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The Mandalorian - title

One of my biggest complaints with Disney's Star Wars movies has been their complete lack of original ideas, and their complete unwillingness to move the Star Wars narrative forward. That's actually why I didn't think The Last Jedi was as bad as most people said it was. I mean, it wasn't "good" by any stretch of the imagination. The script was messy, the tone was uneven, and a lot of the movie's logic was fundamentally flawed. But I appreciated much of the bold thematic elements. The Last Jedi wanted desperately to move the franchise in new directions, and it actively mocked the previous film(s) (and the fanbase) for being too trapped in the past.

The rest of Disney's Star Wars movies haven't been so bold. The Force Awakens was a rehash of the original movie. Rogue One and Solo were both prequels that nobody asked for that both attempted to explain minutia that never needed explaining to begin with. I haven't seen Rise of Skywalker yet, but I'm hearing that it's an exceedingly dumb rehash of Return of the Jedi, and possibly the worst Star Wars movie since The Pantom Menace. And that's the "gentle" criticism that I'm hearing from people who were generally favorable towards Disney's treatment of Star Wars!

Suffice it to say, outside of the X-Wing and Armada tabletop games (which I love and still regularly play), I have become so jaded and sick of Star Wars that I didn't bat an eye at Disney's announcement of The Mandalorian. I just assumed that it was a prequel series about young Boba Fett that would continue the Star Wars trend of fixating on its past. I had no interest in watching the series, and I sure as hell was not going to pay a monthly subscription to Disney to watch it.

But I guess a free subscription to Disney Plus came with our Verizon phone plan, and my girlfriend was hearing some good word-of-mouth in the week after the first episode premiered, so we've been having stay-in date nights to watch it. I want to say, by the way, that I like this approach of releasing episodes of a streaming series on a fixed schedule, rather than dumping a whole season all at once. It facilitates water-cooler talk because everybody else is at the same point in the narrative that you are. You have time to digest the events of each episode and talk about them, and you are able to speculate with friends over what's going to happen next, because your friends don't know either! You'd think that streaming services like Netflix and Hulu would have figured this out with the success of HBO's Game of Thrones weekly release schedule, but they didn't. Disney learned. (and so did CBS).

The Mandalorian feels like it's actually pushing the Star Wars narrative forward.

My first reaction to The Mandalorian was "oh, this isn't a prequel? That isn't Boba Fett? Oh good. Maybe this won't be garbage." The first episode acknowledges that the Empire is defeated. The law and order that it had established is giving way to chaos, and the galaxy is changing as power shifts to the fledgling New Republic (which still hasn't established firm control over many formerly Imperial-controlled worlds). The star war is over, but there's still pockets of ex-Imperial resistance vying for power. The power dynamics have changed. Former Imperial moffs are now warlords and crime bosses, using battalions of still-loyal stormtroopers to intimidate locals and maintain some semblance of power and authority. Vendors aren't accepting Imperial Credits, law enforcement is lax, and whole planetary economies are teetering on collapse.

The political situation in The Mandalorian is dynamic and evolving. The writers didn't just take the lazy approach of inserting the First Order as a stand-in for the Empire and maintaining the exact same Empire versus Rebels status quo. Unlike The Force Awakens, it doesn't look like the franchise has been running in place for the 30 years since Return of the Jedi. Heck, the lead character in this show has never even heard of The Force or the Jedi! That's how divorced from the previous Star Wars stories this show is, and it helps make this show feel fresh. Put simply: the world of The Mandalorian is built on sounder logical consequences than the sequel trilogy.

The speed of the hyperdrive is ambiguous again. The Mandalorian uses cuts and edits similar to the original trilogy, and doesn't give explicit timescales or frames of reference for hyperdrive travels. If you want to believe that travelling between stars takes days or weeks, then that works. If you don't have a problem with travel between stars taking minutes, then that works too!

This restores a sense of scale to the galaxy that was actively undercut by The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and Rogue One. Far away places feel far away. Remote worlds feel remote. The implication that the hyperdrive has a speed limit means that I can actually buy into the idea of an outlaw on the run hiding out in some backwater planet. The decaying political situation means that I can also buy into local raiders getting away with using salvaged Imperial walkers to plunder local trade stocks.

After seeing them crushed by teddy bears in Return of the Jedi,
I wasn't sure if AT-ST Walkers could ever look threatening again.

Once again having Star Wars stories being told in a universe that feels grounded, gritty, and lived-in was enough to sell me on The Mandalorian. The story itself is also pretty solid. The Mandalorian is a good TV show held together by well-written characters, following well-plotted narrative arcs, with high production values and a "wild west" aesthetic reminiscent of Firefly, and not to mention a kick-ass soundtrack that sounds like "The Temple of Doom" by way of Ennio Morricone. The Mandalorian is not "first 3 seasons of Game of Thrones" levels of good, but it certainly blows the rest of Disney's Star Wars' writing out of the water. No contest.

I mean, it isn't immune from logic flaws and other problems. The use of carbonite freezing in the first episode was stupid and almost checked me out of the whole show right then and there. Visiting Tatooine was, I thought, unnecessary fan service. The plan to lure the Imperial Walker out of the forest and into a trap seemed stupid from the start. If anything, that should have been Plan B. Plan A should have been to follow its ginormous tracks back to wherever the heck the raiders had parked it, then sneak in under the cover of night and drop a grenade into its cockpit. Whatever. That walker, by the way, looked fantastic with its glowing red eyes and dirty war paint. After seeing them get smashed by teddy bears in Return of the Jedi, I wasn't sure they could ever look frightening or intimating again. I was wrong.

Speaking of things that look fantastic: my girlfriend is absolutely gaga over "the child". She thinks it's the cutest thing ever. She isn't wrong. If there's one thing Disney knows how to do: it's "cute". I really love that the child is an actual practical effect, rather than an entirely computer-generated effect. The Last Jedi also used an animatronic puppet for ghost-Yoda, and I'm thrilled that Disney and The Mandalorian's producers decided to follow suit. It just looks so much better.

If there's one thing Disney knows how to do: it's "cute".

I do think that Disney made a mistake by not releasing toys and dolls in time for the holidays. They didn't want the child's presence in the series to be spoiled by toy designs leaking prior to the premiere, but boy, did they sure sit on that gold mine! Kudos to them for sacrificing some short-term money in favor of maintaining some artistic integrity. So I couldn't buy a plush Baby Yoda for my girlfriend for Christmas (but that didn't stop Chichian from 3-d printing one for us!). Well, I guess there's always Mother's Day... I also look forward to seeing the Razor Crest ship show up in the X-Wing miniatures game.

Cynics may argue that the child is just further proof of "the Disney-fication" of Star Wars. I roll my eyes. This is the same franchise that has Ewoks, R2-D2, and Jar Jar Binks. If this were a character cynically thrown into a lesser show, for the sole purpose of appealing to kids (and apparently girlfriends), that would be one thing. But that isn't the case. The child is good because The Mandalorian is good. This is the sort of thing that Disney should have been doing with Star Wars all along: moving it forward in new directions with a diverse cast of new characters; rather than re-telling the old stories with a diverse cast of archetypal characters.

I have spoken.

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