Saturday, July 13, 2024

Quarantine Catch-Up: The Mandalorian

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Happy Star Wars Day, everyone! As part of my quest to catch up on the many things I miss, I recently ended my happy days of blissful unawareness about Baby Yoda in order to finally check out The Mandalorian. Why did I wait so long? Well, I have a nasty habit of waiting things out in every case. Star Wars isn’t one of my treasured franchises. I enjoy it well enough, I guess, but I think there are only three genuinely good movies out of the nine main movies. I also happen to be one of those filthy fans of The Last Jedi that the online Star Wars community loves to drive away.

I heard good things about The Mandalorian but never felt the urge to sit down and watch. With these dark days of isolation, though, I figured why not now? It’s time to catch up to a cultural phenomenon of 2019.

What I saw basically reaffirmed most of the feelings I had about Star Wars and gave me a fun show to watch along the way.

Whatever flaws may exist with The Mandalorian, there’s no doubt that it is a good show. It is well-executed in just about every department. I walked away with an even stronger belief that just about everyone films Star Wars better than George Lucas. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to claim everything good about Star Wars was in spite of Lucas or anything, but even the best of the original trilogy often felt really awkwardly filmed and acted at times.

I never felt that awkwardness with The Mandalorian, even in the moments when I was sure I would. The prison break episode surrounded Mando with every boring, generic stereotype of a character, yet kept me from ever tuning out. I knew everything that was going to happen every step of the way when Cara Dune helped defend the backwater village from the AT-ST, but it still kept me tense. Probably the closest thing to an eye-roll came from Moff Gideon’s introduction, but damn if The Mandalorian didn’t somehow turn it around.

The directors and editors deserve a great deal of credit for this. They pace and film these episodes so that they never cross over into boredom or stupidity. Scenes don’t drag too long. Or, in the case of one conversation between two Stormtroopers in the last episode of the season, know exactly when to drag on to the best effect.

A lot of credit must naturally go to the titular Mandalorian himself. I love the amount of emotion flowing off this character despite only seeing his face in one scene. I guess Pedro Pascal’s charisma can’t even be contained beneath the trademark clan armor. On paper, Mando seems like a boring character. He never talked much. He wasn’t defined by humor or anger or anything besides his stoic demeanor. The reality of it was so much better and again, it comes down to execution. The show always knew how to film a scene to garner maximum personality and meaning from the character’s every movement.

The Mandalorian depends heavily on Mando to carry every episode. I don’t think there was a single other character outside of Baby Yoda who was genuinely interesting. Cara Dune was closest, but she was still basically a stock-issue character that Gina Carano did a nice job breathing some life into. Greef was okay. Kuiil was as well. None of them really made the show more interesting, though, at least not for me.

Even Baby Yoda, for all the cultural phenomenon he became, was mostly dependent on Mando to stay interesting. The Mandalorian certainly made him (her? Do we know?) a fun, adorable mascot, but the character was interesting almost entirely for the plot choices Mando makes because of them, rather than the character themselves. As adorable as the little goober was.

This Mando-heavy focus even shows in the plot. A big reason why I put off watching The Mandalorian for so long was because of talk about every episode having a “plot of the week” with different characters and conflicts. I can certainly appreciate those kinds of shows but they tend not to appeal to me. Somehow, this one did. Again, I don’t feel like the settings or characters were particularly special or interesting. The scenarios were nothing special. Once again, it all came down to the power of execution. The same way something like the original Kingdom Hearts told an effective story despite retelling the plots of Disney movies, The Mandalorian used plain old good storytelling to keep me invested and entertained. That and a really good main character.

This showed belonged to the helmeted Din Djarin. I’m not saying that’s a problem, either. It’s impressive. It’s a credit to The Mandalorian that they built 8 episodes around this one character and did so effectively. He’s relatable, interestingly flawed, heroic, deep, with a standard backstory played for everything it’s worth. Mando is basically everything Star Wars fans headcanoned Boba Fett to be, except he actually deserves the loyal following.

I also think the show does a really good job with the Star Wars setting, something else I tend not to be too interested in. Star Wars can sometimes be quite unique and interesting in its worldbuilding, but the main films are often boring and disjointed to me compared to other sci-fi universes. The Mandalorian reinforces how the best stories in these gigantic settings often come when you focus on the smaller, day-to-day lives of people. We’ve all seen what happens with galaxy-threatening stories in this genre. They end with Palpatine clones and color-coded endings.

If Star Wars can keep giving me smaller stories like this, maybe my interest in the franchise can be reinvigorated. Any Mass Effect movie should use these kinds of intimate stories should be the basis.

While the culture of the various planets in The Mandalorian is somewhat disjointed in the details, it feels intentional and like a compelling Western rather than some flaw in the worldbuilding. It’s a story about a bounty hunter on the fringe of society, hiding away with his persecuted clan, in the uncertain aftermath of the Rebellion defeating the Empire. This provides a perfect setting to explore a variety of planets with a variety of cultures and The Mandalorian does a good job with that.

I’m not sure if people hoped this show would explain the political situation a little better and were disappointed that it mainly ignored it. I always found the political situation to be the worst aspect of even the best Star Wars stories, so I wasn’t bothered. Set up a vague backstory and let the characters and setting do the work.

Overall, I’m walking away from The Mandalorian realizing that my disinterest towards Star Wars has never been about the setting or characters, really. It has always been about execution. The Mandalorian easily stands alongside Knights of the Old Republic, the better novels, and what little I’ve seen of the Clone Wars TV show as great examples of the larger appeal of the Star Wars universe. It capitalizes on all the strengths that make A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and The Last Jedi the best movies in the main series.

I didn’t expect to like The Mandalorian as much as I do, but here I am. I’m definitely looking forward to season 2.

Images Courtesy of Disney

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