TL;DR The Mandalorian is an OK show with high production value and occasional flashes of brilliance, occasional flashes of inexplicably low quality, but mostly mediocrity with a shiny veneer. It’s a fun romp of mindless fun but doesn’t capture what makes Star Wars special.
I usually review media properties in three sections: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Never has that felt so appropriate as with the Mandalorian, which is modeled very heavily on Westerns. WARNING: SPOILERS THERE BE BELOW!
- The concept art shown at the end of each episode is amazing and it gives the impression that each episode is a comic book issue come to life.
- The music is really well done; the main theme is captivating and it shows up in many different variations throughout the show.
- Pedro Pascal does a really admirable job acting with his face covered 99% of the time.
- The show really shines in the episodes that expand on the Mandalorian lore and bring the lone protagonist into the team sport that is Mandalorian combat. This is the way.
- Although the tone of the show is Western, it isn’t afraid to explore other genres like horror, which keeps things interesting.
- The fight choreography is mostly pretty good.
- Good though the fight choreography may be, much of the action is just . . . dumb. Crack sniper bounty hunters leave their sniper nests from which they are picking off storm troopers with impunity to go engage much larger numbers in hand to hand combat. Mandalorians stop using the blasters that are working very well to show off gadgets that are much less useful in the situation. Etc. etc. None of it matters anyway because the protagonists are invincible and are never in any real danger. Great action but, this action feels more like contrived set pieces. It feels very Game of Thrones Season 8 in its nonsensicalness.
- It’s not just the why of the action that is nonsensical, but also the who. In literally 25% of the Season 2 episodes, the big bad boss at the end is a . . . career administrator . . . who happens to be amazing at hand to hand combat. In episode 5, for example, the magistrate is so intimidated by Ashoka Tano that she hires the titular protagonist to go hunt her. Yet, when Ashoka Tano – who went toe-to-toe with Darth Vader in one of the only good episodes of Rebels – confronts her, the magistrate is able to hold her own down to the very end because . . . reasons.
- The show leans heavily on plot twists but they are all very clearly telegraphed. In the final episode, for example, the Mandalorian blows the dark troopers out the airlock but literally our only previous exposure to them has been them flying around – so it is obvious that they will fly right back to the ship. The only thing not obvious is that it will take them so long to get back because . . . that’s what the plot timing requires. For a show trying so hard to surprise us, there were very few surprises.
- The worst episodes in Season 1 were filler side quests that didn’t result in the protagonist getting any closer to his goal; unfortunately there are many more episodes like that in Season 2. Shows like Stranger Things have demonstrated that you can pack a lot of development and complexity into an eight-episode season so it’s hard to settle for less from one of the richest IP universes around.
- Gina Carano is not a good actress. She mostly smirks a lot and delivers her lines flatly.
- The Mandalorian takes his mask off too often. He’s supposed to keep it on dogmatically all the time but he took it off in 25% of Season 2’s episodes. That really cheapens the effect and lessens the emotional impact of the final scene.
- As I have complained about before, self-indulgent cameos really piss me off and The Mandalorian showrunner Dave Filoni loves to insert himself every chance he gets.
- Much worse, though, is that most of the characters in the show are woefully underdeveloped so, as a consequence, I just don’t care about them.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in Episode 5’s mercenary character played by Michael Biehn. Biehn winds up in a showdown against the Mandalorian at the end but . . . why would we care? We don’t have any evidence that he’s even good at shooting or that he poses any sort of threat to our invincible protagonist.
Compare this to Biehn’s Ringo in Tombstone, whom we have seen demonstrate not only exceptional gunhandling skills but also cold-blooded sociopathy so that there is real tension when he faces off against Doc Holliday in the climax. Episode 5 is beautiful but, like most episodes, is all style and no substance.
- The fan service here is nauseating. Disney seems obsessed with exploring things like krayt dragons, stolen Death Star plans, and the Kessel Run that have only had oblique references in prior canon. Some things, though, are better left to the imagination and Disney is batting .000 so far on trying to realize them, often actually contradicting prior imaginings.
Luke at the end was eye rolling – not just due to the bad CGI but also due to his prior character arc culminating in his ascent to Jedidom by throwing away his light saber. Having him tear through a bunch of anonymous droids is silly and boring – did we learn nothing from the prequel trilogy?
Boba Fett is the most egregious offender here, magically being brought back to life – but what would you expect from Filoni, who also brought back Darth Maul from certain death. I’m sure there’s some goofy retcon explanation but it’s all so lame it feels more like fan fiction than something produced by creative professionals with infinite budget. I would much rather see them creating rather than simply rehashing concluded characters and plots.
The Mandalorian isn’t a bad show, but it isn’t great either – which is too bad, because it has the potential to be great. It’s at its best when exploring and developing the mythology and teamwork of the Mandalorians and at its worst when mimicking Episode IX with mindless action and fan fiction. Some people love it (I find there to be a high correlation with people who loved Rogue One and Episode IX.), which is great for them; I’m always glad for more people to find new ways to connect with the Star Wars universe.
For me, though, this doesn’t really feel like Star Wars. Action and CGI not make Star Wars great. Star Wars has always been great because of its characters, which recent Disney efforts seem to have completely forgotten.