Disney hit Star Wars fans with an effective 1-2 this week with the launch of Disney+ by releasing not one but two episodes of their flagship Star Wars show: The Mandalorian. I liked the first episode, although it was difficult to really tell where the show was headed or what it was going to be from just that episode. There’s a lot of history behind the whole Mandalorian thing, some of which is only really briefly covered in stuff like Star Wars Rebels and never in the mainline films.
This also gave Jon Favereau and Dave Filoni a lot of room to work with this show and make it into what they wanted it to be. The “Skywalker Saga” that plays out in the main films doesn’t have to define this galaxy and this show is more than happy to go off and be its own thing, which seems to be a pastiche of spaghetti westerns and the samurai films that influenced those. How much so? Well, the influence of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies (made popular again through Tarantino referencing the mishmashed Shogun Assassin in Kill Bill Volume 2) is not just clear, but overt.
If you aren’t caught up yet this will absolutely include spoilers, so please, this is your warning. Don’t be upset at me if you read further and the first episode lacks any sense of surprise for you.
Nowhere in Star Wars canon has there ever been a definitive take on Yoda and his race. In fact, it was one of those intentionally vague (or at least Lucas claims) parts of the series that Lucas wanted to feel mysterious and magical. The idea of going with a “baby Yoda” as a major character in this series was bold and unexpected. Did Yoda and Yaddle, the female, erm, Yoda that we saw on the Jedi Council, get down? Are babies of this species just birthed through osmosis or some midichlorian nonsense? Who knows? This isn’t looking to answer those questions just yet, although it might.
Instead, we get our titular character guarding a “Baby Yoda” in a floating carriage on whatever planet this is (is it Tatooine? It feels like it) and right away we have rival bounty hunters attacking him and we get to see some pretty slick action right off the bat. Luckily enough, while this character is a lone badass (dare I say lone wolf?), he’s not invincible. There’re some hints in these two episodes that he hasn’t exactly cut his teeth in the whole Mandalorian world just yet and is still relatively untested, albeit a good bounty hunter.
All of his adventuring to return to his ship finds Jawas and a sandcrawler there, with the jovial little scamps tearing his ship apart for scrap parts. This leads to a battle, a pretty cool chase scene and ultimately our hero needing to return to alien Nick Nolte to once again ask for help. Nick Nolte again agrees to help and explains, again, that it’s for peace on his planet, so he doesn’t care. The goofy montage music plays again while they ride, meaning it’s their “lizard riding music,” which okay, I’ll forgive it, I guess. The music worked really well elsewhere and felt like a good blend of the Fury Road and Star Wars style soundtracks with callbacks to westerns and samurai films.
Nick Nolte (and no, I’m not being glib, it’s literally Nick Nolte) helps him to talk to the Jawas where they give him a MacGuffin to hunt down by the way of “the egg.” We aren’t told what this egg is, what it’s purpose is or why they need it and our hero begrudgingly agrees while the ecstatic Jawas drive their large crawler to a large hole in the ground. Our hero blasts away in the hole, only to be followed by a giant space rhino, who battles our hero to the death. Of course, the death is the rhino, but he messes up the Mandalorian pretty well, shreds his armor a bit and we get to see Baby Yoda outstretch its cut little hand to use the Force to lift the rhino up, which confuses it long enough for the Mandalorian to stab a very small knife into its neck, which apparently kills it dead instantly. He returns to the hole, grabs a hairy eggs and just when the Jawas had given up hope, he crests over the hill where he hands them the egg and they proceed to lop the top off and giddily gobble up the orange goop inside while he blankly watches the thing he almost died for was just a special treat for good boys.
It was, in a word, hilarious.
He gets his junk back and once again, Nick Nolte agrees to help him cobble his ship together because it’s for his own peace to get this guy the hell away from his planet with the baby, although there was mildly tender moments where the Mandalorian asks Nick Nolte to join him only for him to refuse. Our hero, his ship restored, blasts off into the abyss and this show just works.
The storytelling is terse and unpretentious, there’s very little exposition and whatever backstory they think we need is fed to us through little dialogue exchanges like Nick Nolte telling the Jawas they can’t have his armor because his order forbids it, or that he can speak a little bit of Jawanese and it’s not very good, so they make fun of him for it. After decades of George Lucas and Disney attempting to make Star Wars into something grand that says big things and fumbling the whole way, this feels fresh and interesting.
We know the galaxy, we know the look, the feel and the story surrounding it. Instead of trying to tell some grand story (which they still might be doing) they instead focus on the minutiae, which is something that the Expanded Universe novels always did really well. The Star Wars galaxy already has its big, space romping adventures with the Skywalker family, seeing what other people do and how they lives breathes life into it unlike anything else can do. Rogue One and Solo did an admirable job of that, but their stories were intrinsically linked to the Skywalker movies, meaning they couldn’t veer off and had to reconnect. Once again, this very well could, there’s a little Jedi Yoda being hunted down here, with a bounty out from remnants of the Empire that we know turn into whatever is in the JJ Abrams movies.
This episode clocked in at 30 minutes, thumbing its nose at peak television convention. Last time I mused that the 40 minute run time was possibly to stuff ads in but this episode really defied even that, with the episode proper ending at 26 minutes and the credits taking up the rest of the time. The thing is, while the first episode felt like maybe it needed a bit more, this one felt perfect in pace and length. There were no extraneous scenes, and the ending didn’t feel abrupt. The feeling is that these episodes will just run as long as they need to be, not how our preconceived notions of television episode lengths were defined before, which is definitely an interesting way to view episodic content.
For the first time in perhaps ever I’m eagerly awaiting the new Star Wars thing. That’s definitely pretty cool. The Mandalorian is pretty cool.