I try not to read reviews or commentary on stuff when I know I’m going to write about it. In part, because I want to formulate my own thoughts and opinions on something instead of fixating on what other people are saying about it. That’s not to say that other people have bad opinions or are wrong as much as going in blind allows me to share my unstrained thoughts as opposed to replies or support for what someone else said. The Mandalorian is no exception.
A quick Google search to see the IMDB listings for the show to see if (A) IG-11 appears again (he doesn’t) and (B) when Gina Carano’s character is expected (she has three episodes she’s featured in out of the eight) also yielded the dreaded opinion piece. One called this episode “formulaic.” I didn’t see anything else, just this tidbit of criticism and it stuck with me. Sadly.
Let’s talk about writing, plotting, and whatever else right now real quick. There’s this idea that being “unique” and “surprising” is a key to good writing, which is true in some cases. In other cases, it is most certainly not true. Sometimes taking the simple approach to a plot is more effective than attempting subterfuge and subverting audience expectations to hit them with a big surprise. Surprises can be great! Episode one ended with a baby Yoda! They literally didn’t produce baby Yoda toys because they would be spotted and leaked, thus spoiled. That was a really cool surprise for a franchise as toyetic as Star Wars. Surprises can be good but they don’t always need to be present to tell a good, engrossing story. There is something to be said with telling familiar tales with their own twists.
That’s what the Mandalorian is doing. I touched upon the links to the Lone Wolf and Cub series last week, as I’m sure many others did. It’s really cool! That was a great series of movies and a lot of this show feels ripped from the old western and samurai films (which should be considered interchangeable, I mean, c’mon).
This week we got to learn more about the Mandalorian and his character arc. No, it’s not reinventing the wheel at all: he’s a troubled man with violence defining his childhood and bleeding into his adulthood. He’s a part of a secretive, ailing order that is in hiding thanks to the Empire and some of his people frown upon his dealings with former Empire agents. Most importantly, we learned about his moral compass.
The episode operates on the idea that you, the viewer, want the Mandalorian to protect baby Yoda because it is the right thing to do. Baby Yoda is small, defenseless and has emotional baggage for most viewers considering that Yoda is one of the most beloved Star Wars characters with very little about him that was bad or tainted by poor decisions like many other characters were over time.
Only the Mandalorian makes the wrong decision. He gives up baby Yoda and takes the money. There’s an absolutely amazing pregnant pause while he watches the baby get taken away into a room, the door whizzes shut and we get to see shots of the door and his face before he finally breaks his code and becoming inquisitive. He wants to know what will happen to the baby and why Imperials need a baby, anyway. Especially “preferred alive but dead if you must.” Werner Herzog and Carl Weathers reiterate how his order operates and ways that he can alleviate any shame or guilt he’s feeling from the job.
There’s a really great moment where he’s in his ship, ready to take off and notices the knob to one of his levers was off, remembering that the baby removed it and was playing with it, forcing him to take it and scold the child from earlier in the episode. Once again, this is sort of storytelling 101 stuff here, but it adds emotional heft to his decision to turn the engine off and return to save the child. Him doing it alone would be fine, but this small touch adds a lot more weight to his decision and relies on our own sentimentality.
And it works.
A giant firefight ensues and we get to see the skill, cunning and perseverance of our titular character. The moment in the bar where the bounty fobs all come back to life is a great moment, as is him stomping through the streets hearing the distant beeps closing in on him. He knows what’s coming, and it reminded me a lot of the closing moments of John Wick 2. Hell, a lot of the action in this reminded me of John Wick.
His order makes the save when his back was up against the wall which wasn’t bad. It was definitely a thing that could happen. Relying on baby Yoda’s Force powers immediately after being experimented on and potentially drained of something would have been a bit much, instead it was his order that came to the rescue after tense moments in their hideout while his new armor was being forged. We’re now in full Lone Wolf and Cub mode where they’re on the run, from both the bounty guild and the remnants of the Empire, which makes this journey more interesting.
This show really is a lot of fun.