Now, I don’t often review TV, as I find it difficult to format as a review; do I do episode by episode? Or do I just review the series as a whole? Each of these approaches has their separate issues, but in the end, I decided that with little else new to cover, it was time to bite the bullet (or rather the blaster bolt, because you know, Star Wars).
I have chosen to review it as one complete package, rather than episode by episode, as this is more expedient both to produce and to read. Although I will mention particular moments in specific episodes; without trying to give away too much, of course.
Star Wars is one of those franchises where the films are only really scratching the surface. Just go on any forum and ask about any plot detail, no matter how small, and there’s sure to be someone who’ll direct you to a book, or comic or cave drawing that tells you what you want to know. Of course, this is no excuse for the films not filling in their own gaps, we shouldn’t be expected to go looking for details they couldn’t be bothered to explain fully.
The positive side of this, however, is the richness of Star Wars lore, and the worlds, and indeed galaxies, they have created. There’s a reason why so much additional media is produced, it’s because there’s so much ground to cover, and so many stories to tell. Which brings me neatly to The Mandalorian.
Having the distinction of being the first-ever, live-action Star Wars TV series means that the show comes with a ton of expectations. There are already several other TV series currently in production for Disney+, and you can’t help but wonder if their eventual existence would depend on The Mandalorian not being a flop.
Created and executive-produced by Jon Favreau, who roped in several top names to direct episodes, such as Taika Waititi and Star Wars veteran Dave Filoni. It follows the adventures of the titular ‘Mandalorian’ a member of the eponymous race of warriors, working for the guild of bounty hunters, whose life changes course when he procures a unique bounty.
Might as well state this from the off, as his adorable little face has barely been off the internet since the shows U.S. launch last November; that bounty is ‘The Child’ otherwise known as ‘Baby Yoda’ and it appears Disney has managed to strike gold again in the marketability stakes, as BY (as I will now refer to him as) is as cute as a basket of puppies playfighting with each other.
If, like me, you’re a cynical type and your first thought upon seeing BY was: ‘what an obvious merchandise cash-in opportunity’ you’ll gladly find yourself won over within the little tyke’s first few episodes. He’s charming, and at times very funny, but he also manages to achieve something that former ‘merchandise-fodder’ characters couldn’t, he means something to the story. He isn’t just a cute peripheral character, he’s the character around whom all the series’ conflict occurs.
I know past characters have tried to be important to the story, who can forget Jar Jar Binks and his involvement with granting the Chancellor emergency powers? I certainly can’t, no matter how many times I throw myself headlong into a wall to stop the voices… sorry, lost my train of thought, my point is, he isn’t contrivedly crowbarred into the story for sake of selling toys, he’s arguably the series main focus.
He isn’t always front-and-centre to the story, but he’s the focus of the series arc, if you will, events happen along the way that he is only tangentially related to, but his continued allegiance with ‘Mando’ drives the overarching narrative along.
The series is also careful to pace itself in regard of BY’s character, there is more of him to find out, that we know, but we don’t need to know all the details, yet.
‘Mando’ himself (the series does give him a name, but it’s easier to just type ‘Mando’ and also, spoilers) undergoes an arc through the series that runs along neatly with BY and his continual guardianship, there are even a few neat moments of parallel between the two characters, where you start to see why Mando risked his life and career to save this creature he’d only just met.
Something else the series does right is that it indulges different genre ideas into the standard Star Wars formula. Yes, it’s still the classic sci-fi/fantasy hybrid, but there are elements of Western and war films in there too, with the Western aesthetic being particularly central to the series theme, Mando is modeled somewhat after one of Clint Eastwood’s many ‘gunslinger’ characters of questionable moral value.
When it indulges these flights of fancy to full effect, the results can be spectacular. Good examples of this include Chapter 4: Sanctuary which has the distinct feel of a Vietnam film that focused on the plight of the natives, being threatened on all sides; or Chapter 6: The Prisoner, which takes influence from heist movies.
What’s good about all this is that the change in tone and genre never feels forced or jarring, the characters mesh seamlessly into their new environments and surroundings.
The cast of characters is strong all-around I’d say. Because Mando is the ‘strong-and-silent’ type, it leaves more room for the characters around him to be fleshed out, and better dynamics are thus established. Recurring characters such as Cara Dune (Gina Carano) and Kuiil (Nick Nolte) both feel like they add something Mando lacks when they join forces, thus making them seem like a cohesive team, rather than one over-capable character and his tag-alongs.
Speaking of over-capable though, that leads me into my main fault with the series; it makes the Mando seem almost indestructible, because of the armour he is wearing, he’s seen to soak up several shots without flinching, it does mean that when he does face more heavy ordinance it seems more intimidating, but it doesn’t make everything else seem like a threat.
I said of the spin-off films a few years back, that I think the best way to mine the Star Wars universe, especially now the ‘Skywalker Saga’ is over, is to focus on new stories that add to the overall canon. Something that shows us new parts of this galaxy far, far away, rather than revisiting old characters and events for fan service, and that’s exactly what The Mandalorian is. It delivers something new and exciting to the overall canon, without falling back into the usual habits of bringing in recognisable faces in aid of fan service’ and little else.
Everything it does it seems to get right, even managing to sweeten a few minor errors in the extended canon. Didn’t like how Boba Fett’s existence was handled in the prequels and wanted to know more about Mandalorians and their society? This show’s got you covered, showing us just enough about the warrior race, without ruining their mystique.
It even manages to canonise a few things from the hated Holiday Special with its mention of ‘Life Day’ in Episode 1, and Mando’s weapon, which resembles one wielded by Boba Fett in the aforementioned monstrosity.
Overall, The Mandalorian might just be the best addition to canon since Disney acquired the Star Wars license. It’s certainly full of the newest ideas directions for the series, it also helps that being a TV show meant that it had more time to really focus on the details of a story that would be missed in film, something I think is now a recurring theme in TV & Film, and fear that one day, the TV might surpass film as the preferred method of adapting a story, but I digress.
Honestly, I could go on for a lot longer about the show, and its several aesthetic choices which I think enhanced the series maybe to a point beyond some of the films, but to do so would make a significantly less concise review, and this is already pushing the boundaries of ‘concise’!
The show isn’t just a vehicle for those Baby Yoda memes you’ve seen constantly in the last six months, it actually contains some of the freshest storytelling we’ve seen in Star Wars canon in years, and the ending of the series leaves many possibilities open for the future. A future I really hope isn’t too far, far away.