Thank goodness for Baby Yoda.
You see, as everyone was losing their minds over “The Rise of Skywalker,” the Disney+ original “The Mandalorian” was calmly and efficiently wrapping up what proved to be a pretty solid, stellar first season.
The show is set about five years after the events of “The Return of the Jedi” and 25 years before “The Force Awakens” with Pedro Pascal starring as the title character. The Mandalorians are armored warriors who have a “way” and can’t show their faces. Ever. This Mando is a member of a bounty hunter guild led by Greef Karga (Carl Weathers). He’s one of the guild’s best. When a high-paying assignment comes in from an Imperial client, Mando accepts.
When he discovers the bounty is just a child — Baby Yoda who might just be the cutest thing I’ve seen all year, if you don’t count Chris Evans buying his dog a “Knives Out” style sweater — Mando goes on the run with his bounty. Each episode is a different adventure with the Child, where they meet interesting characters who both help and hinder them as they try to outrun basically the entire galaxy.
With Jon Favreau at the helm — he was show creator, head writer, executive producer and basically an all-around creative genius — the show had very few missteps. What originally looked like a dull show about a Boba Fett wannabe proved to be an eight-episode version of “Adventures in Babysitting.”
We only see Pascal once in the entire series. His entire role is played through his armor, communicated with body language and vocal inflections. He has to not only be a hard-ass bounty hunter, but he also has to be able to emote without letting you know he’s emoting. He must show a level of control — “this is the way” — while still being able to give voice to his frustration, sadness or even attempts at humor. It’s a fine line, but he walks it well.
Each week, he and the Child face new dangers and sometimes and find new friends. It’s a space Western, but it feels very much like the 1980s shows I watched back when I was a kid. “Knight Rider” and “The A-Team” had our heroes traveling to new locations each week, helping folks in distress and conquering evil villains. In fact, one episode in particular, “Chapter 4: Sanctuary,” feels exactly like an episode of “The A-Team” when Mando and a friend must help a village fight back against guerrilla raiders. There were booby traps and everything!
That friend I mentioned has been one of the biggest bright spots of the series: Cara Dune (Gina Carano), a former Rebel shock trooper. She and Mando are a great pairing, although they don’t always see eye to eye. Other notable standouts have included Taika Waititi as assassin droid IG-11 and Nick Nolte as an Ugnaught vapor farmer named Kuiil. Both prove integral to the Mando’s success.
I say Carano is a bright spot for a couple of reasons. One, Cara Dune is a fantastic character, and I loved seeing her kick butt and take names. She even kicked Mando’s a couple of times, although it seemed like that wasn’t always hard to do. (Seriously, y’all, he gets saved by others a lot.)
But, Dune isn’t just a great character, she’s also the only main character who is female. It took three episodes before we even saw a female with a speaking role, if you don’t count the Mandalorian armorer (Emily Swallow). Amy Sedaris is in a mid-season episode, as is Ming-Na Wen, whose time on the show is completely wasted. Julia Jones is featured in one episode, but I’m fairly certain it’s just so they can use the Western “widow” trope of a strong female who knows how to shoot and get things done. She also makes a bit of a connection with Mando.
While Dune’s entrance solved one of the biggest issues for me — lack of female representation — in watching “The Mandalorian,” it still has a long road to walk. I’m hopeful the second season will be a bit more even kilter. Maybe we’ll find out the Child is a girl.
The Child, or Baby Yoda, was a stroke of genius on the creators’ part. The “Star Wars” universe, especially now that it’s owned by Disney, has always thrown in cute, merchandising gold mines. With the Child, you don’t just get a ridiculously cute creature everyone adores and wants to own — I personally got a T-shirt for Christmas — but you also get a foil that takes this show beyond the standard space Western. We see Mando grow as he learns to be a father-figure for this new little sidekick he never wanted. He’s a loner. And now he’s, for all intents and purposes, a father. It’s a creative arc that we delighted in seeing week after week.
Speaking of week after week, while I’m a fan of binging, it was another brilliant move to release one episode per week, rather than dropping the season all at once. Each new chapter gave us something to look forward to, and we couldn’t wait to find out the fate of these characters.
I’m happy to report that Disney didn’t give “The Mandalorian” the “Star Wars” treatment. The newest trilogy was over complicated and messy. Thankfully, they kept “The Mandalorian” simple. It’s just the story of a bounty hunter standing in front of a Force-sensitive child asking it not to choke him.
This space Western, which also leans heavily into the Japanese samurai films that inspired George Lucas once upon a time to create “Star Wars,” is nothing short of must-watch TV. It’s full of action, heart, humor, intrigue and well-intentioned “feels.” It’s the show you’re looking for.