‘The Mandalorian’ surpasses expectations

A refreshing take on an old franchise

Courtesy+of+Star+Wars%27+official+Facebook+page

Courtesy of Star Wars' official Facebook page

By Molly Hamilton, Assistant Arts and Living Editor

For the past five years, Disney has been churning out Star Wars content at an unprecedented pace. The franchise’s newest installments have been inconsistent and, on the whole, feel like  watered-down versions of what made the original trilogy so great. The 2018 release of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” was highly anticipated, but ultimately made history as the first Star Wars film to flop at the box office. It’s surprising that so soon after the franchise’s biggest failure to date, Disney would take a chance on yet another spin-off. “The Mandalorian,” however, replaces the tacky predictability of “Solo” with carefully crafted storytelling.

“The Mandalorian,” released in November of this year on Disney+, follows an unnamed bounty hunter, played by Pedro Pascal, shortly after the fall of the Empire and before the creation of the First Order. The show itself doesn’t provide much of an explanation as to what a Mandalorian is, and the term is never used in any of the other Star Wars films. It’s undoubtedly the popularity of Boba Fett, a bounty hunter clone first introduced in “The Empire Strikes Back,” that inspired the series. Unlike the most recent films, “The Mandalorian” offers a unique take on the Star Wars universe, at times drawing from Westerns and not relying solely on nostalgia. Even the 30-minute run time of each episode harkens back to the TV Westerns of the 1960s. The Mandalorian himself can be characterized as the classic lone gunslinger with little time for sentimentality. The familiarity of Western tropes and the grit that comes with them, coupled with the aesthetic of Star Wars, makes for a rich, thoroughly engaging experience for the viewer.

The setting of the show, a few years after “Return of the Jedi,” lends itself to other Western elements; namely, the lawless land where the expectation of back-stabbing and high drama confrontation allows for clever plot twists. Accordingly, “The Mandalorian” takes all of the best elements of the original Star Wars movies and updates them for a more modern audience. It effortlessly cycles between serious and light-hearted, often contrasting the Mandalorian’s established stoicism with the familiar absurdity of the Star Wars universe. In the same vein, it references the films without allowing those references to carry the weight of the show — Ewoks and Jawas make appearances but are never more than short side plots or background characters.

As a TV show, “The Mandalorian” lacks some of the grand theatrics of the Star Wars movies — most of the action so far has taken place on just two or three planets, but it’s better for it. The somewhat stripped-down production leaves room for an impressive amount of character development in just the first five episodes. The story feels like a rare glimpse into a part of the Star Wars universe we wouldn’t normally see, which makes it that much more exciting to notice subtle things like nods to the broader conflict between the Empire and the Rebels Alliance. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, showrunner Jon Favreau describes creating “The Mandalorian”  as “digging really deep in the toy chest and pulling out the action figures that people were always curious about and were not quite in the center frame, but have a lot of potential.” Unlike recent films, such as “The Force Awakens,” which anchors itself in the nostalgia of the original trilogy, “The Mandalorian” takes a risk by exploring unfamiliar territory. That risk, judging by glowing critic and audience reviews, is already paying off.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about “The Mandalorian” without mentioning “The Child,” who the internet has affectionately dubbed “Baby Yoda.” Very little has been revealed about what exactly Baby Yoda is, but he’s already a fan favorite. Much like the Ewoks and Porgs of the films, he provides the charm and kitsch that the Star Wars universe is known for. In addition to being undeniably cute, Baby Yoda serves to bring out a softer, more likeable side of the typically apathetic Mandalorian. His connection to Baby Yoda provides an interesting contrast to what the viewer would naturally expect from a mysterious bounty hunter, suggesting that there’s more to learn about the Mandalorian’s backstory.

With three more episodes still to come, “The Mandalorian” is shaping up to be one of the most engaging, well-written TV premieres of 2019. While Baby Yoda has been heralded as its main selling point, the real intrigue of the show comes from its willingness to take risks within the Star Wars universe and explore untold stories.

Molly Hamilton can be reached at [email protected]