The Mandalorian’s mess.
Among my friends, I am certainly in the minority when it comes to discussing any Star Wars related topic. This is probably due to the fact that not only do I uphold the anthology film, Rogue One, as one the finest in the franchise, but also because I am a major proponent for Rian Johnson’s contentious eight installment, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. As much as I love narrative told throughout the “Skywalker Saga,” I’d much rather see a story expand on that universe. For as vast as we’re made to believe this “galaxy far, far away” is, we’ve really only been afforded to see a nano-sized speck of it. Such, by the way, is why I love Rogue One, because even though it was tangentially connected to A New Hope, it didn’t have any references to Jedi, the force, or lightsabers (except for the very end).
I insist on that prefatory remark seeing as the latest piece of Star Wars intellectual property is such a disappointment. I am, of course, talking about the flagship streaming show, The Mandalorian.
Chapter 1 opened with a rather compelling homage to A New Hope’s cantina sequence, which set a gripping tone for what was to come. The initial episode ended with an enthralling action set-piece and cliffhanger that drew you in and made you want more of the story. But after that, it’s been a pretty rough ride. Chapter 2 does nothing other than tell the audience something in thirty-five minutes that could have been told in two. Chapter 3 actually appeared to move the plot along and establish thrilling stakes for the rest of the show, à la John Wick, only for all of that momentum to be completely derailed in the next chapter. Chapter 4 is another complete waste of time, doing nothing for the overall plot, giving you no new information, and existing only to force-feed you more fan-service. Chapter 5 is much of the same, employing a plethora familiar faces, places, and aesthetics to keep you hooked.
The Mandalorian is not much different, in that regard, than the bevy of live-action remakes with which the House of Mouse has inundated us recently — which, while appearing new and fresh and unique, are merely well-marked cash grabs that weaponize nostalgia. And good for Disney, because it’s obviously working. But just because your product is successful doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. Here’s a summary of chapter 5:
Remember that cool looking bounty hunter guy you saw for like five minutes 40 years ago? This guy’s like that but cooler and with more silver.
Remember that planet where you met Luke and Obi-Wan and Han and the really awesome bar scene? Our cool bounty hunter goes there too!
Remember those annoying maintenance droids from the prequels? They’re still here, but don’t worry, the cool bounty hunter hates them just as much as you do!
Remember those speed bikes you loved from 40 years ago? Our cool bounty hunter, who we swear is so cool, rides them too!
Remember the sand people that scared the crap out of you 40 years ago, who that twisted Jedi massacred in the prequels? Well, they’re still around, too!
Remember that cartoon where the old bounty hunter rides one of those dragon-elephant thingies from Tatooine? Well, our cool bounty hunter does that too! Doesn’t he look cool doing it!
“This is the way” is an oft-repeated maxim in the show . . . but why? Why is it “the way”? And why should I care? The hasn’t been one compelling reason as to why I should care about anyone in The Mandalorian other than the fact that the primary (anti-)hero looks cool and does cool things. Leading up to this show, I was primed and pumped to be captivated by it. But so far, it doesn’t have much going for it other than a “cool” premise.
Perhaps the remaining chapters will change my opinion on the show, but as of right now, it’s nothing but a meandering mess. It feels like I’m being forced to play through the umpteenth side-mission in “Call of Duty.” What do these excursions have to do with anything? I am made to feel no sense of urgency or danger or suspense. This is probably due to the fact that the concept for The Mandalorian’s story was originally drafted as a feature film. Those plans were, of course, changed once the box office stopped beating Solo’s dead horse (a film which is way better than you remember, by the way). Which is to say, The Mandalorian should have been a movie, one directed by James Mangold, who was once tied to the idea. Alas, that wasn’t to be, and what we’re left with is nothing but a meandering mess of nostalgia that’s banking on familiar aesthetics as opposed to original storytelling.
Don’t get me wrong, weaponized nostalgia can be a good thing if utilized properly. Like in Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future, in which he effectively nostalgized the 50s, or, more recently, in the Duffer Brothers’ phenomenon, Stranger Things, which recollects (a version of) the 80s. But the difference in both of those instances when compared to The Mandalorian is that you actually care about the characters. You’re invested in their fate. So far, five episodes in, and The Mandalorian has given me no reason to care about anyone, other than the fact that the lead character looks cool and the kid he’s protecting looks like (an ultra-adorable) baby Yoda.
To be fair, there are some noteworthy moments that have been peppered throughout the first five episodes. There are some sudden bits of intriguing action and some utterly gorgeous shots that evidence the craft behind the camera. But those elements just make it all the more confounding that The Mandalorian is just plain boring.