Jon Favreau has run out of ideas.
Hear me out.
When I was a kid, there was an instant appeal about playing with action figures. At times I’d set them up in elaborate scenes and have a battle ensue where the bad guys would fall one-by-one, but those stories got boring in a hurry. In part, because the idea of action figures fighting just lacked the character depth to keep me engaged as a kid. Set them up, knock them over. Rinse. Repeat.
Having action figures meant a lot to me as a kid. I grew up with Return of the Jedi figures because I was born in 1983 and by the time I was old enough to have action figures the discount aisle at my local Toys R Us was overloaded with those figures. That meant that it was mostly the castoffs I ended up with. Gamorrean guards? Check. Lobot? You bet your ass I had one of those. The Rancor Keeper? Absolutely. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have a Luke or Leia, I just had very specific ones. Like the bounty hunter disguise Leia and the Endor Han Solo. My characters didn’t really get into battles that often, as much as they’d do normal stuff.
The built-in shelves of my bedroom turned into apartment complexes and futuristic cities. An old soda bottle with some string and staples turned into an elevator that ran along the side, and whatever stray cardboard would fill in the blanks I needed. They had beds, couches, sinks and normal lives outside of saving the galaxy, just as prone to argue over dinner as they were to hop into a ship and get into a firefight. My point here is that when given a lot of resources, it’s up to the mind to make do with what you’ve got.
If Jon Favreau has literally every toy in the Lucasfilm toy chest at his disposal, why can’t he come up with more than a few different stories? If he’s got every action figure and we know there’s gonna be as many guest spots as they can fit in like last season, why do these characters only come-and-go? Why doesn’t anyone have a conversation or develop as a character? Why in the Jon Favreau Star Wars universe is there only spaghetti western stories with a lot of references but always boils down to MAN vs. NATURE?
A pattern has emerged from these two episodes of The Mandalorian thus far: a beginning action sequence happens, our titular character then gets instructions, then goes off on a seemingly pointless side quest and things usually go wrong, but are ultimately fine in the end. The pattern reminds me a lot of a MMORPG game or one of those modern third person RPG games from Ubisoft where there’s a hub world for a character to pick up a quest, a quest area, but most of the quests are just filler to level your character up. In a narrative show like this, the problem is that leveling a character up isn’t rewarding or interesting, it’s dull.
We’re introduced to a frog-like character and her eggs, needing passage to find her husband where they can try to revive their nearly extinct race. A friend likened the frog to Jar Jar Binks, which is funny, but honestly, the character was so inconsequential that I have a hard time discerning if it’s a bad character or not. There was a language barrier between the characters that was solved by plugging Richard Ayoade’s character back in to translate between them, which was funny but short-lived. It was mostly for the exposition portion of the story, so we had any connection to the little frog creature and understood at least why it needed passage to another planet.
I don’t have an issue with unfocused, one-off narratives on television shows, really. Star Trek was always at its best when it took a few episodes to breathe during a big story arc, but something about The Mandalorian is lifeless during these episodes. While Star Trek took the time to focus on characters and help the audience forge stronger connections with them, this show gives you nothing but action sequences, new characters to interact with each episode, and then you move on. Sometimes they’re from a canonical comic or book, other times they’re conjured out of thin air to fit with a guest star available to the production crew. We’ve seen Amy Sedaris’s Peli Motto more than just about anyone else in this series, and she’s still… just a mechanic on Tatooine with droid pals.
When doing the “lone, quiet badass” character like Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name or Mel Gibson’s Mad Max what makes those characters work is how they interact with the people around them. Their stoic silence and reticence to get involved only matters when the other characters care. Last season we saw that, like the episode where Mando meets Cara Dune and helps the farmers defend their land from raiders in a very clear Seven Samurai homage. That worked because there were emotional anchors from the village, including Cara Dune herself. This episode had no one outside of an uncommunicative frog to anchor it, and we found ourselves—again—with Mando needing to slaughter alien creatures just because. There are no lessons or moralizing, really, it’s just a display of how cool things can be.
What’s worse is that Baby Yoda is the show’s big attraction, and this episode focused on Baby Yoda being awful. Yes, cute little Baby Yoda is awful. You can talk about “dark side tendencies” or whatever, compare him committing little acts of genocide as a call back to him choking Cara Dune, but that’s not what they’re going for here. They’re trying to say something about his innocence but it comes off… bad! Baby Yoda spends most of this episode reaching into the egg jar and eating this poor woman’s unborn children, which happens to be the last of their species. The big, climatic battle with the snow spiders was because Baby Yoda ate baby spiders in their eggs as well. Yes, the spiders were a callback to original artwork for Empire Strikes Back and made an appearance in REBELS, which, okay, but there was something… tedious about those action sequences especially after we’ve already had multiple episodes of Mando dealing with mindless, bloodthirsty alien creatures needing to be put down now.
Baby Yoda learns no lessons and continues eating the eggs. It’s not presented with ominous music or any sort of dark tone, it’s presented for laughs with “hyuck hyuck, you critter you!”
With all the resources at his disposal, this is the best Jon Favreau and his crew could come up with. Two X-wings shoot at Mando, Mando hides, gets into trouble, the X-wing pilots (including Filoni again) return to shoot the spiders and tell Mando he’s wanted but clearly a swell guy and to not get into trouble again and leave him to his own devices. Again, the action sequences are downright tedious in this for some reason, so it’s not even like you can wash away how disinteresting or frustrating the plot is with some cool stuff happening.
How this happens with all the awesome technology, the incredible actors, directors, the crew and all the combined experience thrown into this show is baffling to me. Jon Favreau has been given a key to the kingdom with an insane budget, and this is the best they can come up with? C’mon. We’ve all seen last season and know that’s not the case.
Mando doesn’t even have an antagonist to work with.