Star Wars crosses generations and entire galaxies, but in its purest essence, it’s a film franchise about family. Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian, the newest and first live-action Star Wars television show dropped on Disney+ earlier this year as an argument that Star Wars can tell compelling stories outside of the Skywalker legacy, as well as launch the beloved franchise into the next phase of its brand– unique and intimate tales from the smaller beings of this universe. There have been attempts to shake off the forty-year legacy of the franchise in the past with Rogue One and Solo (interestingly branded ‘A Star Wars Story‘, in case you forgot), but ultimately those fearfully dodged ambition and scale for connectivity in the niches of the pre-existing canon.
What makes The Mandalorian different, is its (almost) complete sense of originality and adventure. Spanning eight short episodes, and dozens of A-List Hollywood talent, the show follows a titular unnamed Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and his system-trotting adventures with his newfound, little green child: Baby Yoda, as the internet has named him—not actually Yoda himself, and the name of the species is unknown. Does it actually matter? No. Is it cute? Yes. Anyway, as a pleasant surprise, that is really all there is to it. The thrills and sexy Spaghetti-Western-inspired spectacle of The Mandalorian are deceptively minimalistic, and I believe as our first foray into Star Wars without the Skywalker family, it’s all the better for it. Never since A New Hope has a live-action story in a galaxy far, far away escaped all convolution and remained this beautifully simple.
But sometimes, it’s to The Mandalorian‘s detriment. While the first three episodes of this series achieve this perfect balance between contained excitement in each outing, but with enough of over-arching progress to feel narratively satisfying—the show quickly loses the slow but thoughtful sense of momentum. Episodes four to six of the show return to an episodic structure that has been kind of abandoned in our age of dump-and-binge streaming: the monster of the week format. No, that’s not inherently a bad thing, and the episodes that don’t exactly advance the over-arching plot of Mando still manage to be entertaining adventures on their own, but particularly in an eight-episode miniseries that is being dropped once a week, each episode should feel like an event. During the season’s lull, I wasn’t exactly disinterested in the show but I did feel like a lot was left to be desired in the mid-season. It didn’t help that the standout episodes of The Mandalorian were episodes three and seven, both helmed by Deborah Chow (who will be the showrunner of the upcoming Obi-Wan series, good work pays off!).
While I can absolutely unpack all the Star Wars-y fanservice, emotions, and heart the show possesses, or how great and stoic the love of my life Pedro Pascal is, the real hero of The Mandalorian is the child. After a heart-wrenchingly disappointing finale to the Skywalker saga, Baby Yoda singlehandedly gave me hope for the future of this brand I have simply too much investment in. As I said earlier, Star Wars is truly at its core, about family. So Baby Yoda exists as this perfect storm of marketing, brand identity, cuteness, and purpose that adds so much weight and heart into The Mandalorian. Concerns about the show feeling two-dimensional would melt away as I watched this hot single dad mercenary go to dire lengths to protect his green son, and it reminded me that there is a certain special quality to small, personal stories that this brand has abandoned. It’s difficult to reconcile my issues with the show not feeling cohesive enough without exactly asking for some larger, overarching conflict—but the finale of the season makes it clear there are some promising, deep-cut ventures to come. In the meantime, it is hard for me to deny how much joy this season spread across the internet.
It’s not without its archaic issues, but I am happy to report that The Mandalorian mostly succeeds at what it is trying to do. It is gorgeous to look at, has an immediately iconic cast of characters to love, a comfortable and confident sense of stakes it is playing with, and an adorable secret weapon that makes me confident that Star Wars still has a lot of tricks up its sleeve. The pure essence I mentioned earlier still remains, and I believe The Mandalorian makes a strong argument that sometimes a family can be a deadly bounty hunter and his little green baby. This is the way.