $100 million, according to THR. For every dollar sold, Lucas and Fox split a nickel, according to The Daily Beast.

Kenner was prepared for the 1980 sequel, "The Empire Strikes Back," but Lucas renegotiated the deal that year. Kenner would have to sell enough toys a year to pay Lucasfilm $10,000 in royalties, or pay that itself. Hasbro bought Kenner in 1991, eventually closed its offices, and that contract expired.

Mandalorian 1 Disney Plus

Lucasfilm

'The Mandalorian' is the biggest TV series in the world

The lack of initial merchandise for the 1977 film may have helped the "Star Wars" franchise stand the test of time, though, according to the author and former Lucasfilm executive Stephen J. Sansweet.

"True consumer-driven demand, not some false sense of need created by a massive advertising campaign or hype, became what propelled the products," Sansweet wrote in his 1992 book, "Star Wars: From Concept To Screen To Collectible."

Can the same be said for Baby Yoda and "The Mandalorian"?

"The Mandalorian" is currently the most in-demand TV show across all platforms in the world, according to Parrot Analytics, which measures "demand expressions," the company's standardized TV demand measurement unit that reflects the desire, engagement, and viewership of a series weighted by importance. "The Mandalorian" even topped Netflix's "Stranger Things" as the most in-demand streaming series in the US last week, breaking the latter show's 21-week streak at the top.

"Given Disney Plus' episodic release strategy, we expect demand for 'The Mandalorian' to continue to grow further as new episodes become available to stream over the next several weeks," a Parrot Analytics representative said last month.

If you have a tip about Baby Yoda merchandise, email the author at tclark@businessinsider.com

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