After The Rise of Skywalker review, here is the promised review of The Mandalorian, the new live action Star Wars show broadcast via Disney’s streaming service. The following was written in bits and pieces over several weeks, as I watched the show, and it is long.
The greatest strength of the Marvel (Cinematic) Universe and the Star Wars Universe is that these universes offer a huge canvas against which many very different kinds of stories can be told. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has fully availed itself of these opportunities and has told many stories in many genres, ranging from technothrillers (the Iron Man films) via WWII movies (The First Avenger), 1970s style political thrillers (The Winter Soldier), science fantasy (the Thor movies), psychedelic New Wave fantasy (Doctor Strange), gonzo space opera (Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok), X-Files style conspiracy thrillers (Captain Marvel, the early seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), heist movies (the Ant-Man films), retro spy adventures (Agent Carter), teen highschool drama (the Spider-Man movies), Afrofuturist adventure (Black Panther), Blaxploitation cinema (Luke Cage), gritty noir (Daredevil, Jessica Jones) and martial arts films (Iron Fist) to retro style sitcoms (the upcoming WandaVision show, apparently).
Meanwhile, Star Wars has exploited the opportunities that are buried inside its huge universe much less and mostly stuck to telling the story of the Skywalker family with occasional digressions into side stories like Rogue One, Solo or the Ewok movies of the 1980s.
The Mandalorian changes all that, because it is a series set in the Star Wars universe that has next to nothing to do with the saga of the Skywalker family. It also does something that many of the Marvel projects have done successfully, namely take the tropes and trappings of a completely different genre and user them to tell a Marvel or respectively Star Wars story. Because The Mandalorian is very much an Italian western (I refuse to call them spaghetti westerns) mixed with a Japanese samurai movie that just happens to be set in the Star Wars universe.
Warning! Spoilers behind the cut!
Now my younger self has never been convinced when certain critics called Star Wars or indeed any other space opera or planetary romance “just a western set in space”. After all, I loved science fiction and hated westerns, so how could anybody claim that both were the same, when it was bleedingly obvious that both were completely different and one was great and the other was not? Meanwhile, my adult self can see that many science fiction works, particularly vintage space operas and planetary romances but also the original Star Wars trilogy, are clearly influenced by westerns, though the trappings are different and luckily the science fiction versions got rid of many of the elements that always annoyed me about westerns. And occasionally, you even get a pretty clear science fiction/western hybrids like Firefly/Serenity or The Mandalorian.
When The Mandalorian was first announced, I wasn’t particularly interested. Unlike many Star Wars fans, I never viewed Boba Fett as more than a cool looking adversary who gets dispatched way too easily. Never mind that I despised Boba Fett and his fellow bounty hunters in the original trilogy. To me they were scum, people in the loosest sense of the word who sold out others to the evil Empire for money. This was obviously the lowest class of villain. At least the various Imperial officers depicted actually believed in the system they were serving or were too terrified of Darth Vader to do something about it. Coincidentally, Star Wars was also where I first encountered the concept of a bounty hunter (just as Star Wars taught me what a mercenary was and what a maverick was, two more concepts associated with westerns that I had never encountered before). Bounty hunters don’t exist in Europe due to a different justice system and since I disliked westerns, I never really encountered the concept there. Never mind that snitching or selling out others to the authorities carries very negative associations in Germany due to our sorry past, where informing on someone could easily land them in prison or worse.
That said, I did eagerly watch The Fall Guy as a kid, but even though Colt Seavers works as a bounty hunter, I never really understood that aspect of the series. I simply assumed Colt was a stuntman (a concept to which The Fall Guy introduced me and which I never had any issues understanding), who hunted down supposed criminals who subsequently turned out to be innocent, because that’s obviously what stuntmen did in their spare time. My reaction to The Fall Guy was clearly a case of me steadfastly ignoring something that just did not fit into my worldview.
So when Disney announced that one of the draws of their new streaming service would be a show called The Mandalorian, my reaction was as if they’d just announced they’d be making a show about an East German Stasi snitch. “Well, whatever, who cares? And anyway, why are people so fascinated by Boba Fett, when he’s clearly scum?”
Of course, this Mandalorian is not Boba Fett, who after all is still being digested by Sarlacc for some 995 years to come at this point (or is he?). He is just someone who happens to come from the same culture and who happens to be in the same business.
We first meet the Mandalorian (the name of the character will not be revealed until the final episode) when he walks into a seedy alien bar (is there any other kind in the Star Wars universe?) to save a blue-skinned alien from being harassed by a bunch of heavies. The heavies are quickly and painfully dispatched of (is there ever a barroom brawl in the Star Wars universe that does not end with severed limbs and people chopped in half?) and the Mandalorian arrests the blue-skinned alien who has the misfortune of having a price on his head.
After giving us our first glimpse of a toilet in the Star Wars universe (they look like ordinary toilets), the blue-skinned alien winds up frozen in carbonite and delivered along with several other deep-frozen bounties to the Mandalorian’s employer, a man named Greef Carga, who is played by Carl Weathers, who to my own amazement has never been in Star Wars, though he is an actor I associate very much with 1970s and 1980s science fiction.
The Mandalorian asks for his next job, but times are hard some five years after the fall of the Empire and Greef Carga has only small jobs to offer. Except one, a mysterious job for an unnamed client the Mandalorian has to go and meet in person. Which the Mandalorian promptly does, only to find himself faced with some leftover Stormtroopers in beat up armour. The Stormtroopers work for a gentleman who is dressed in a variation of the caped uniforms worn by high-ranking officials of the Empire. And this unnamed client (even the credits only refer to him as the Client) is played by none other than German arthouse cinema darling Werner Herzog, who is about the last person I ever expected to see in anything Star Wars related. Turns out he also played a villain in the Tom Cruise Jack Reacher, which is also far from the sort of movie where I’d have expected to see Werner Herzog. Though to be fair, Werner Herzog is one of the more palatable New German Cinema directors and I actually enjoyed some of its movies, particularly the ones with Klaus Kinski. Talking of which, it’s a shame that Klaus Kinski never got to be a Star Wars villain, because he would have been so absolutely perfect for it.
Just as Star Wars grew out of the New Hollywood* cinema of the 1970s, even though it couldn’t be any more different, there is a solid link between Star Wars and the New German Cinema. Because the New German Cinema is widely considered to have begun with the so-called Oberhausen Manifesto, in which several younger German directors, actors and cinematographers declared that “Daddy’s cinema is dead”, even though those words never actually appear in the text itself (German text here, English translation here). The Oberhausen Manifesto was proclaimed at the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival in 1962. And who won an award six years later, in 1968, at that very same festival? None other than a very young George Lucas for the student film version of THX 1138 4EB. I have always loved the poetic justice of this. The New German Cinema types came to bury what they called “daddy’s cinema” and then gave an award to the very man who would bury them and everything that they stood for.
Werner Herzog did not sign the Oberhausen Manifesto and indeed, many of the directors most associated with the New German Cinema (e.g. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Volker Schlöndorf, Wim Wenders – all of whom made at least one SFF movie) did not sign it, while all but three of the actual signatories (Alexander Kluge, Edgar Reitz and Peter Schamoni) are forgotten these days. Nonetheless, Herzog is very much associated with the movement and so is truly one of the last people in the world you’d expect to pop up in a Star Wars series. Of course, it would have been really cool of it turned out that Werner Herzog was a secret Star Wars fan all along, but according to this interview with Will Thorne in Variety, Herzog has never seen a single Star Wars movie and only agreed to appear in The Mandalorian, because showrunner Jon Favreau (whose movies Herzog hasn’t seen either) asked him to. Though Herzog proclaims his love for 2001: A Space Odyssey and points out that he did appear in SFF movies before. The Variety interviewer claims that Werner Herzog appeared in a German SF film in the 1970s, but the closest that Herzog got to science fiction in the 1970s was playing “Hand and Feet in Box with Rats” (yes, that’s the actual IMDB credit) in Nosferatu in 1979, which he also directed. However, Werner Herzog did act in an actual bonafide science fiction film, namely Es ist nicht leicht, ein Gott zu sein (Hard to Be a God) in 1990, based on the Strugatsky brothers’ eponymous novel. I actually saw the movie in the cinema back in the day and enjoyed it. I also remember that it was well received and widely promoted at the time, though it seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth in the thirty years since then.
And now, almost thirty years later, Werner Herzog has returned to science fiction to play the Mandalorian’s mysterious client. Normally, I would be annoyed to see yet another German accented villain in a science fiction movie/series that has nothing whatsoever to do with our world (honestly, that stupid trope just needs to die along with British accented villains), but Herzog is good in his role and I now like him more than I did before. The Client regretfully does not have a photo or a hologram of the target, but he gives the Mandalorian a tracker to locate the mysterious asset he is supposed to acquire. He also gives the Mandalorian a bar of beskar, the super-hard steel from which Mandalorian armour is made, as a downpayment with the promise of more, when the Mandalorian completes the job. Apparently, the Empire appropriated the beskar – after first exterminating the Mandalorians.
Next we get an interlude in an underground compound of Mandalorians, where our hero has his downpayment forged into a shoulder piece for his armour. The female armourer, who is coincidentally the only woman character with a speaking role in the first three episodes (though from episode 4 on, every episode features at least one woman character in a speaking role), is pleased that our Mandalorian is about to acquire a lot of beskar, because it means that the beskar is back where it belongs and that some might even be left over for “the foundlings”, orphaned children the Mandalorians have taken in. Our hero agrees with this, for he was once a foundling himself. He also treats us to some flashbacks to his childhood, where his parents are running from an attack and hide him in a cellar. We can imagine what happens next, even though we never see it, not even when we get the full version of the flashback.
Also, can we talk about the fact that the social services infrastructure in the Star Wars universe is absolutely appalling, especially with regard to childcare, for a moment? Because the Star Wars universe is constantly at war, at least over the fifty to sixty year span we’ve been following it in the movies, there are a lot of orphaned kids. Pretty much every human character we ever see in any Star Wars film is an orphan – Luke, Leia, Han, Rey, Finn, Jyn Erso, Boba Fett, the Mandalorian, Han’s childhood sweetheart from Solo, etc… The only human in the Star Wars universe we actually see living with a biological parent is Anakin of all people and he is taken away from his mother at the age of approx. ten and never sees her again. And while Kylo Ren has parents, he ran away from them and likes to pretend that he’s as much of an orphan as everybody else around him.
And what do the political entities controlling the Star Wars universe – whether it’s the Old Republic, the Empire, the New Republic or the First Order – do about the surfeit of orphaned kids? They do fuck all and just let the kids get by however they can. Some, like Luke and Leia, got lucky and found loving adoptive families (and IMO it’s sad that the great job that Owen and Beru Lars and Bail Organa and his unnamed wife did with Luke and Leia is never acknowledged, neither by fans nor the characters themselves. Luke and Leia name their respective kids in the EU/Legends universe and the sequel trilogy after Ben Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker rather than the people who actually raised them). Others like Finn, Anakin, Boba Fett and our Mandalorian got adopted by various warrior groups (the Jedi, the Mandalorians, the First Order stormtroopers) and turned into soldiers. Unsurprisingly, the First Order are the worst here and just kidnap random kids from their families to turn them into Stormtroopers. But raising children to be soldiers is never a good thing, even if the groups in question are well-intentioned like the Jedi (and the Jedi are presumably voluntarily given the children by the respective parents) or the Mandalorians, whose culture and religion requires them to take in orphans and train them as future Mandalorians, if no family can be found. And some kids like Rey, Jyn or Han wre simply left to fend for themselves as street kids, scavengers and petty criminals. It’s very clear that the camps for war orphans in my In Love and War series are awful places and a bad solution to an overwhelming problem, but at least they are a solution. The Star Wars universe doesn’t have a solution at all – the members of the Galactic Senate are just twiddling their thumbs and talking about taxation.
As I wrote in my Rise of Skywalker post, one thing is increasingly becoming clear. The Star Wars universe is a terrible place, regardless of which regime is in charge. It was a terrible place during the Old Republic, it became even more terrible during the Empire, it did not markedly improve during the New Republic and will get even worse with the First Order in charge. Except for Coruscant, Naboo, Bespin and Alderaan (and Naboo isn’t perfect, Bespin gets taken over by the Empire and we see next to nothing of Alderaan before it’s blown up), all planets we see are shitholes beset by crime and corruption (and Bespin is likely beset by crime and corruption, too, considering who runs it) where the locals live a hardscrabble existence. And indeed, it is very notable that the New Republic barely features in The Mandalorian at all and we only see some of their representatives in a single episode. Otherwise, the New Republic seems utterly uninterested in cleaning up the criminal shitholes that make up most of the Star Wars universe. A few non-human worlds like Endor or Kashykk seem to be doing all right with functioning social and political systems, only to be steamrollered by the Empire. Of course, it was always pretty obvious that the Star Wars universe was a horrible place, but during the original trilogy, we were allowed to think that it was better once and will get better again. The prequels, the sequels and the various additional media pretty much destroyed that illusion. The Star Wars is a crappy place, always was and always will be.
With his brand-new beskar shoulder pad, our Mandalorian (since the character doesn’t yet have a name at this point, fans and other characters have taken to calling him Mando) sets off in his ship, an old clone war troop ship called the Razor Crest, in search of the bounty that Werner Herzog’s character wants. He lands on an unnamed planet, tangles with some toothy two-legged creatures named blurrgs, who look like they stepped straight out of a Frank R. Paul painting, and meets an Ugnaught named Kuiil, who is played by Nick Nolte.
As a matter of fact, The Mandalorian is having a lot of fun in casting famous people – Nick Nolte, Taika Waititi, Clancy Brown, Natalie Tena, Amy Sedaris, the guy who plays the blue-skinned alien bounty in the beginning is apparently a well-known comedian as are the two bumbling Stormtroopers in the season 1 finale – and hiding them behind CGI, masks and prosthetics. Just as the producers went to the trouble of casting Pedro Pascal, a pretty well-known and popular actor, and then hiding him behind a helmet he never takes off except for a very brief moment in the final episode. And by the way, kudos to Pedro Pascal for managing to convey what the Mandalorian is feeling solely via body posture and speech (and the Mandalorian is the silent type). This is the sort of subversion of audience expectations that only Disney backed properties can get away with these days (Marvel does it, too, e.g. by having Bradley Cooper voice a raccon, hiring Vin Diesel to say “I Am Groot” a thousand times over, actually showing Andy Serkis’ face or letting Peter Dinklage play a giant, because why not?), because Disney has some of the most famous actors in the world lining up to perform in one of their properties and they’re happy to hide their faces behind a helmet or CGI motion capture or lend their voices to an alien creature. This is very much a subversion of Hollywood’s old star system (and indeed, appearing in Star Wars or a Marvel movie still has the power to turn unknowns into stars) and one I find highly amusing.
Kuiil is conveniently willing to help Mando find his quarry, because it has only been bringing strife and war to his world. Alas, first Mando will have to learn to ride a blurrg, who are not particularly keen on being ridden by Mandalorians, probably because all that armour is pretty heavy. At any rate, the blurrg throws Mando off. A lot. This is also our first hint that – like Boba Fett before him – in spite of the fearsome reputation of Mandalorians, Mando is actually pretty crap at a lot of things, particularly if they involve angry alien animals. Unlike Boba Fett, however, Mando is essentially a good guy.
And so he finds the well-guarded hiding place of his quarry, where he teams up with a fellow bounty hunter, droid IG-11, who is voiced by director Taika Waititi, who apparently likes to play alien creatures – also see his part in Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Endgame. IG-11 will be immediately familiar to Star Wars fans, because he is the same model as IG-88, one of the bounty hunters who were hired by Darth Vader to locate the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back. Indeed, quite a few familiar faces from that brief bounty hunter scene in The Empire Strikes Back pop up in The Mandalorian (and let’s not forget that until the prequels, Boba Fett was the only Mandalorian we’ve ever seen). We also see versions of 4-LOM, the other droid bounty hunter, Bossk, the reptilian bounty hunter, Greedo, who did not shoot first, and Boushh (definitely not Leia in disguise this time), though Dengar and Zuckuss are still missing in action so far (or was the bounty hunter in the spaceship at the start of episode 6 Dengar?). Of course, IG-88, Bossk, Greedo, 4-LOM are all cool looking characters and we’ve been dying to learn more about them for ages. Also, it’s nice that knowing the names of all those walk-on aliens and droids in the original Star Wars trilogy by heart does come in handy after all (makes face at teachers who really hated us kids cramming all that “useless stuff” into our heads rather than learning classic poems by heart). However, I do find it troubling that non-human species in the Star Wars universe are usually only specialise in one profession. Jawas are scavengers, Bossks’s people (called Tradoshans, apparently) are bounty hunters, as are Greedo’s people (called Rodians) and Boushh’s, who never got a name. Hutts are crime lords and Yoda’s people are Jedi. Only Twi’leks get some kind of variation and come as lieutenants of crime lords, slave girls/dancers and even Jedi knights. Cool as all of these species are, would it be too much to ask to see a Jawa scientist, a Hutt astronomer, a Yoda crime lord, a Tradoshan farmer or a Rodian mathematician once in a while?
That said, IG-11 is pretty impressive in his brief initial appearance. His head has rotating rings, which spray bullets in all directions. He also has a thermal detonator embedded in his chest to self-destruct rather than fall into enemy hands and Mando repeatedly has to dissuade IG-11 from using it. Considering how unimpressive most Star Wars battle droids are (remember the tin soldier droids from The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones?), IG-11 is a genuine challenge for any opponent. Though I do wonder how these models came to be built. Most likely, they originated in some secret military lab, probably as a replacement for the Phantom Menace battle droids and eventually went rogue and took up bounty hunting, when the dying Old Republic switched to clone warriors.
Mando and IG-11 are vastly outnumbered, but nonetheless they win the day, when Mando takes control of the opponents’ cannon in a move reminiscent of the final battle of the original (and best) Django, when Django opens the coffin and reveals a machine gun. The two bounty hunters venture into the compound, shoot the final guard and look around confused, because the place seems empty, even though their scanners still indicate that there is a lifeform present. Eventually, they come across an egg-like container, which opens to reveal… a Baby Yoda.
Mando wants to take Baby Yoda (I’ll call him that, because the baby doesn’t have another name. And since the kid is repeatedly referred to as “he” in the series, I assume the gender is correct) to the Client alive, while IG-11 wants to shoot him. Mando disagrees. A shot rings out and IG-11 falls to the ground, a smoking hole in his head. This moment, which happens at the end of episode 1, changes the entire dynamic of the series, because this is the moment where Baby Yoda decides to adopt the Mandalorian. And yes, this is exactly what happens, even if it takes Mando another two episodes to accept this state of things temporarily and until the end of the series to accept it permanently. This is also where the series turns from The Mandalorian to “Lone Mandalorian and Yoda Cub” or – as my Mom refers to it – “Baby Yoda and His Adoptive Dad”.
Episode 2 follows Mando and Baby Yoda as they tangle with some Tradoshan bounty hunters (that’s the Bossk species). Mando is wounded and Baby Yoda repeatedly climbs out of his floating pram and tries to use his Force abilities to heal him, only that Mando doesn’t get what the little one is trying to do. When they return to Mando’s ship, they find that some passing Jawas, who still have no concept of other people’s property, have stripped it clean. Mando and his Ugnaught pal Kuiil try to get his property back from the Jawas, but the only payment they will accept is the egg of a creature called a Mudhorn, which was previously seen in the arena scene in Attack of the Clones. The Mudhorn is obviously not keen on having its egg stolen and pummels Mando – a lot. And once again we see that even though Mando is a good guy and competent bounty hunter, he is pretty crap at wrangling hostile beasts and ends up on his back splattered all over with mud. In fact, Mando only wins the fight against the Mudhorn through the intervention of Baby Yoda, who uses his Force powers to levitate the Mudhorn, giving Mando the chance to recover long enough to stab the creature. Meanwhile, Baby Yoda passes out from exhaustion – he may be powerful in the Force, but he’s still a baby, after all. Interestingly, the usual suspects who were utterly outraged that Rey, a young woman with plenty of survival experience, instinctively knew how to use the Force seem to have zero issues with the fact that a baby, even a fifty-year-old Yoda baby, does the same. Meanwhile, Mando and Kuiil have no idea what just happened, which suggests that the Force is already passing into legend at this point in time, five years after the Battle of Endor, until the entire story of the rebellion, the Jedi and the Force is considered a legend by Rey and Finn some twenty-five years later in The Force Awakens.
Pretty much the entire Internet has fallen head over heels in love with Baby Yoda. Even Werner Herzog, who’s supposed to be the villain who mercilessly hunts Baby Yoda, has fallen in love with the little one and it’s easy to see why. For starters, Baby Yoda is the most adorable being you have ever seen. I mean, they took one of the cutest aliens in Star Wars and babyfied him. What’s not to love about that? Baby Yoda is also an animatronic puppet, not a CGI creation, and that makes him feel more real. Futhermore, Baby Yoda may be an alien, but he behaves like a human toddler. From his floating pram, he observes the world around him with wide eyes, curious about everything that’s out there. He sticks random objects into his mouth, whether it’s the knob of a lever aboard the Razor Crest or a live frog (and that scene reminded me of an approx. one-year-old baby I knew who put a very big beetle into his mouth and swallowed it, before anybody could stop him, and had that same look on his face afterwards). He bites a Stormtrooper in the finger. He flicks random switches aboard the Razor Crest, because they are there, and even grabs the flightstick once. He giggles while he’s being driven around on a speeder bike with blaster bolts flying all around. He toddles after his caregiver, unwilling to be alone, and quickly makes friends with other children, once he meets some. He tries to befriend an alien cat, who’d rather be left alone. He gets upset when his caregiver engages in some friendly arm-wrestling with a fellow warrior in a scene that is clearly the kiddie-friendly version of “kid walks in on parent(s) having sex and completely misunderstands the situation”. Baby Yoda embraces his caregiver’s leg, since he’s too small for a real embrace. And when his caregiver is hurt, he tries to help and comfort him. These are all things that human infants do and behaviours that viewers recognise, because they’ve seen it in their own kids or kids of their acquaintance. And that is why Baby Yoda works so well. Because he’s not just cute, he also behaves like a real kid. I also want to introduce him to everybody’s favourite other alien baby – Baby Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy.
There is also a lot of speculation where Baby Yoda might come from. For starters, he obviously cannot be a reincarnation of Yoda or a younger version of Yoda himself, because the timelines just don’t fit. Baby Yoda is fifty years old (his species develops much slower than humans and lives much longer), so he was born before The Phantom Menace. Some believe he may be a clone of Yoda, which is certainly possible. And the fact that Werner Herzog hangs out with a gentleman named Dr. Pershing who wears the insignia of the clone technicians from Camino seen in Attack of the Clones may hint in that direction. However, my personal pet theory is that Baby Yoda is Yoda’s secret love child. After all, it’s not as if any of the Jedi who are more than cool-looking extras in the prequels ever cared about the celibacy requirement with the possible exception of Mace Windu and we simply don’t see enough of him to know whether he has a lover hidden somewhere or is having an affair with a fellow Jedi. So if all the other Jedi are having secret and not so secret love affairs, why not Yoda? Besides, Yoda clearly knows where young padawans come from and that getting people with a high midichlorian count to reproduce is a good idea. After all, he pretty much pushes Anakin and Padme together in Attack of the Clones. And once the results become visible, Yoda does not mind at all. In fact, he seems pleased. So if Yoda wanted Anakin and Padme to make babies, is it that much of a stretch to assume that he’d find a way to reproduce as well, considering he is the Jedi with the second highest midichlorian count after Anakin? Of course, Yoda is neither interested in nor particularly good at childcare, but that’s hardly surprising, considering what we’ve seen of his behaviour elsewhere. Yoda believes that the best place for potential Jedi babies is hidden away somewhere and raised by strangers.
As for why Werner Herzog’s character wants Baby Yoda, we never learn his reasons, but they can’t be good. And this is very much what the Mandalorian suspects once he delivers Baby Yoda to the Client in episode 3. He even asks the Client what will happen to Baby Yoda now, only to be told that it’s none of his business, because bounty hunters aren’t supposed to care what happens to their quarry once they deliver them (I suspect Colt Seavers would not have fared well in the Star Wars universe). Greef Carga also has no idea what the Client may want Baby Yoda for, though he reveals that every single bounty hunter in the guild had tracker for Baby Yoda.
Mando takes his payment, the beskar steel, to the secret underground (literally, it later turns out) compound of Mandalorians to get it turned into a gleaming new suit of armour. Them when he is about to take off in the Razor Crest, he noticed that one of the cockpit levers is missing a button – the very button that Baby Yoda played with earlier. That does it and so Mando takes off to get Baby Yoda back. He sneaks into the Client’s lair, takes out various Stormtroopers, sometimes with a baby in one arm, and legs it for the Razor Crest. Unfortunately, Greef Carga and his bounty hunters have other ideas and try to stop Mando and take Baby Yoda. A wild shoot-out ensues and Mando and Baby Yoda escape with some help from his fellow Mandalorians.
Since Mando is now the hunted rather than the hunter, he decides to lie low for a while and heads for Sorgan, an idyllic planet whose inhabitants harvest blue shrimp to make same kind of blue liquor in one of those moments of pure beautiful Star Wars weirdness. Unfortunately, Mando finds that he is not the only one to think that Sorgan makes the perfect hideout. For no sooner has he landed that he encounters Cara Dune (played by MMA fighter Gina Carrano), a former Rebel Shocktrooper who has ended up on the wrong side of the law. Mando assumes that Cara is a bounty hunter, Cara assumes the same and so they soon fight – and are interrupted by a curious Baby Yoda eating soup in a scene that launched a thousand GIFs. Once they realise their mistake, Mando and Cara team up to protect a village against a gang of bandits with an Imperial walker, in a variation of The Seven Samurai a.k.a. The Magnificent Seven a.k.a. Battle Beyond Stars. Considering that The Mandalorian is a space opera cum western cum samurai series, it’s only fitting that the series puts its own spin on a story that has already been told in all three genres. There also is another western reference in this episode BTW, one that no one seems to have spotted yet. Because the scene where the Mandalorian walks into a bar and asks for “Bone broth, for the little one” echoes a scene in the 1948 holiday western Three Godfathers, where John Wayne walks into a bad, half dead and cradling a baby, and asks for “Milk for the baby”.
Mando is as close as he ever comes to peace on Sorgan and Baby Yoda is clearly happy, because there are kids to play with and frogs to eat. Plus, there is a lovely young widow and single mother who clearly takes an interest in Mando, since she knows good Dad material, when she sees it. Alas, Mando can’t stay, because staying and taking off his armour and helmet would mean breaking his oath as a Mandalorian. Though the taboo that Mandalorians cannot take off their helmets in front of another living being must be a newer addition to the Star Wars canon, probably introduced in the cartoons, which delved into the lore of the Mandalorians quite a bit (and Dave Filoni, one of the producers of The Mandalorian, also produced the various cartoons). Because Jango Fett took off his helmet in Attack of the Clones. On the other hand, it’s quite possible that the Mandalorians had already disowned Fett at that point – after all, both Fetts, Jango and Boba, are arseholes and clearly not following “the way”. Though The Mandalorian does explain why Jango Fett chose to keep and raise one of the clone kids, because raising kids who have no one else is what Mandalorians do.
But even though Mando himself cannot stay, he plans to leave Baby Yoda with the lovely young widow, because his lifestyle isn’t really suitable for a child. However, a bounty hunter shows up gunning for Baby Yoda. Cara Dune takes him out, but Mando now knows that he and Baby Yoda won’t be safe anywhere and takes off again. The next two episodes are largely standalone stories, which chronicle how Mando tries to earn some money, since breaking up with the bounty hunter’s guild also meant losing access to jobs, while Baby Yoda continues to be unbelievably cute.
In one of those episodes, Mando is forced to land the Razor Crest on Tatooine for repairs (does anybody ever land in Tatooine for any other reason? Cause whenever we see Tatooine, it’s because someone’s ship is wrecked and they have to land there) after a firefight with a fellow bounty hunter. He lands in Mos Eisley, everybody’s favourite “wretched hive of scum and villainy” and even pays a visit to the Cantina, which still looks very much like it did in A New Hope. Talking of which, we honestly wonder just how sheltered Obi-Wan must have been to refer to Mos Eisley that way, considering that the city seems pretty average for the Star Wars universe. There certainly are worse places in the Star Wars universe, as Obi-Wan should well know, because he has been to several of them.
On Tatooine, which is coincidentally the only familiar Star Wars planet we see in The Mandalorian, Mando haggles with a repair shop owner (Amy Sedaris dressed up as Ellen Ripley from Alien), who winds up babysitting Baby Yoda, while Mando sets out with a junior bounty hunter to hunt down a legendary Imperial assassin played by Ming-Na Wen. They get their woman, only for the junior bounty hunter to try to double-cross Mando, which does not end well for him (well, he was a jerk). This episode also establishes a pattern tht will hold throughout the rest of the series, namely that everybody who drops, threatens, hits or otherwise hurts Baby Yoda is clearly a villain and will likely not survive the end of the episode.
The next episode sees Mando visiting some old acquaintances from the shadier parts of his past, because they are willing to hire him for a job, no questions asked. And so Mando finds himself part of a crew consisting of a human jerk, an alien jerk, a droid jerk and a female Twi’lek who also happens to be his ex and is portrayed by Natalie Tena as the Twi’lek version of Harley Quinn. When asked if Mandalorians do it with the helmet on, she declaines to answer. The job is a raid on a New Republic prison ship to break out a prisoner. Mando is clearly not comfortable with the whole thing, because he’s trying to be a better person these days, but he needs the money. And of course, he’s promptly double-crossed again (we do worry about his judgment of people), but manages to turn the tables and sic the New Republic onto his former comrades. Coincidentally, this episode is the only time we actually see representatives of the New Republic in the form of a hapless officer aboard the prison ship, who is quickly killed in spite of Mando’s best attempts to save him, and three fighter pilots. Otherwise, the New Republic is mostly notable by its absence and total disinterest in what is going on in its territory. I guess they were all busy fighting Grand Admiral Thawn or something like that.
After two filler episodes, the two part series finale returns to the ongoing story of Mando trying to deal with those hunting Baby Yoda. For Mando gets a call from his old pal Greef Carga, who finds his lucrative bounty hunting business interrupted by Werner Herzog flooding his planet and city with Stormtroopers. Greef Carga just wants Herzog and the Stormtroopers gone, so he can continue his shady activities in peace, therefore he offers Mando a deal. If Mando helps Greef Carga double-cross and kill Werner Herzog, Greef Carga will forget that Mando broke the guild code and take him back and he’ll call off the hunters who are after Baby Yoda, too. Mando accepts, but after having been double-crossed twice, he wisens up and gets some back-up of his own in the form of Cara Dune, who’s always happy to take out Imperial remnants (and with good reason, too, since she is a survivor of Alderaan), and Kuill, who insists on bringing his blurrgs along as well as IG-11, the former bounty hunting droid who has been reprogrammed as a nurse and caretaker droid by Kuill after Mando shot him. Mando isn’t particularly keen on blurrgs and not at all keen on IG-11, but he needs the help, so he grudgingly goes along with it.
The reveal that Kuill has repaired and reprogrammed IG-11 leads to an interesting discussion between Mando and Kuill. Mando insists that IG-11 cannot be trusted, that he will always be a hunter and killer (and Mando has massive, if understandable, issues with droids anyway, because his parents were killed by battle droids), whereupon Kuill replies that every droid is only as good as its programming and Kuill programmed IG-11 for peaceful purposes. This is a rare acknowledgement that the droids of the Star Wars universe – though clearly sentient and with unique personalities – are nonetheless machines that have been created and programmed by someone, even if many of those someones clearly haven’t heard of the Three Laws of Robotics. Coincidentally, we learn a bit more about Kuill such as that he was an indentured slave of the Empire and had to work for three human lifetimes to earn his freedom, which is a reminder that the non-human inhabitants of the Star Wars universe were very much second class citizens during the Empire and probably not that much better off during the Old and New Republic either.
As pretty much everybody, including Mando, suspected, Greef Carga really is planning to double-cross Mando and his friends. But he has a change of heart after he is bitten by a venomous pterodactyl-like critter and Baby Yoda uses the Force to heal him (and now I wonder why there are so many complaints about the Force healing in The Rise of Skywalker). From now on, Greef Carga is on Team Mando and Baby Yoda, even though he keeps referring to the Force as “the magic hand thing”.
Mando is still willing to take out the Client, since this will solve both his and Greef Carga’s problems, but he’s not willing to risk Baby Yoda’s safety, so he sends him back to the Razor Crest with Kuill, while Greef Carga, Mando and Cara Dune use the fake prisoner routine and Baby Yoda’s empty pram to get into the Client’s headquarters. Their ploy works initially, though there are more Stormtroopers than expected. Mando also has to endure Werner Herzog fingering his armour and waxing on about how the Empire made every place it conquered better and safer and that the fall of the Empire made everything worse and that the Mandalorians should just have submitted to Imperial control. Werner Herzog is utterly chilling in that scene and in fact, I’m surprised that Mando and Cara were able to resist shooting him on the spot.
In the end, however, Werner Herzog’s character is killed not by Mando or Cara, but by his own people. For his superior, one Moff Gideon (chillingly portrayed by Giancarlo Esposito), an Imperial war criminal who apparently escaped execution at the hands of the New Republic (they’re really not very competent, are they?), orders his Stormtroopers (and his look much less battered than Werner Herzog’s) to open fire upon Werner Herzog’s hideout. Herzog and the Stormtroopers are killed and Mando, Cara and Greef Carga are trapped. Mando tries to hail Kuill, but then the camera reveals Kuill lying dead on the ground, while two Stormtroopers on speeder bikes snatch up Baby Yoda.
The Mandalorian left us with this nasty cliffhanger over the holidays, then the final episode opens with the two Stormtroopers who killed Kuill and took Baby Yoda engaged in some “We’re just regular working stiffs and Moff Gideon is one nightmare of a boss” dialogue. A comic relief moment at the beginning of the final episode of the season, coming directly after a cliffhanger, too, shouldn’t work, but it does. It’s also a rare example of Star Wars humanising Stormtroopers (who are all too often treated as disposable cannon fodder, even after we learn that many/most of them are kidnapped kids turned into soldiers), though that does not make this lot any more likeable. For the Stormtroopers not only practice target shooting with typical Stormtrooper accuracy, they also hit Baby Yoda whenever he makes a sound, which instantly turns them into villains. And so absolutely no one mourns, when IG-11 takes them out and rescues Baby Yoda, after first issuing a warning that he is the child’s nurse droid and that the Stormtroopers should hand him over or face the consequences. If IG-11, the bounty hunter droid, was cool, IG-11 the gun-toting nanny, is even cooler, as he appropriates the Stormtrooper’s speeder bike and races to the rescue of Mando and the others, Baby Yoda giggling all the way, as blaster bolts fly all around them.
Meanwhile, Moff Gideon displays some remarkable knowledge about our heroes. He knows Mando’s real name – Din Djarin, he knows that Cara is from Alderaan and that Greef Carga used to be a magistrate, most likely for the Empire, before he was disgraced and became a broker for bounty hunters. This moment reminded me of a classic of German postwar cinema, The Spessart Inn from 1958, even though I suspect that neither showrunners Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni nor director Taika Waititi have ever seen it. In The Spessart Inn, there is a moment where the leader of a gang of robbers, who used to be an Italian Count before he fell on hard times, questions a new recruit what led an apprentice goldsmith to take up highway robbery. “Didn’t we all use to be something better”, the new recruit (who unbeknowst to the robber captain, is really a young noblewoman dressed up as a boy) replies. Though set in the mid 19th century, The Spessart Inn is very much a commentary on post-WWII West Germany, where a lot of people who “used to be something better” were forced to make do and rebuild their lives in a country in ruins.
In The Mandalorian, the Star Wars universe is going through its own period of postwar chaos. The Empire is gone, but the liberation did not really make the lives of most people in this universe any better. The old villains are reappearing in new guises (or even the old) in the power vaccuum left by the Empire’s defeat. Mando, Cara and Greef Carga (and IG-11, for that matter) are all people who “used to be something better” and now have to find their place on the margins of a universe that no longer has any use for people like them.
The arrival of IG-11 temporarily tilts the balance towards our heroes, when the droid – aided by Mando, Cara and Greef Carga – manages to take out several Stormtroopers. But our heroes are still trapped, Worse, Mando is wounded and his wound cannot be treated without taking off his helmet, which Mando flat out refuses to do because of his code (maybe, the Mandalorians should amend their rules to allow removing the helmet in case of medical emergencies). And so he hands Baby Yoda and his own Mandalorian necklace to Cara and tells her to escape with Greef Carga and the kid into the sewers where the Mandalorians hide out and ask them for help. Cara doesn’t want to leave Mando, but eventually agrees when the Stormtroopers close in and deploy a flamethrower, which is deflected by Baby Yoda’s force powers to everybody’s amazement. IG-11 stays behind with the wounded Mando and says that he can heal him, if Mando allows him to take off the helmet. Mando still refuses and declares that no living thing may see him without his helmet. “I am no living thing”, IG-11 declares and takes off the helmet to treat Mando’s wounds. And this is the only time in eight episodes that we actually see star Pedro Pascal’s face, suitably bruised and battered, for maybe a minute.
The escape into the sewers doesn’t work out as planned either. For starters, the Stormtroopers aren’t fooled for long and take off after our heroes. Worse, instead of the hoped for Mandalorian help, our heroes find only a pile of Mandalorian helmets and armour. And since Mandalorians are never separated from their armour except in death, it’s pretty clear that the Mandalorian hide-out was wiped out. And since the Mandalorians only revealed themselves to help out Mando, when he was in trouble after rescuing Baby Yoda from Werner Herzog, Mando naturally feels responsible for what happened.
However, there still is one other surviving Mandalorian, the female armourer who also appears to be the leader of this group of Mandalorians. She confirms what Mando already suspected. The Stormtroopers wiped out the Mandalorians and she is not sure how many survived. The armourer also asks to see the being who was the cause for all this destruction and is quite surprised that it is a baby. Mando explains that Baby Yoda may look helpless, but that he can move objects with his mind. The armourer nods and says that there are legends of Mandalorians fighting a group of evil sorcerers called the Jedi. This is coincidentally the only time the word “Jedi” is uttered in the entire series.
It does seem strange that the Jedi and the Force have turned into legend only a few decades after most of the Jedi were wiped out. However, this pattern is consistent throughout the greater Star Wars series. Some twenty years after the Jedi were wiped out, Luke has never heard of them, Han thinks they’re a legend and a random Imperial officer aboard the Death Star calls the Force an “old superstitious religion” before Darth Vader gives him a first-hand demonstration. And some thirty years after the fall of the Empire, both Finn and Rey are convinced that the Jedi are nothing but a legend. In The Mandalorian, finally, some five years after the fall of the Empire and some twenty-five years after the Jedi were wiped out, the only people who have heard of the Jedi and the Force are the Mandalorian armourer and Kuill, whom we know is much older than humans and has worked for the Empire. The only way this makes sense is that the Jedi were never all that well known among regular citizens of the Star Wars universe in the first place. After all, there were comparatively few Jedi and most ordinary denizens of the Star Wars universe have probably never met one. And once the Empire took over, they likely actively suppressed any knowledge of the Jedi. Once the Empire fell, Luke’s new Jedi order never really got off the ground and probably wasn’t widely known either. Never mind that the state of record keeping and news distribution in the Star Wars universe is as appalling as its social services and maternal healthcare. The Star Wars universe has no internet equivalent, probably because pre-1980s science fiction hardly ever predicted the internet. Worse, they also don’t seem to have newspapers, news channels, broadcasting or any news distribution system at all. So any news about the Jedi and their feats probably spread via word of mouth and quickly turned into legend. As for Mandalore’s interaction with the Jedi, they have an additional problem that their culture was largely wiped out and any records probably destroyed.
Mando is appalled that the child he has spent eight episodes protecting is an enemy. “No, his people were enemies, but this one is not”, the Armourer corrects him, “It is a foundling and it is in your care and until it is of age or reunited with his own people, you are his father.” Mando asks what he is supposed to do with Baby Yoda, train it? The Armourer thinks that probably isn’t a very good idea (though I for one would love to see a small lightsaber wielding Yoda in Mandalorian armour) and that Mando should return the child to his own people instead, giving Mando his quest for season 2. She also givs him his signet – the mudhorn – as well as a Mandalorian jetpack, poetically called “Rising Phoenix” and informs Mando that he and Baby Yoda are now a clan of two, the clan of the mudhorn which they defated together. Of course, it was pretty obvious to everybody except Mando himself that he is Baby Yoda’s father in every way that matters, but Mando and the viewers still needed the reminder that the Mandalorian way is not just about cool armour and weapons, but also about taking responsibility for the orphaned children that Star Wars universe creates en masse and then just ignores.
But before Mando can set out to find the planet of the Yodas – provided it still exists, considering it would seem a prime target for the Empire to take out – our heroes first have to brave some additional dangers in the form of a lava river that is navigated by a ferry boat operated by an R2 unit with retrofitted arms and legs in one of those beautiful moments of sheer absurdity and strangeness that Star Wars occasionally serves up. IG-11 heroically sacrifices himself to take out some Stormtroopers and protect our heroes in a scene that does something else that Star Wars has always been good at, bringing tears to our eyes (and Mando’s) over what essentially a machine. Finally, Mando also has to use his brand-new Jetpack to take out Moff Gideon and his TIE fighter – or so he thinks. For like every good Star Wars villain, Moff Gideon isn’t really dead. He cuts his way out of his wrecked fighter, scaring off some Jawas in the process, and brandishes a black lightsaber.
My reaction to the lightsaber reveal was, “Wow, I had no idea they came in that colour. And is he a Sith Lord – after all, Palpatine is short of an apprentice with Darth Vader very definitely dead and Ben Solo/Kylo Ren still a young a child and Moff Gideon certainly looks the part? Or did he just appropriate a lightsaber somewhere?” It seems that the second option is correct, for the black lightsaber – known somewhat unimaginatively as the darksaber – apparently played an important role in the Star Wars cartoons and was the weapon of the first Mandalorian to become a Jedi. And sorry, but a Mandalorian who is also a Jedi and has a special black goth lightsaber sounds like the most Mary Sue thing ever – not that the folks complaining about Rey will ever acknowledge that.
The series ends with Mando and Baby Yoda taking off in the Razor Crest, now officially a family and a clan of two. I’d hoped that Cara would come along, because she’s a great character and obviously likes Mando quite a bit – witness how she protectively throws herself over him, when he’s wounded, even though Mando is the one with the indestructible armour. Not to mention that Mando and Cara, two people who have both lost their home and their entire culture to the Empire, would be good for each other. Of course, Mando is oblivious to how Cara feels about him, though Baby Yoda is clearly not. Just note how he inevitably manages to interrupt, whenever Mando and Cara are together. The little guy is clearly jealous, though he and Cara seem to have made peace by the end of season 1. And I definitely hope we’ll see Cara and Greef Carga for that matter again in season 2.
Considering that I originally hadn’t even planned to watch The Mandalorian at all, I wound up enjoying the show a whole lot, but then I am a sucker for found family stories. And I’m not the only one, because The Mandalorian is that rare Star Wars property which seems to be pretty much universally liked. The most critical arguments I have seen are along the lines of, “Well, the show is fun, but a bit shallow.” Otherwise, the critical voices generally like the show. And even the aggrieved fanboys who have claim to have sworn of Star Wars for good after the prequels/The Last Jedi/The Rise of Skywalker raped their childhood seem to make an exception for The Mandalorian. Maybe because there are fewer of those pesky women around, at least in the first few episodes, and the protagonist is a real man’s man (and caregiver to a small child). I also suspect they have failed to notice that Mando is portrayed by a man of colour and that every white man we see (not counting those like Nick Nolte who are hidden underneath a ton of make-up) plays a villain.
But the question remains why in a fandom as divided and downright toxic as Star Wars is The Mandalorian so universally liked? I think part of the reason is that with everybody focussing on the sequel trilogy, The Mandalorian somewhat flew under the radar. Nobody expected much from it, so everybody was pleasantly surprised.
Besides, showrunnners Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni clearly get Star Wars and why the original movies were such hits. Because The Mandalorian not only continues the proud Star Wars tradition of borrowing tropes from half a dozen genres and putting its own spin on them, it also captures the lived-in look of the original trilogy better than pretty much any subsequent Star Wars property did. Finally, The Mandalorian is also chock full of those moments of wonderful weirdness that made Star Wars so special. It’s a universe where astromech droids on spindly legs punt down a river of molten lava and taxis are summoned by flute, where a gun-toting killer robot also makes a great nanny, where odd critters lurk in every corner and occasionally end up in Baby Yoda’s mouth, where people in the loosest sense of the word ride on creatures that are basically toothy mouths on legs and where people drink liquor brewed from glowing blue shrimps. Of course, the Star Wars universe doesn’t really make sense, when you think too hard about it, but you’ll never notice while you’re watching.
Finally, there is Baby Yoda, one of the cutest beings ever caught on film. The show may be called The Mandalorian, but Baby Yoda is the true star. And I for one can’t wait for more adventures of Baby Yoda and his adoptive dad.
*Why was every artistic movement in the 1960s/1970s always called the New Something or Other? We have the New Wave, the New Hollywood, the New German Cinema, the Nouvelle Vague, etc…