This is the Way: The Mandalorian

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

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It is a period of peace and order. Five years have passed since the Rebel Alliance defeated the evil Galactic Empire, bringing a new democracy to the galaxy. Emperor Palpatine and his apprentice Darth Vader are dead, and Imperial generals have been detained for their crimes. Planets are at peace and balance has been restored. On a cold, desolate land, a lone Mandalorian stands in front a cantina, a blinking tracking fob in hand. He is a bounty hunter, a remnant of the fallen Empire, ruled by strict codes and a focused determination: get your target, deliver the target, and collect your bounty. Nothing can deter him from this path, or so he believes…

Obviously, The Mandalorian did not have the famous scrawling prologue to open the first episode. Gone is the sweeping John Williams’s score that has become a staple in our pop culture. There’s no mention of the Skywalkers and Jedis are practically an unknown species. The Mandalorian is a Star Wars story, as evidence by the new Star Wars production cue that appears at the start of each show, but it is definitely not your typical canon. To be honest, after the emotional rollercoaster that was The Rise of Skywalker, I am perfectly fine with that.

image courtesy of Disney+

The Disney+ show was the first original content to debut on the new channel, and it has quickly become that show for me. You know what I’m talking about. That show that persuaded you to order a streaming service just for that series, even though you told yourself you didn’t need another subscription. Next thing you know, you have text threads devoted to possible future theories and spoilers and hashtags ready for tweets when a new episode premieres. Eventually, you find yourself casually slipping in show recommendations into everyday conversations, regardless of the topic or the appropriateness of the situation. Your family didn’t appreciate you giving thanks to Baby Yoda during your annual Christmas prayer? Too bad because he’s the new reason for the season. (JK, Baby Jesus. Still love you.)

While I’ve already admitted to my obsession with a green baby muppet who makes all real children pale in comparison (pun intended), The Mandalorian is more than just Baby Yoda looking all different kinds of adorable.

*Be warned, there are slight spoilers. I have spoken. 

The Mando

You guys. I’m cheating on Adam Driver/Kylo Ren/Ben “He Deserved a Better Ending” Solo. Who caused me to have this fall from grace, to become a woman with loose morals?

Pedro Pascal. More specifically, I’m in love with Pedro Pascal’s voice. 

image courtesy of Disney+

For an entire season, Mando predominately existed behind the mask. His first line – “I can bring you in warm…Or I can bring you in cold” – conveyed this quiet confidence that commanded your attention as well as your hormones. It’s the kind of voice that demands your acquiescence and/or helps you narrow down your safe words. Without the benefit of facial expressions – the Mandalorians rarely take off their helmets, which raises so many hygiene questions – the actor has the daunting task of using both his voice and his physicality to portray a tenderhearted warrior. We don’t easily see the warring emotions when Mando struggles with taking the next job or rescuing The Child. Our clues come from his body language, the way he stays still as if deep in thought before making that final, fateful decision.

Of course, a majority of his scenes are shared with Baby Yoda; and while he may be the titular character, Pedro Pascal clearly understands that he is only a fraction of The Mandalorian’s attention, which makes me love him even more:

The Rise of Women

While the show is centered on a male Mandalorian, the women in this galaxy are not the weak, timid damsels in distress. Like Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia and Laura Dern’s Commander Holdo, the women in The Mandalorian refuse to accept that this is simply a man’s galaxy. This season, we saw characters like mechanic Peli Motto, played by the amazing Amy Sedaris in what was clearly Sigourney Weaver’s permed mullet from the 80s, and sharpshooter Fennec Shand, portrayed by Ming Na Wen, go toe-to-toe with Mando. It’s even a woman – the Armorer –  leading the surviving Mandalorians.

However, the most badass woman on the show is Gina Carano’s Cara Dune, a former rebel soldier turned mercenary.

image courtesy of Disney+

The character is both mentally and physically Mando’s equal, and does not have any problem throwing down if the moment calls for it. That strength is evident not only in the character’s action but her presentation as well. Lets just give props to the costume designers who celebrated Gina Carano’s athletic physique rather than overly feminize the actress or try to hide her behind long sleeves and baggy layers. There will be no gold encrusted bikini in Cara Dune’s future, thank the maker.

Throwbacks

It is easy to attribute the references to canon – such as R2 units, landspeeders, Jawas, the Cantina, or even the Kowakian lizard monkeys infamous for being Jabba the Hutt’s prized pet – to being a part of Mandalorian’s success; that it provides just enough of the nostalgia for Star Wars fans to savor. However, nostalgia implies looking at one’s past through rose-colored glasses.

The Mandalorian is not a simple walk down memory lane. It exposes a universe post Empire rule, a universe we thought was filled with promise and hope. Instead, it continues to be a universe of violence, ruthlessness, and greed. We return back to Tattoine, to the Cantina where Han shot first, and even hear about Beggar’s Canyon; but it is still as lawless and unpredictable as it was when a young farm boy stood among its dunes, dreaming of the opportunities past the twin suns. Rather than stormtroopers roaming the desert, we see their bloody helmets impaled on spikes.

image courtesy of Disney+

Although we recognize Beggar’s Canyon as a desolate landscape ideal for podracing – where even a young Anakin Skywalker essentially won his freedom and his son would later hone his racing skills – we learn that it’s also a place to hide a dead body from suspicious and curious seekers. Planets are still ruled by fear, the remenants of the Empire hide in the shadows, and it soon becomes clear that the galaxy is still in a state of fluctuation, never settling. 

Our reverent heroes may have restored justice and balance back to the universe, but The Mandalorian shows us that peace and order is fleeting, and it’s only a matter of time when the cycle of power and violence start again. 

The Best Of The Mandalorian 

Does The Mandalorian have its faults? Of course. At times, the show seemed disjointed and underdeveloped, leaving what felt more like plot holes than foreshadowing. Mando’s sole memory from his childhood – violent and panicked flashes of his parents hiding him from the Mandalorian purge – initially provided viewers insight into the reasons behind his choices and further intrigued us to discover more about the man behind the mask. However, this development was abruptly abandoned by Chapter 4 and was almost forgotten until the season finale. Although I appreciated Chapter 5 and the journey back to Tatooine, the episode itself seemed superfluous and that its only goal was to give us a bit of that excitement to see the desert land again. It relied too much on that deeply embedded fan service and love of the original trilogy – see the Cantina and even the exact table where we first meet Han Solo and Chewbacca – and not enough on the characters, especially Ming Na Wen’s Fennec Shand, who was the most fascinating development of that chapter and deserved to have a more complete story arc.

Yet in spite of these shortcomings, The Mandalorian excels in such a way that those faults do not deter from the show’s excitement. Even when the show stumbled, it quickly recovered its footing. Episodes like the penultimate “The Reckoning” or the heart racing season finale’s “Redemption” did not forsake intelligence for suspense and action.

Sure, Chapter 5 may have been a little too heavy handed with the New Hope throwbacks; however, the series as a whole is able to exist among the Star Wars universe without being overshadowed by its predecessors. In fact, for the most part, The Mandalorian sets itself a part as its own show, who just happens to include Star Wars lore. It’s not a requirement for audiences be experts or even possess a basic knowledge of prior films or extended universes to understand and appreciate this show. That’s the appeal of The Mandalorian: it’s a love letter to fans while being the show that welcomes a new audience to the Star Wars galaxy.

Of course, all of this is to the testament of the creators, but especially to producer and screenwriter, Jon Favreau. Jon Favreau is my internet husband, and I will fight anyone who speaks ill of the man. Any. One.

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If you loved Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man and enjoyed watching The Avengers save the world while simultaneously pissing off Martin Scorsese, you need to thank Jon Favreau. Sure, Kevin Feige gets all the kudos and free Marvel Studios baseball caps for life, but it’s Favreau who is really the unsung hero of the MCU. The actor-director-wannbe chef (see Chef Show on Netflix and get ready for food porn) brought Iron Man to screen when comic book movies were flailing at the box office and casted Robert Downey, Jr. when he was practically blacklisted.

Why is this important? Because Jon Favreau knew that you didn’t have to forsake the pathos in storytelling to make an action film. This same principle applies to The Mandalorian. Yes, there are intricate action sequences and thrilling chases that will definitely become a Disneyland Galaxy’s Edge ride, but what pulls us back each week is a character-driven story that goes beyond your standard tropes and stock characterization.

With a team of talented and visionary directors, including the wildly brilliant Taika Waititi  and Bryce Dallas Howard, Favreau is in good company. However, one director stands out among the rest: Deborah Chow. The director of the future Kenobi series was tasked with bringing the vision of Chapter 3, “The Sin” to life and she did so in a way that easily made it the best episode of the season.

image courtesy of Disney+

If you have yet to see it, do yourself a favor: stop reading, turn it on now, and be prepared to take a journey for the next 37 minutes. “The Sin” is not only the most emotionally charged episode, it is the episode that shows audience who the Mandalorian truly is behind the mask. We’re also privy to the most goosebump inducing ending that harkens back to the heroic conclusions of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi.

Although we said goodbye to the Starwalker Saga, The Mandalorian proves that there are other stories in a galaxy far, far away.

The Mandalorian Season 1 is available on Disney+

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