Bryce Dallas Howard was the latest name to take the director’s chair for Episode 4 of “The Mandalorian,” titled “Sanctuary,” following in her father Ron Howard’s footsteps into the “Star Wars” universe.
The episode itself felt very self-contained, as the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and The Child aka Baby Yoda landed on a remote forest-covered planet to lay low for a while. However, predictably enough trouble soon found the two heroes, firstly in the form of Rebel Shock Trooper-turned-mercenary Cara Dune (Gina Carano), and then taking the shape of a rampaging AT-ST and a hoard of raiders.
But despite all the action and emotional drama, this episode, like each one before it, was stolen by the adorable little scamp that is Baby Yoda. The memes were strong before, but Baby Yoda sipping soup has to be the biggest one to sweep the internet yet.
Here, Variety caught up with Dallas Howard to talk introducing a feisty new character and creating that memorable sipping sequence.
What was your reaction when your episode was finally released?
When something you’ve been working on so hard comes out, your brain just explodes. When the episode came out on Friday, I woke up with my kids and watched it with them at 7 a.m. and then literally fell asleep right afterwards and slept many hours.
I just fell into a coma from processing it. My work had just aired and I was so elated.
Was there a pinch me moment when you thought, “Hold on I’m directing ‘Star Wars?'”
I think it was of course directing Baby Yoda. He is the light of all of our lives; it’s so exhilarating to be able to share my love and obsession with him with others. Working with the raiders too was so much fun; my kids would call them the pug men — when you see the masks and the full characters it really starts to feel like “Star Wars.”
What was your first interaction with Baby Yoda?
It was in tech, where we were pushing what Baby Yoda could do and what was possible with the puppet. I had worked with the same puppeteering folks on “Terminator” and “Jurassic,” so we spent a lot of time playing with the puppet, we wanted to use it as much as possible rather than relying on CG. I wonder if Baby can walk? Can Baby reach for things? Can Baby articulate with its hands? And because of the fact there were other kids in the episode, we could lean into his earnest cuteness and those scenes might have otherwise felt put on. But we know it was OK if Baby is cute right now.
That scene when it hopped up onto the seat and was scared by the cat creature was almost too much.
The cat was Dave Filoni’s invention, he created and drew it. I really wanted to shoot from Baby’s perspective, see the world through its eyes, and entering into the common house room was the perfect way to do it. When we were talking through what that scene would look like, we thought what if there’s some creature that goes for Baby? And Baby being like, “Oh my God, it wants to eat me!”
And then right after that comes the meme moment.
So I’ve heard, Baby Yoda sipping soup. When we were shooting that fight just before, so much rested on Gina because Pedro at that point was on rehearsal for another show. It wasn’t like I was working with Pedro on a day-to-day basis, so Gina was the face of the episode. Working with Mando’s stunt double and body double it was exciting because Gina was able to do all that action and we could lean into it. That day was all about that brutal fight: Gina and Mando’s stunt double were just destroying each other. And then it gets to Baby sipping his soup and everything else goes away, all these amazing feats of athleticism and martial arts, and all this stuff just becomes Baby with soup and all we wanted to do was a zillion takes of how Baby was going to drink his soup. Would he drink it with one hand? With two hands? Sipping it a lot? Sipping it a little bit?
Sipping it with one finger in the air maybe?
Exactly! A Baby sip, a hearty sip, we had so many options to contend with. Baby just wins every scene he’s in.
What was the hardest part about shooting the AT-ST scene?
The hardest part was that Gina had a stomach flu, and we had been rained out for two nights which was brutal. Having the AT-ST be part of the episode was a particularly exciting opportunity for me because we haven’t seen those machines be as scary as that. I thought this is a total T-Rex opportunity. I had this little model of an AT-ST at home and I’d imagine how it stomped around like a dinosaur.
So you leant into your experience with dinosaurs?
I definitely did. I thought of it like this monster in the woods, and the villagers don’t know if it’s real, they don’t know what they are up against.
What was the process of choreographing the fight sequence between Mando and Cara Dune?
The most important thing was that it didn’t feel like a stretch. Gina and Mando’s stunt double were running from the AT-ST at one point and Gina bested him and he said to me, “Oh my gosh, she’s faster than me.” There was one take in the raider camp with all the vats, and let me preface this by saying that Gina is very, very adept at doing stunt choreography and not hurting anyone she’s working with. But that one take she kicked someone, it was totally planned, but there was more contact than usual and from where I was standing looking at the monitor, I thought there was a wire on the guy. He went flying back, I thought it was a gag. I asked, “Who put a wire on that guy?” And people said that wasn’t a wire, that was the force of Gina’s kick.
Have you been asked back to direct for Season 2, and would you want to return?
I would love to work with Jon and Dave in any and every capacity in the future, and I also plead the fifth. That’s all I’m going to say!