“The Mandalorian” is the good, the bad and the alien, but it’s not enough

“The Mandalorian” is the big live-action series set in the Star Wars universe. It was hugely anticipated and it helped kick off the Disney+ digital platform. It broke the “Stranger Things” record as the most watched streaming series to date.

So it must be really good, right? RIGHT?

Well. 4 episodes (out of 8) have aired so far and yes, it’s very good. But that’s not the point. The problem I have with “The Mandalorian” is the same I have with everything signed “Star Wars” these days years. Very well crafted products, comforting, tailored to perfection to satisfy their market niches. But this makes them stale and predictable. With the only exception of Rogue One, which I found amazing in its unique balance between the old classic vibe and delivering something fresh and modern, everything else in the franchise suffers from the same problem.

On one hand, it’s understandable. It’s a mega billion-dollar franchise and it’s risk-averse. But recent history demonstrates that it doesn’t have to be that way, audiences worldwide are rewarding choices that feel fresh and somewhat innovative even when they have canon and franchise to respect (see in that sense Marvel’s Avengers double finale, or DC’s fabulous Joker).

Star Wars, sadly, doesn’t go that way. It’s a multimedia powerhouse so sure of its own success (and income) that it just chooses to play it safe. Every. Time. And that’s becoming disappointing.

The same is true for its videogames. After years of disappointing releases, Jedi: Fallen Order, the latest game published by EA, takes elements from other successful games and blends them in a galactic sauce, without bringing anything new. The result is, well… not great, not terrible. We deserve better than that.

So, back to The Mandalorian. It can boast a production value that is nothing short of… stellar (pun intended), good direction, solid acting. But it doesn’t bring nothing new to the table. In fact, I am disappointed it didn’t even try.

The main idea for the series (the badass lone hero traveling with a baby) is taken from the Japanese manga and tv series “Lone Wolf and Cub” (1972).

Add a bunch of other elements from Akira Kurosawa’s films or from Spaghetti Western classics, and here you are.

Concept poster created by a fan inspired by the Italian spaghetti western genre.

The first episode felt fresh because there was so much expectation out there, and ok, it delivered. The Wild West in Space setting was all there since the opening shots, frontier dusty village and saloon populated by tough guys. The cool and mysterious protagonist with a golden heart (taking more than a page from the book of Sergio Corbucci or Sergio Leone) was also there;

the final twist was there (and that’s how baby Yoda entered our life, and I feel he is here to stay).

I have to say, I was really impressed by baby Yoda. I know it’s animatronics, but it manages to capture a newborn’s expression in a way that is beyond amazing.

But then the series took off, and… it didn’t exactly send sparks all around.

So far, each episode does its job, but nothing more. It takes us exactly where it’s supposed to. Episode 2 is a rather boring errand to bring baby Yoda back (The Road of Trials), Episode 3 is needed to sever ties with the Guild of the Bounty Hunters, establish the Villain and deepen a bit the Mandalorian lore (The Dark Cave), while the entire Episode 4 is almost a remake of Seven Samurai in Space (plus an AT-ST thrown in for good measure. I only missed a few Ewoks). This is when the whole thing started to feel a bit off to me.

Story: a gruff but good-hearted mercenary gets hired to defend a village against an evil imperialistic threat. The plot was undoubtedly fresh when Kirosawa’s movie was published in 1954, and maybe again for its (two) western adaptations, but by now we have seen it so many times in cinema, cartoon, anime and comics that it’s gone beyond archetypal, it now feels formulaic. Did “The Mandalorian” really need it? Aside from some cool pew-pew action and a little bit of character development, did it bring anything new to the series or to us watching?

In other words, of course I will keep following “The Mandalorian”. It’s good entertainment, and it’s Star Wars. The fights look cool, stormtroopers get shot (and this time, they hit their target… sometimes), the secondary characters are shining. Too bad some of them feel more like cameos and leave us really wanting for more.

I just hope the series manages to surprise me at some point, bringing something new to the formula, or at least to the universe. The main character is really cool, with its Clint-Eastwood-in-a-helmet-attitude, but I waited for about four hours of runtime to see some development and well, besides the shining armor, not much has changed. Every episode introduces new characters only to then set them aside.

After the initial surprise and joy have worn out, I am not really waiting for each episode to come out. The show is not leaving me a particularly lasting impression and I wouldn’t rewatch it.

For a comparison, I recently binge watched Amazon’s The Boys, and wow, I loved it. It’s like a wilder, gross Watchmen on steroids, and set in 2019. It’s a low budget, tiny production compared to the Disney powerhouse, and sometimes it shows. But it’s brave, brilliantly written, with compelling and well-developed characters immersed in consistent, powerful narratives. After all, it falls into the superheroes genre, but it definitely brings some fresh air into it.

So yes, it’s still possible to create something that feels innovative, even within the boundaries of the 2019 super capitalist media industry.

Please Star Wars, please, learn the lesson. With Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker about to be released, I really, really hope we are going to see something new coming from that galaxy far, far away. The Force knows we need it. 

 

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