‘The Mandalorian’ readies, aims, misfires

A promotional poster for 'The Mandalorian' (2019) is pictured. via IMDb

Over a month ago Disney+, Disney’s new streaming service, sent everyone down a nostalgia rabbit hole when it put together a thread of all the content coming to their platform. Their upcoming supplemental original content seemed just as attractive, though.

For “Star Wars” fans or Disney fanatics who signed up on the service’s first day, which reports say numbered over 10 million, the most intriguing piece of new content awaiting them was “The Mandalorian” (2019–).

Run by “Iron Man” (2018) director Jon Favreau, the show boasted a list of directors and actors to try and signal a level of prestige that Disney now wants associated with its commodified franchises. Episodes directed by Taika Waititi, Deborah Chow and even Bryce Dallas Howard, along with a cast of Pedro Pascal, Carl Weathers and Nick Nolte, is compelling alone.

Set sometime between the sixth and seventh episodes of the Star Wars films, the series focuses on an unnamed bounty hunter, in the same vein as Jango and Boba Fett, and his dangerous work around the galaxy.

The Mandalorian is a tough character to empathize with, to say the least. In “The Mandalorian”’s most emotional moments, the camera zooms in, the music swoons, but we can’t pierce through the mask to see how he grapples with the moment, creating a wall between him and the viewer.

To show off his cold exterior, his mask, the one made famous by his preceding characters, never comes off. It’s slightly difficult to relate to a character, another human being, when you can’t see their face. The more cynical might even go so far as to say that Pedro Pascal might not have ever come on set, but merely just read his lines for voiceover. To be honest, there’s no real way we can tell them they’re wrong.

Even more confounding and cold, viewers still don’t know his name, and it doesn’t seem like we are going to learn it anytime soon because all the characters in the show just call him “The Mandalorian.”

There’s a fair defense for this, though. The Mandalorian is an outsider, a classic lone gunman scouring the galactic west for money and criminals to hunt down. The viewer is nothing like the bounty hunter they’re watching, so they shouldn’t even try to get into his head to understand him. The problem with that, though, is that just because he’s a loner in the world he occupies does not mean he needs to shut the viewer out as well. Even more so, “The Mandalorian” gives little throughout the rest of the show for viewers to emotionally attach to.

One of these moments comes in the climax of the first episode. Sent on a mission by Werner Herzog in Star Wars cosplay, The Mandalorian is pinned down with enemies all around him and is forced to shoot his way out. It’s an excellent western homage. Everything from the set to the action itself feels like an incredibly effective blending of Western and sci-fi genres.

It highlights just what seemed so promising from the trailer. On a simple level, “The Mandalorian” seemed like an opportunity to be the “Star Warsgritty, adult content that adults who grew up on the original “Star Wars” movies desired.

What happens following this shootout suggests otherwise, unfortunately. The Mandalorian survives the shootout and discovers that that the target he was supposed to kill is an infant that looks like Yoda. Given “The Mandalorian’s” place in the timeline of “Star Wars” canon, though, it is not the famous Yoda, but more likely an offspring.

It’s a shocking reveal, and one that absolutely changes our perspective and knowledge of the “Star Wars” universe. The second episode, though, doesn’t utilize this information to up the stakes or shed light in any insightful way, but merely use a child character as a placeholder for pathos and a savior for The Mandalorian when he falls into a sticky situation. It’ll be interesting to see how long this character is used as a prop before its origin is truly revealed.

It’s difficult to watch “The Mandalorian” and not compare it to HBO’s “Watchmen”, another auterist’s attempt to expand the universe of a franchise. Where “Watchmen” has succeeded so far, “The Mandalorian” has confused. Its lack of information matters more than “Watchmen’s” does because it gives us less to cling onto from both an emotional and universe-building aspect.

Viewers without background knowledge of “Watchmen” don’t need to understand why or how Robert Redford became president, but because it’s based in reality are able to understand or at least contemplate the consequences of it. Viewers of “The Mandalorian” are stuck wondering things like ‘what is Beskar Steel?’ or ‘where do Mandalorians come from?’ and the show makes information like that unclear, yet also make it feel incredibly relevant, hence the confusion.

Despite its flaws though, there is still plenty to be entertained and intrigued by. With its week-to-week format, and decently short run time, people who are fond of the “Star Wars” universe should check it out. For those who don’t really care though, it’s not clear if “The Mandalorian” alone is enough to warrant paying $6.99 a month.


Summary

In the first two episodes, "The Mandalorian's" main character is surprisingly difficult to empathize with, making emotional investment more difficult.

3 stars
COPYRIGHT 2020 THE TUFTS DAILY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.