Did you know Baby Yoda is actually from a show, and while he’s a major part of the plot, he’s not the main character? Weird, right? The little guy, officially known as “The Child,” has practically taken over the world with his cute little face, noises, memes, and force powers beyond anyone’s comprehension. To be clear, this is something I 100% approve of. I love Baby Yoda, both for being so adorable that he warms the hearts of even the most hardened skeptic, and for adding a necessary sense of wholesomeness to an already pretty great show. The Mandalorian, while flawed in some areas, is a worthy entry into the expanded Star Wars canon, and in an endless sea of toxic discussions about the franchise that dulled my appreciation for it, this series has reminded me why I even enjoyed Star Wars in the first place.
The Mandalorian is the first of numerous anthology television shows set in the Star Wars universe, separated from the Skywalker Saga in narrative but still exploring the series’ lore. It focuses on the Mandalorians, a clan-based people with a long history in the extended Star Wars universe, though knowing every detail about them is not necessary to enjoy the show. Basically, they were supposedly eliminated by the Galactic Empire, but our protagonist (who I’ll refer to as “Mando” from now on) is part of a group of survivors called “The Tribe.” Mando gets work as a bounty hunter, and one day, gets an assignment from a former, unnamed Imperial client to obtain an important asset. That, as you can probably guess, is “The Child,” and galaxy-jumping episodic adventures featuring Mando and Baby Yoda ensue.
What’s interesting about this show is that, on the surface, it just seems like Star Wars fanfiction that doesn’t really need to exist in this form. It very easily could’ve been a comic or novel for hardcore fans interested the obscure origin of Boba Fett’s armor, instead of a high-profile production with huge names both in front of and behind the camera. Granted, this is also not the first time Disney has given stories that have nothing to do with the Skywalker Saga this treatment - both Rogue One and Solo: A Star Wars Story were previous attempts. However, while Rogue One was widely successful, it did not bring in the same numbers as The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, and Solo was a box office disappointment. This shows that, while interest in the Star Wars expanded universe exists, it hypothetically does not warrant the existence of a huge television show that reportedly cost $100 million dollars, and is slated to launch an entire streaming platform.
Even with those obstacles, The Mandalorian has proven to be a massive success, becoming one of the most-viewed shows of the year, exceeding even Game of Thrones. I don’t doubt that Baby Yoda is responsible for some of that, but the show itself actually solves the problem Rogue One and Solo: A Star Wars Story failed to address - properly navigating the line between being supplemental and relevant. Both of the films felt underdeveloped because they were based on such minor details in the original trilogy. Rogue One is the solution to a plot hole no one cared about (how did the Resistance know that oddly specific weakness to the Death Star?), and Solo was an unnecessary origin story, revealing odd details like where Han Solo’s name came from, and proving that John Williams’ score exists within the Star Wars universe, which continues to confuse me? They consequently had a hard time shaking off the stink of being cash grabs, even though the films themselves are fine.
The Mandalorian, on the other hand, fully embraces its supplemental nature, never mentioning the Jedi (outside of a minor reference in the finale), Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, or anything specific to the original trilogy, beyond The Empire existing. Instead, it expands on unexplored parts of the Star Wars universe - namely the Mandalorians and the underground world of bounty hunters - which gives the show much more creative freedom and different ideas to work with. For instance, the characters don’t fit into the archetypical boxes featured in previous mainstream iterations of the franchise (the wide-eyed adventurer, the member of royalty, the morally-grey bad guy, the wise old Jedi), which allows The Mandalorian to take on an entirely new identity. Basically, the show’s separation from the main plot of Star Wars is its main strength, and actually makes it accessible to newcomers. You don’t need to know anything about the franchise beyond some incredibly basic facts to enjoy The Mandalorian, and the show’s all the better for it.
It also helps that the characters themselves are really fun to watch. For a guy whose face is obscured by a cool helmet throughout the show, Mando comes alive through well-timed body language, skillful cinematography and directing, careful dialogue, and Pedro Pascal’s perfect vocal performance. Some of my favorite moments just show him carefully considering how to react to certain scenarios - the camera slowly zooms in on his face until he comes up with a solution. Here, the cinematography makes up for the lack of normal expressiveness, and moments like these are prominent throughout the show. Pascal’s vocal inflections also reveal a lot about Mando’s personality, mainly his confident and careful nature, but also his emotional aloofness, which is the character’s main point of development. Mandalorians, by creed, don’t take off their helmets in front of others, which sounds like a dumb plot point, but metaphorically works as a symbol of Mando’s emotional suppression. He doesn’t open up to people about his tragic past, and you never learn a great deal about him, but it’s intentional because he doesn’t want to open up. Baby Yoda is the first person - organism? - he’s truly cared about beyond other Mandalorians, and caring for him sets Mando on a journey of learning to trust others again. I predict that, in future seasons, he’ll take off his helmet more often.
The side characters, while not nearly as developed, are also (mostly) a joy to watch. My favorite, beyond the obvious (Baby Yoda for life) was Carasynthia “Cara” Dune, played by Gina Carano. Out of all the characters, she’s the only one who matches Mando in terms of wit, and the two have great chemistry. Prolific German director Werner Herzog, for some odd reason, shows up as Mando’s client, which gave me ample opportunity to go all “obnoxious film student” on my parents and whoever I talked about the show with, especially when no one asked for it (I’ll save you the headache and link you to his website). He’s also not the only big name in the show - Carl Weathers, the man who played Apollo Creed in the Rocky franchise, is Greed Karga, the slimy but relatively good-natured leader of the bounty-hunter guild Mando is part of. Taika Waititi also voices a battle droid, who unexpectedly (well, given the role, not who plays it) ended up becoming a hilarious source of comedic relief. There’s also an appearance that I won’t give away, beyond “hope you remember Breaking Bad!” The only performance I’d call “bad” was Jake Cannavale as Toro Calican, but the character was thin to begin with, and he’s only there for one episode, so it’s forgivable.
I also like how the show actually takes its time with things. There are quite a few long landscape shots, and quieter moments of Mando simply walking from place to place, sometimes with another person, sometimes by himself. This slowness makes the detailed locations feel more vast and real, while never compromising the exciting action scenes. There are some episodes that are slower in a bad way and less impactful than others - namely episode 5, which is the weakest - but overall, I prefer this style over the rapid pace of the newer films, because it gives the audience time to appreciate aspects beyond simple plot progression. This preference was made abundantly clear to me while watching The Rise of Skywalker, which blew through plot points, character reveals, and amazing locations so quickly that practically none of them left a huge impact. This also further likens The Mandalorian to the Western and Samurai films it’s clearly paying homage to, along with the original Star Wars trilogy, the best of which equally emphasize action and the settings of said action. The visuals and excellent music, composed by Ludwig Goransson, really sells this connection - it both looks and sounds like a classic Western, with its wide open desert spaces and soundtrack that’s both rootsy and epic. By replicating the aesthetics and presentation of these past, recognizable genres, The Mandalorian makes itself further accessible - it appeals to fans of Westerns who otherwise wouldn’t have been interested in the space adventure with the weird helmet and cute puppet.
Even so, there are some areas that need improvement. The Mandalorian does have an overarching plot, but it’s not directly addressed in every episode - in fact, episodes 4, 5, and 6 are about smaller adventures Mando goes on, in which he planet hops and takes care of some business. This is part of the genres it’s paying homage to, granted, but it wasn’t something I expected going in, so it’s worth noting. Individually, the episodes are fun and further develop Mando’s character and the larger Star Wars universe, but as part of a whole show, they feel more like padding instead of meaningful content. Your own mileage will vary depending on how much you like episodic storytelling in television, but that preference doesn’t change the fact that the show’s overall pacing is disjointed. It also doesn’t help that the episodic stories are the weaker part of the show, featuring stories either too inspired by past media (like Seven Samurai) or so thin that the already-slow pacing becomes excruciating instead of welcome at points. The dialogue can also be painfully corny at points, though it’s significantly better than some of the other bad dialogue this franchise has subjected people to, so that’s forgivable. I can also see people still having issues getting over the dilemma of why this show even exists that I discussed earlier. Even though it’s accessible, the very association with the franchise can’t be changed, and it’s a gate that might be too intimidating for newcomers to open.
Additionally, people may not be able to get past how the show was essentially made to draw attention to Disney+, and may believe Baby Yoda’s only there to sell toys. This is an understandable concern; Disney has been known to create things like Porgs and cute new droids for no other reason than to sell more merchandise. Even so, it’s worth noting that Star Wars has always been in the merchandise game, sometimes to the point that the merchandise sales helped fund the movies, so I genuinely think getting mad at any iteration of Star Wars for creating opportunities for merchandise misses the forest for the trees. Additionally, Baby Yoda is not simply part of the show to look cute and sell toys. In fact, Baby Yoda is so integral to the show that there would be no plot or character development for the show without him. Mando’s journey consists of him learning that his life isn’t just the creed he subscribes to, and how to confront his dark past. He reaches these heights by seeing “The Child” as more than a means to an end, and risking everything to protect him. This could’ve been accomplished without a cute puppet, granted, but then again, I understand why Mando would do this precisely because of how precious Baby Yoda is. He’s the purity that all the scumbags in the dark underworld of Star Wars long to reclaim, and that’s why he’s worth protecting.
Overall, I had a great time watching this show every week. I’ve become so exhausted by current Star Wars discourse, regardless of the actual opinions being discussed, because it’s become so repetitive and hard to engage in without fear of obnoxious fans ranting about why their opinion matters more than others. The Mandalorian cut through my disillusionment with an intriguing, fresh adventure in a familiar world that encapsulates what makes the franchise so iconic, even if it isn’t reinventing the wheel. I’m definitely going to check out Season 2 once it’s released, and I recommend you give the show a shot yourself.