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The Mandalorian (2019) s01e08 – Redemption

It’s a good thing series creator and episode writer Jon Favreau has seen Terminator 2, otherwise this episode wouldn’t have an ending.

It’s not clear who decided they ought to straight rip off the flashback sequence from For a Few Dollars More, Favreau or episode director Taika Waititi (who’s better than the worst directors on the series but nowhere near the best ones), but suffice to say… Waititi’s not Sergio Leone and composer Ludwig Göransson is definitely not Ennis Morricone. Unlike George Lucas, who synthesized Ford and Kurosawa with movie serials and special effects… “The Mandalorian”’s Western homages are forced, desperate. And, based on the flashback sequence here, a waste of time.

But… hey… maybe that one’s Boba Fett?

Speaking of movie serials, “The Mandalorian: Season One” does successfully mimic movie serial plotting. You can lop off two or three of the episodes from the middle and run the rest together for a complete narrative. This episode, which spends its first five or six minutes (after ripping off Troops to the point Kevin Rubio ought to try to sue, I mean, it’s Disney, why not) dialing back all of last episode’s cliffhanger’s impact, not just involving the danger to Baby Yoda but also for the heroes. Going to be a returning villain in Season Two new villain Giancarlo Esposito is supposed to be maniacally murderous but he’s more than willing to go for a coffee break to pad out the run time and give our beseiged heroes a chance to come up with an escape plan.

It’s a dreadfully predictable episode, especially since Favreau gives the characters lots and lots of dialogue about their situation. They have to argue and plead with one another over and over so their course of action is never a surprise. There aren’t any surprises in the episode.

Unless you count the special Kenner mail-away R2 unit with legs and maybe how no one in the main cast has ever heard of the Jedi (despite Luke Skywalker saving the universe with it and, really, at least Carl Weathers being old enough to be alive when there were Jedi around—the Star Wars timeline is kind of weird how an entire galaxy managed to forget space wizards in, what, eighteen years). Oh, and the “May the Force Be With You” saying.

Emily Swallow’s back as the Mandalorian armorer. She ought to be a series regular. She’s at least fun. She also has zero problem with droids and, no spoiler, the lesson of “The Mandalorian: Season One” is droids are all right. And Baby Yoda is cute.

Is Baby Yoda cute this episode? Definitely. Favreau and Waititi try hard to make lead Pedro Pascal seem protagonist-y enough to shoulder the series burden but… a) there’s not much to shoulder (the show ends up aiming about as high as the unable to hit anything stormtroopers, which is a really weird trope to bring up considering the heroes are supposed to be in so much danger) and b) Baby Yoda. There’s no reason to watch this show except for Baby Yoda. And Baby Yoda delivers.

Also… Favreau’s got some obvious eighties action TV mentalities someone ought to edit out of the scripts (like he’s got an editor)—no explosion means survival, duh. It’s Disney Star Wars, it’s not going to be challenging but… come on. It’s got to be smarter than “Knight Rider.” Or it’s got to have a lot more Baby Yoda per episode.

The Mandalorian (2019) s01e07 – The Reckoning

This episode feels like old home week—even though “The Mandalorian” is only on episode seven, it’s been in the weeds for three episodes so even the promise of Carl Weathers (who’s no better than before, though also no worse) at least reminds of when the show didn’t disappoint.

Better, though kind of pointlessly, Gina Carano is back. Weathers shows up at the beginning in a hologram message to tell Pedro Pascal if he comes back they’ll kill Werner Herzog together and Pascal can stop worrying about bounty hunters going after Baby Yoda. It’s peculiar how trusting Pascal is about Weathers—even though Pascal tells Carano he doesn’t trust Weathers, there’s no indication Pascal behaves any differently (other than bringing along Nick Nolte’s also returning ugnaught for “backup”) than he would otherwise.

Jon Favreau’s not the… smartest writer. It’s actually kind of amazing how far he’s gotten with the show given he’s never really on the ball, characterization-wise. It’s like he’s intentionally leveraging “Star Wars shallow,” which is fine as it compensates for Favreau’s lack of ability.

Really this episode gets away with it all—Carano and Nolte being shoe-horned back in, Weathers being awful, Pascal being strangely naive given his almost weekly betrayals up to this point—because, well, Baby Yoda, but also director Deborah Chow. The show hasn’t just been in the weeds narrative-wise the last three, the direction stunk. Chow’s direction is good.

The droid bounty hunter also comes back, pointlessly but presumably setup for next episode—the episode ends on a very, very, very hard cliffhanger—so hopefully Chow’s back directing next week too.

There’s some super Baby Yoda powers going on in the episode—I’m not up enough on my current Star Wars lore to know if the power showed up in the prequels or post-quels but it seems to be the first time this Force power has gotten any use.

Outside Favreau’s Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game campaigns.

Herzog’s also back and eye-rolling bad. Giancarlo Esposito finally shows up and he’s all right but just as much of a stunt cast as Herzog. Ludwig Göransson’s music hits the godawful time and again.

The episode does feel a little like it could’ve been at least the fifth episode, maybe fourth, depending on how important you want to pretend Carano’s been to the show’s development.

Oh, but wait—what’s the deal with the creature makeup on Weather’s three sidekicks? It’s so cheap. Two of them are obviously in big helmets to keep the makeup budget down. “The Mandalorian” isn’t supposed to run out of money. It’s a tacit Disney+ promise.

The Mandalorian (2019) s01e06 – The Prisoner

It is a dark time for “The Adventures of Baby Yoda.” Second lackluster episode in as many weeks, with the show creators really thinking anyone cares about the adventures of “Mando the Mandalorian” Pedro Pascal when he’s not being an adorable dad with Baby Yoda. This episode’s director, Rick Famuyiwa, isn’t much better than last episode’s director—and as far as the use of wipes to move between characters, in real-time, meaning a wipe every minute and a half, is the worst creative decision in “The Mandalorian” so far. Whether it’s Famuyiwa or editor Jeff Seibenick’s idea, it’s a terrible device and kills any suspense in the scenes. Though it’s unclear if there’d be suspense in the scenes given the middling Ludwig Göransson music and the ineffectual sound design.

What’s so bewildering about “Mandalorian”’s recent fails is how obvious they’ve been. This episode has Pascal teaming up with some space mercenaries to do a heist. There’s humanoid leader Bill Burr, who manages to give one of the episode’s better performances just because he’s not awkwardly bad. There’s Richard Ayoade voicing a really boring insect-headed droid (I think I had the figure). Then there’s Clancy Brown as a devil alien with horns. He’s terrible. And it seems like he’s terrible because his makeup is done in such a way he can move his facial muscles. As for other aliens Natalia Tena and Ismael Cruz Cordova, whether they’re bad because of the makeup or the performances, it doesn’t matter. Famuyiwa and company’s lack of interest in having good performances is aggravating, especially since there’s so little Baby Yoda and so many minutes (at forty-three minutes, The Prisoner is the longest episode so far).

Mark Boone Junior shows up as the heist planner. He’s okay, though completely phoning it in. They also credit him as “Mark Boone Jr.,” which isn’t his name but whatever. They don’t have to be accurate or even good. They know if you’re hooked on Baby Yoda, you’ll keep showing up.

Actually, when you think about it, they didn’t know everyone would be hooked on Baby Yoda because Jon Favreau really thought people wanted to watch him play with his classic Kenner Star Wars figures.

But it’s concerning bad Famuyiwa does with the direction. It’s a kind of intensely pedestrian and makes me want to avoid his other work. Very different from the previous directors (oh, wait, the women), whose direction encouraged interest.

The Mandalorian (2019) s01e05 – The Gunslinger

So series executive producer Dave Filoni, who apparently unmemorably directed the first episode, is back here. He’s writing too, making it the first “Mandalorian” not written by series creator Jon Favreau. So The Gunslinger doesn’t feel like Favreau playing with his Return of the Jedi Kenner toys, instead it now does feel like someone playing their Star Wars Roleplaying Game campaign only not really because a roleplaying campaign is probably better written. Filoni’s script is truly godawful. His direction is terrible too. It starts with a really stupid space battle for people who hated them making sense in Episode VIII, then moves on to Tatooine, where Pedro Pascal leaves Baby Yoda in the ship to go and try to find work. Except mechanic Amy Sedaris (who’s likable but bad) finds Baby Yoda while she’s working on the ship with her CGI prequel droids; Filoni’s a prequel guy. He really doesn’t get how to do the original movie Tatooine homages, but then he also doesn’t get how to do any action scenes either… okay, hang on. I’m ahead of myself.

So Pascal goes to the cantina where it’d probably be no worse if two aliens were arguing over who shot first and teams up with truly bad actor Jake Cannavale. Yes, Cannavale (as what Filoni seems to think we’re going to buy as a Han Solo-type) has terrible dialogue, a dumb story arc, lousy direction, all of it, but he’s really, really, really, really bad. He’s bad enough you stop taking the show about the adorable little hairless Mogwai and Jon Favreau’s custom repainted Boba Fett figure seriously.

If Cannavale had been on the first episode… I don’t know I would’ve made it to episode four. He’s even worse than Filoni’s script, which is saying a lot.

This episode also has Ming-Na Wen. She’s Cannavale and Pascal’s bounty, a superior assassin or something. You wouldn’t know it from her fight scene with literal first-time bounty hunter Cannavale, who holds his own in a terribly choreographed and directed fist fight until Pascal can get there to put the show out of its fight scene misery.

Is Wen any good? No. She’s not worse than the script though. Or Filoni’s direction.

There are some other Tatooine references in the episode, they’re all terrible. Some are worse than others. Filoni can’t even manage an obvious gag. He’s so bad. He also doesn’t realize the whole point of the show is Baby Yoda, which is exceptionally concerning.

And the speed-bike compositors do a truly awful job. Bring out the Vaseline.

The Mandalorian (2019) s01e04 – Sanctuary

It’s a really good thing the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) has seen Seven Samurai, otherwise he’d have no idea he and new pal Gina Carano (as a former Rebel shock trooper) would be able to train the villagers to take on the raiders out for their crops. The villagers hire Pascal, who’s on this backwater planet looking for someplace to lie low with Baby Yoda—but, seriously, how can you lie low with Baby Yoda because everyone’s got to notice the inordinate cuteness—and Pascal brings Carano onboard. They’ve already had a fist fight to bond so it’s a natural development in their relationship.

In the village, Pascal meets fetching widow Julia Jones, who also knows her way around a blaster somehow, and considers taking off his helmet and settling down. But it’s only the fourth episode; no spoilers… but it’s only the fourth episode.

The episode’s absolutely gorgeous, with Bryce Dallas Howard doing an excellent job with the direction. It’s also this tranquil village with rice paddies—or whatever kind of paddies—and the kids are all happy and cute and so on. They all love Baby Yoda and he’s thrilled to have all the attention. The show gets around to some exposition as far as Pascal and the Mandalorian way but at some point they’ve got to address Baby Yoda’s development. If Yoda Yoda was 900 and Baby Yoda is fifty, should Baby Yoda be talking by now? No, because he’s lived his life in hiding without a steady caretaker apparently. Baby Yoda doesn’t play into the episode much, not once Seven Samurai versus an AT-ST starts.

The big surprise of the episode is Carano, who’s good. Not sure if it’s the script, the direction, or just Carano learning to act but hopefully she’s not just in it for a single episode. It’s probably also Pascal’s best episode too, if only because he’s got a lot to say and interesting things to talk about. Jones is good too. It’s slight and obvious, but really well-made and performed.

If Disney+’s “Star Wars” shows are going to draw so heavily on Kurosawa movies, they ought to at least offer the corresponding one streaming.

The Mandalorian (2019) s02e03 – The Sin

All of Star Wars, all the movies, all the cartoons, books, comics, games, toys, socks, The Holiday Special, underwear, blankets—all of it—has been building to this episode of “The Mandalorian,” where they’re finally able to make Boba Fett adorable. Yes, Baby Yoda is adorable but of course he’s very adorable—and I was wrong, the scientist guy identifies Baby Yoda’s gender as male, which is a bummer, but also it’s probably not worth the headache. But Boba Fett and Baby Yoda being adorable together… who knew it was possible. Jon Favreau, Kathleen Kennedy, other folks but definitely Favreau and Kennedy. They knew they could make Star Wars heartwarming.

And damn if they don’t get away with it too. Because Baby Yoda is preternaturally adorable.

It’d be nice if there was something more to the show, of course. If Werner Herzog weren’t just useless stunt-casting and what if Carl Weathers were actually any good instead of being shockingly bad, actually. This episode also has a bunch of other Mandalorians coming into play and there’s a big serious action set piece with it, with some cool jetpack stuff. The episode’s got a lot more visual payoff than the last one. But not as much as the first episode. All of these visual realizings of the Star Wars Universe—like Jawas do have space ships to get from planet to planet and wouldn’t they be amazing—so it’s cool to watch. The production design is impressive.

Some of Deborah Chow’s direction is annoying, some of it isn’t. She gets away with the heartwarming but she also has this thing where they do focus blurs. I’m assuming they’re digital effects because it’s 2019 and why wouldn’t they be; given we’re already having to put up with the patented Star Wars transition wipes, the focus stuff just feels like a little much. They’re also weird because they’re the only things off in Chow’s direction. Otherwise it’s got the best direction in the show so far. And not just for the Rocketeer homage, which is way too much but still awesome.

And Pedro Pascal. Sure, he’s fine. But he’s better talking about Baby Yoda than talking about anything else. He’s always got this pause where it seems like he’s thinking of what to say and then it’s never anything impressive. He seems dumb, actually. Like too dumb to be out on his own. Favreau’s not the best writer. You don’t have to be when you’ve got Baby Yoda.

Oh, and the midichlorians might be back. Wokka wokka.

The Mandalorian (2019) s02e02 – The Child

Maybe even more than the first episode, this one’s a commercial for Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm. The adorable sight of Boba Fett playing Lone Wolf and Cub with a baby Yoda, what could be more PG+ Disney. Sure, the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) isn’t actually Boba Fett—though it’s unclear if he’s another Fett clone—but he’s better than Boba Fett because he hasn’t gone after our favorite good guys. In fact, he’s protecting an astoundingly adorable baby Yoda. It’s obvious the bounty on the baby Yoda is going to present an ethical dilemma for Pascal, who’s shockingly not bright and kind of whiney, actually. Like his bounty hunter spaceship from the Prequel Trilogy gets stripped by Jawas and he’s surprised. It seems like something he should be prepared to deal with.

Then there’s the Boba Fett versus Jawa Sandcrawler playset slash LEGO Star Wars: Boba Fett level when Pascal, his stunt man, and his CGI stunt animation try to take out the Sandcrawler in order to get back the ship’s missing pieces. During this entire sequence, baby Yoda is left alone in they’re floating pod (going gender neutral for now because, yeah, it seems like “Mandalorian” is going to introduce a female baby Yoda—a Disney Princess Girl Yoda—which is awesome and bring it on but also a tad obvious, which is a much more appropriate middle-name for show creator and writer Jon Favreau than Kolia)—anyway, Pascal isn’t paying any attention even though the episode opens with him fending off other bounty hunters after the baby. He’s not worried about such things when he’s fighting the Sandcrawler.

And the Sandcrawler sequence is impressive. It looks great; 21st century Disney visuals are phenomenal visuals.

Eventually Pascal has to go back to the verbose ugnaught (I finally heard the Nick Nolte in his voice this episode), who informs Pascal he needs to barter with the Jawas. Maybe the most interesting thing about the episode as far as Star Wars universe stuff is the idea Jawas go from planet to planet. Far more interesting than if the desert planet is actually Tatooine and there’s some tie-in to the next Star Wars movie, which is possible but seems kind of bold. Though, I suppose if anyone’s going to get away with it, it’ll be Star Wars. Star Wars got away with Jar Jar Binks and midichlorians.

Will Pascal learn to control his temper enough to work with Nolte to keep his bounty baby safe and so on?

It’s a Disney movie, what do you think. “The Mandalorian” is what the Ewoks TV movies should’ve been.

And now I do want to know if Favreau had a painted Boba Fett figure so it could be a new character.

Or I don’t. I changed my mind. I don’t. Custom action figuring when you’re in your late teens is something one should keep to himself. Bricks, glass houses, etc.

The Mandalorian (2019) s01e01

“The Mandalorian” is either like reading seventeen year-old Jon Favreau fall 1983 post-Return of the Jedi fan fic or it’s like playing his intricate, verbose Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game campaign–oh, wait, SWTRPG didn’t come out until 1987. So, no, it’s more like watching Jon Favreau play with his Jedi toys. A lot. But the toys play into how the story unfolds—Favreau, who wrote the episode in addition to creating the show, reaches into the toy bin, pulls out a figure, somehow makes it fit into the story. There’s a way too articulate ugnaught, a figure from Empire, pointlessly voiced by Nick Nolte. Most of the figures and vehicles are from Jedi. I think one of the guns is from Empire. You could sit with an old Hasbro catalog and check off items in the episode.

Visually, it looks like a bunch of Ralph McQuarrie paintings. Dave Filoni does an okay job with the direction. He tries hard to make it look like Star Wars: The Original Trilogy as far as his composition—outside when you’re pretty sure it’s a direct lift off a McQuarrie concept painting—but there are shot homages to Jedi the most, maybe Star Wars. Watching “The Mandalorian,” Disney has fully put on its big boy pants and figured out how to market to males age four through forty-four. I’m not sure Werner Herzog is going to attract the fifty-four year-olds. But if you grew up with Star Wars, “The Mandalorian” is for you. It’s how you could keep playing with your Boba Fett toys even after he died in Empire.

Oh, all the mythology on the Mandalorian culture? Metallurgy, female Mandalorians—“Mandalorian” is aimed at the OG Empire Boba Fett fanboys. I wonder if they’re going to release special toys.

Is it a good show? It’s not a bad show. It’s technically flawless except the Ludwig Göransson music, which isn’t bad just a bad idea for the show. Quirky Western. Eh. But it looks great. The acting’s… eh. Herzog’s in a scene, he’s quirky. Carl Weathers is in a scene. He’s not quirky. Lead Pedro Pascal is fine but the more he talks the more you realize you’re watching a cartoon turned live action through CGI.

Will I watch more of it? Sure. It’s never going to be challenging, but will always be mildly engaging and look great; besides, I like pointing out the toys I had as a kid too.

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