A couple of weeks ago I discussed HBO’s Watchmen, a show that I liked quite a bit, and which really hit home how powerful it is to use a more traditional television release schedule, coming out week by week so that everyone can have a communal experience and enjoy it. I honestly think that it was a major factor in Watchmen’s popularity, and while it was all going on another television show was popping up, making a very similar case. Which, was all the more surprising because it was a new streaming show, a medium which has so completely embraced the newer binge model. It was probably guaranteed that the first live-action Star Wars show, launching on Disney’s new incredibly popular streaming service, was going to be a hit, but the degree that popular culture seemed to revolve around the show, spending every day a new episode was released going over it and joking about it, was truly a staggering thing to behold. It was a show that completely captured the popular consciousness, and the fact that it was a hell of a good time too certainly helped. Especially in the face of the Rise of Skywalker, and all of the disappointment and frustration that came with it. Instead we were given a very different type of Star Wars story, while also feeling incredibly familiar and rewarding as a fan of the series. It’s the show that launched a thousand memes, made an immediate societal figure out of Baby Yoda, and actually got people excited about a property whose future seems shakier than ever. And, at its heart, it’s just an incredible little show.
The Mandalorian follows the titular bounty hunter, a travelling mercenary who prefers solitude, even going so far as to never telling anyone his name, establishing himself as one of the finest hunters in the galaxy. He’s making his way in a post-Empire galaxy, working for a man named Greef Karga, who runs a bounty-hunter guild. And, because of the Mandalorian’s impressive history, Greef decides to offer him a very risk bounty. It leads the Mandalorian to a barren planet where he meets an Ugnaught farmer named Kuiil, who helps him locate a small town where he fights off several guards, coming into contact with the source of the bounty. A young creature, the same species as Yoda, which is referred to as the Child. And, instead of killing the Child or bringing it back to the former Imperial man who put out the bounty, the Mandalorian decides to keep the Child, raise him himself, and protect him from the various other killers who are now seeking him.
The show then takes on a bit of a rambling approach, telling seemingly isolated stories of the Mandalorian wandering around the galaxy, one step ahead of fellow killers, taking up small jobs and meeting various allies. But, it eventually becomes clear that the Mandalorian isn’t going to be able to escape the clutches of the people who want to do him and the Child harm. So, he decides to bring the fight to the Client, assembling a crew of people he’s met in his travels, including Kuiil, a former Rebellion trooper named Cara Dune, and a reprogrammed IG-11 robot that formerly was trying to kill the Child but who has now become his nurse. They convince Greef to work with them, and go to attack the Client, only to learn that he’s being controlled by a former Moff in the Empire known as Gideon, who desires the Child for his own purposes. They manage to fight off Gideon and his troopers, at the expense of Kuill and IG-11, and manage to escape, setting the Mandalorian and the Child off on their own adventure, still looking over their shoulder, but with a little more breathing room.
The Mandalorian is an incredibly enjoyable series. Going into it I assumed we’d be getting a serialized Western show, featuring a masked bounty hunter, getting into fairly unrelated adventures, and just generally trying to be something incredibly different than what we normally get from Star Wars. But, by the end of that first episode it becomes clear that the show was something much different than I was expecting, morphing more into an homage to Lone Wolf and Cub than anything else, taking a killer and forcing him to adopt a paternal side, raising and protecting a child. And, it was a really great show. It was gorgeously shot with lots of loving scenic vistas unlike the usual aesthetics of the mai nfranchise, featured some truly spectacular music from Ludwig Goransson, and had a staggering amount of surprising cameos and fun performances. It was a much more human story than we typically see from the Star Wars franchise, giving us a tale that wasn’t really weighed down by epic tales of fate and destiny, or galaxy-spanning wars. Instead we just had a handful of really captivating characters doing their best to survive, to help people around them, and find their way in a world gone mad. And, people clearly reacted well to it. It was a massive show, one that I loved quite a bit, and which helped take the sting out of the ludicrously disappointing Rise of Skywalker. One of the things that I loved about the Last Jedi was the idea that the meta-narrative of the whole movie seemed to be that the Star Wars franchise needed to change and evolve if it was going to survive. It couldn’t just keep repeating the past, which was doomed to fail, but it also needed to respect its past, the triumphs and the failures. It seemed to promise that Star Wars was ready to become something different, to change and be different things for different people. So, seeing a television story that embraced the tropes of Westerns and Samurai films that did its best to separate itself from the larger Skywalker saga, telling its own story, and becoming something completely of it’s own felt exactly like what I needed from Star Wars.
Because I certainly didn’t expect the first real attempt to take the Star Wars franchise and put it into a slightly different medium to be a story about a man seeking to atone for his sins by protecting an innocent child. Star Wars has frequently dabbled with ideas of redemption, but often in extremely grand and mythic terms. Darth Vader redeems himself from being the most evil person in the galaxy by killing the Emperor, at least temporarily, and bringing balance to the entire Force. But, the Mandalorian seeks redemption for a life killing people, because it’s all he knows how to do, to give a small helpless creature the same kindness he felt as a child himself. We eventually learn that the Mandalorian’s entire family and village was killed by Battle Droids, presumably during the Clone Wars, and he was rescued by a travelling group of Mandalorians. A people without a world, who have been exploited and killed by the Empire, these Mandalorians found a scared child, and taught him to be the best killer he could be. He then spent his life utilizing those skills for his own gain, while also giving money back to the Mandalorians to help theoretical children he never had to interact with. But, when he finds the Child, he realizes that he’s put himself down a path similar to the droids that killed his family, an unthinking killing machine that is pointed in a direction, killing whatever he was told to kill. So, he decides to break his programming, and give the Child a chance for a better life. He seemingly took the wrong lessons from the people who saved him, and he spends the entire show trying to redeem himself, to balance out the evils he put into the world by doing one massive act of good, finding a reason to live, and a purpose in his life. It’s a deeply human motivation, and one that really does feel like something different in Star Wars. And I can’t wait to see where he goes from here.
The Mandalorian was created by Jon Favreau and released by Disney +, 2019.
Categories: Couch Potato