Monday , December 4 2023

TV Review: ‘The Mandalorian’ – The Ultimate Space Cowboy

*This review contains spoilers regarding Season One.

The Mandalorian –the new hit series on Disney’s new Disney+ channel – proves that Disney can get a Star Wars story done the right way. Perhaps we cannot overlook series creator Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and executive producer Dave Filoni (of The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels fame). With their pedigrees, we would expect nothing less than what we get here – a slick, cool, and fast-paced spaghetti western (minus the Clint Eastwood signature squints).

Mando (played with stoicism by Pedro Pascal) – as he is called by other characters in the show – is a bounty hunter in the tradition of other Mandalorians before him like the iconic Jango and Boba Fett. When he is given a 50-year-old target by Greef Karga (played by the great Carl Weathers), we assume it is just another day in the office for Mando.

Fortunately for us and unfortunately for Mando, the target is a baby that looks like Yoda from the films. Baby Yoda has been something of a cultural impact that has become a feeding frenzy. Many people asked for “Baby Yoda” items for Christmas (including my kids), but credit Disney for keeping the character a secret rather than cashing in on a big retail boom. This didn’t stop other companies from rushing nonauthentic Baby Yoda items into the market.

As people have been calling the character “Baby Yoda,” it is important to note that Favreau has come out and said it is not Baby Yoda. The character is noted as The Child in closed captioning, and since it only coos and sighs we have no idea about the origins of this creature as of now.

After acquiring the target, Mando returns to his ship and finds it has been stripped for parts by Jawas. Aided by a local named Kuill (Nick Nolte), he makes a deal with the Jawas to get them a Mudhorn egg (a huge beast like a rhinoceros) to swap for the parts. This is easier said than done, and just as the beast seems to be getting the best of Mando, The Child uses his powers to lift the giant creature, allowing Mando to kill it.

Now we know that The Child has nascent yet rather impressive power (He later Force chokes another character when he believes she threatens Mando). Mando makes the exchange with the Jawas, fixes his ship, and then flies off with the cooing and sighing passenger touching things in the cockpit as a baby would do. We have never known much about Yoda’s species – hopefully we are going to learn more now – but at 50 years old the species obviously takes its time to mature.

Mando brings The Child to The Client (played deliciously by Werner Herzog), but when he sees a Doctor Pershing (Omid Atahi) in the room (and some battle damaged stormtroopers), questions arise for him. He asks The Client what he is going to do with The Child, and is told it is none of his concern. When he returns to Karga, Mando asks him what The Client wants with the baby, and Karga claims not to know or care.

This is a pivotal moment in the series because Mando does care. The fact that he was once a child orphaned during the Empire’s Great Purge on Mandalore comes into play here. Flashbacks show his parents rushing him to a safe hiding place before they are killed. This memory no doubt influences Mando’s decision to rescue the baby.

Mando returns to The Client’s lair and battles the stormtroopers – they go down pretty easily and have been doing so since Star Wars: A New Hope. He takes the baby, declining to kill Pershing. As he tries to return to his ship, Mando has a shootout with Karga and other bounty hunters, and he is about to be defeated when rescued by a squad of his fellow Mandalorians.

Eventually, Mando gets The Child back to the ship and they depart. On the next planet he encounters Cara Dune (a terrific Gina Carano), an ex-Rebel trooper turned mercenary who is in hiding. Some of her maternal instinct is kicked up a notch when she sees The Child, but she doesn’t want anything to do with it. Cara gets pulled into action helping Mando fight to save the locals against raiders who are using an Imperial AT-ST (like a small two-legged AT-AT). Once that battle is won, Mando wants to leave the child with the villagers to have a normal life, but another bounty hunter has tracked him and tries to get The Child, so Mando knows the baby will be safe only with him for now.

The rest of the season sees Mando going from planet to planet, having to protect The Child, and each episode shows Mando’s deepening connection to it. Set five years after Return of the Jedi (and thus 25 years before The Force Awakens), The Mandalorian is in prime time for characters from both films to pop in somehow. This season featured the aforementioned stormtroopers and Jawas – and even a visit to Mos Eisley on Tatooine – so next season there could more of those Easter eggs that fans love.

Mando is trying to stay on the outer edge of the galaxy, but from state of things on the planets that he has visited, it is clear that the New Republic is not going so well at least in these places. There are raiders, rogue stormtroopers, and then the hint of what could be the stirrings of what will eventually become The First Order. In the last two episodes the seemingly big bad guy emerges – Moff Gideon (played with panache by Giancarlo Esposito) – who comes in a TIE fighter and seems to be in charge of a hell of a lot more stormtroopers. His appearance hints at a broader movement against the New Republic.

There is also a tantalizing scene near the end of episode nine when Gideon crashes in his TIE fighter. As Jawas start stripping the wreckage, a familiar sound emerges from inside the ship. Gideon cuts his way out using a Darksaber. He stands upon the wreckage with the saber in hand, and this gets the adrenaline pumping for fans of The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. The Darksaber is an ancient Mandalorian weapon, last seen in Rebels and in the possession of Mandalorian leader Bo-Katan.

The Darksaber was created during the Old Republic by Jedi Tarre Vizla. As if the connection to the Jedi isn’t important enough, Gideon’s possession of the weapon seems tied to the Empire’s attack on Mandalore (depicted in Mando’s flashbacks to when his parents were killed). Could this mean that Bo-Katan was killed during the Great Purge, which Gideon vividly describes as the “Night of a Thousand Tears,” and is Gideon a Sith or not?

Season One of The Mandalorian shows what a Star Wars story can be when at its best. It has an engaging protagonist (who finally takes off his helmet in episode 8), The Child/Baby Yoda whose cuteness factor wins the day, great co-stars like Weathers and Carano, and guest appearances by the likes of Nolte, Herzog, Amy Sedaris, Ming-na Wen, Clancy Brown, Horatio Sans and more. 

Ludwig Gőransson’s music is vibrant and matches the fast pace of the series, and his opening theme for the show is a caliber right up there with what the great John Williams has given us for the films. The various alien creatures are inventive as always, and the directors have been awesome – most notably episode 8’s Taika Waititi – and have kept a uniform vision that keeps the series together as a cohesive whole.

I cannot help but to be excited for Season Two – due in late 2020 – and the possibilities for characters from the films and animated TV series to make appearances are tantalizing. My son and I talked about this, and the one person more than any other we would like to see back on screen is Ahsoka Tano. Last seen in Rebels, the former padawan of Anakin Skywalker in The Clone Wars certainly deserves her story to be told. 

I highly recommend The Mandalorian and praise Disney+ for not dropping the whole season all at once like it is done on Netflix. Some viewers may not like this, but I appreciate the anticipation of waiting a week and thinking about what is going to happen. Nothing is going to change Netflix’s practices, but I hope Disney+ continues doing this for its new series content.

Until next time, May the Force be with you!

About Victor Lana

Victor Lana's stories, articles, and poems have been published in literary magazines and online. His books 'A Death in Prague' (2002), 'Move' (2003), 'The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories' (2005), and 'Like a Passing Shadow' (2009) are available in print, online, and as e-books. 'Heartbeat and Other Poems,' 'If the Fates Allow: New York Christmas Stories,' 'Garden of Ghosts,' and 'Flashes in the Pan' are available exclusively on Amazon. His newest books 'The Stranger from the Sea' and 'Love in the Time of the Coronavirus' are available as e-books and in print. After winning the National Arts Club Award for Poetry while attending Queens College, he concentrated on writing mostly fiction and non-fiction prose until the recent publication of his new book of poetry, 'Heartbeat and Other Poems' (now available on Amazon). He has worked as a faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with 'Blogcritics Magazine' since July 2005 and has written many articles on a variety of topics; previously co-head sports editor, he now is a Culture and Society and Flash Ficition editor. Having traveled extensively, Victor has visited six continents and intends to get to Antarctica someday where he figures a few ideas for new stories await him.

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