I watched The Mandalorian and have some thoughts on Baby Yoda
Disney+ launched this week. But before we get stuck into Bambi, we got stuck into the hugely hyped Star Wars spin-off. Did it deliver? Is the Emperor a Sith?
Spoiler alert #1! This feature will discuss episodes one and two of the galactically anticipated Star Wars spin-off series The Mandalorian.
Spoiler alert #2! Disney+ have only given us episodes one and two! To quote Chewbacca that time Princess Leia called him a “big walking carpet”: WTF?
The streamer finally launched this week in most of Europe (the Netherlands were the planet’s test market, receiving the service in September, two months ahead of America). And they did so with an Empire-sized swagger, blatantly ignoring the allegedly all-conquering binge paradigm that dictates: viewers want every episode, all at once, on-demand, now please.
Wait a week for the next ep? No one waits for TV anymore!
But the attitude of Disney+ seems to be: “Let Netflix do what Netflix does. We’ve got pop culture’s greatest ever space-opera movie franchise, now masterfully spun into a spaghetti-western-in-space TV series by actor-turned-writer-director Jon Favreau. So we’ve well and truly won the space race.”
And in space, no one can hear you stream.
Still, the huge expectation surrounding The Mandalorian – most of it catalysed by, what, a baby? With furry pointy ears? That doesn’t speak? Are you sure? – meant that UK fans were blithely anticipating that all eight episodes would appear simultaneously when the service launched at dawn on Tuesday. After all, the Americans (and the Dutch) had had all the eps for months.
Don’t Disney know there’s a lockdown on?
But no. Only eps one and two, amounting to 69 minutes screentime in total. That’s yer lot. For seven quarantined days, which are like 700 regular days.
Across the universe – by which I mean the Twitterverse – millions of voices cried out in terror and
were suddenly silenced then moaned some more.
But listen: desperate times call for desperate measures. And if, after watching #1 and #2, you’re desperate for #3, that’s no bad thing. This self-isolation thing is a marathon, not a sprint, and anything that nudges us towards the finish line by carefully paying out its treats is a winner in my book.
And going by those opening, near-perfect 69 minutes, The Mandalorian is exactly what we need right now. Especially if you’re still slightly aggravated by The Rise of Skywalker’s Star-Wars-greatest-hits, the-gang’s‑all-here-woop pile-on that closed out the nine-film franchise mothership.
Speaking of which, to clarify: The Mandalorian is set five years after the events depicted in Return of the Jedi but 25 years in advance of the stories told in The Force Awakens. Keep up.
Or, as the logline from Favreau has it: “After the stories of Jango and Boba Fett, another warrior emerges in the Star Wars universe. The Mandalorian is set after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order. We follow the travails of a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy far from the authority of the New Republic.”
Presenting, then, the first Essential TV Star of Lockdown 2020. No, not BoJo and his daily 5pm mic-drop. Nor the Tiger King over on N**flix. It is, of course…
Yes, the hero of The Mandalorian is not the titular bounty hunter, even though his mates know him by the v. relatable name of “Mando”. It’s his bounty: a 50-year-old infant in a hover-pram, a wide-eyed, three-fingered Furby whose dialogue in the first two episode amounts to – according to the subtitles – “(COOING)”, “(GIGGLING)”, (“CONTINUES COOING”) and (“WHIMPERS”).
The Force might not yet be strong in this one, but you sense it will be (it totally will be – Baby Yoda is related to Actual Yoda, duh). This is one reason why a stone-faced galactic mob boss played by Werner Herzog, has commissioned The Mandalorian to bring in the prey known in the show as “The Child” – ideally alive, but dead will do, in the circumstances.
For this off-the-books mission, the mysterious Herzog – foreshadowing alert: his associates are a posse of peculiarly battered and blood-spattered Stormtroopers – is willing to pay handsomely.
Not in Imperial credits because, as Mando says, “I don’t know if you heard but the Empire is gone” – a nod to the fact that it was only five years ago that Darth Vader and the Death Star were vanquished by Luke, Leia, Han and the Rebel Alliance.
Rather he’s paid in a form of steel seemingly more precious than Westeros’s Valerian, and in a quantity that’s typically Star Wars (see also: parsecs), viz: “a camtono of Beskar [steel] upon delivery of the asset… alive… Although I acknowledge that bounty hunting is a complicated profession. This being the case, proof of termination is also acceptable for a lower fee.”
Of course The Mandalorian won’t bring him in as an ex-Baby Yoda. Infanticide is not his game, nor is messing about. When we first meet him he’s striding into a cantina-cum-saloon bar that’s both a wretched hive of scum and villainy and also the perfect spot for a lone gunslinger to take down a bunch of black-toothed bad guys.
From his flicking-of-coins at sundry service providers to his punchy, economic vocabulary (“I can bring you in warm. Or I can bring you in cold”; “I’m a Mandalorian. Weapons are part of my religion”), our guy is Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, anti-hero of Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy – only with a full-face-helmet instead of a boho Tex-Mex poncho. His does have an actual name, Din Djarin, but it’s never uttered, not in the first 69 minutes anyway. Even the soundtrack goes a bit Ennio Morricone in these opening scenes.
Then, enigmatic to the last, he rides out of town on his trusty steed. Well, a rusty, insect-shaped spacecraft that’s not so much Millennium Falcon as Millennium Bluebottle (for all you Top Gear nerds, it’s actually “a pre-Empire Razor Crest”).
Our lone phaser-slinger is played by aplomb by Pedro Pascal – doubly so because we never see his face. He’s the Chilean-born, American-raised actor who first came to wider notice in season four of Game of Thrones. He was all-fighting, all-fucking Oberyn Martell, the Dornish prince who had his head crushed by The Mountain. Never cross Cersei, right?
I interviewed Pascal in summer 2017, when he was promoting Kingsman: The Golden Circle, director Matthew Vaughn’s typically stylised, flashily violent secret-agents sequel. A theatre-going, fashion-loving aesthete, the thoroughly charming then-42-year-old admitted he was nobody’s idea of an action hero.
“I think Matthew expected me to roll in and just be like: ‘’Sup? I’m The Guy,’” he told me. “And I’m not like that. I have no confidence in terms of needing to meet a certain expectation of any kind, really. If Matthew was expecting some badass cowboy to walk in the door, that’s not me.”
What a difference two years makes. It’s to the credit of Favreau that he went off-piste to cast his Badass Cowboy. Rather a tall, lean, quirkily offbeat actor with a hint of Latin spice than a hunk‑o’-chunk muscle-neck like Vin Diesel or Mark Wahlberg, or even a young – muscly – gun like Zac Efron.
Respect, too, to Favreau for populating his corner of the Star Wars universe with a wholly canon-appropriate menagerie of characters and creatures, not to mention names and vernacular.
Yes, he might have a rumoured $20 million per episode to play with. But the showrunner assuredly flexes the skills that have seen him go from writing and acting in Swingers (1996) to directing multiple blockbusters including Iron Man (2008), The Jungle Book (2016) and The Lion King (2019) – and, now, to being handed the keys to the Star Wars universe. And he doesn’t disappoint.
Firstly, there are nicely judged SW callbacks and Easter Eggs – something that’s especially pivotal in a show set between two of three three-film chapters in the film series. Keep up.
There are those Stormtroopers. We’re also reintroduced to the scavenging Jawa, first seen winding up Luke Skywalker all the way back in 1977. They wind up Mando, too, by leaving his parked Razor Crest on bricks (he’d only popped out to get some milk).
To get his craft road-worthy once more, Mando has to barter with these arch-hagglers, bringing the Jawa an actual Easter Egg: a giant yolky snack which, going by the enthusiastic response of the hooded scavengers, is a Cadbury’s Creme Egg filled with jawa-crack.
Then there are holograms rendered in the colourway known to Farrow & Ball as “Princess Leia Blue”. There’s also a nice bit of carbon-freezing, as previously visited upon poor old Han Solo (RIP) a long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away, etc).
There’s cool new vocab and freaks, too. Mando’s episode two wingman is Ugnaught. He’s a short, whiskery, terrier-like farmer-type who’s “played”, hilariously, by Nick Nolte, who’s as big and gruff IRL as they come. “I have spoken,” is his catchphrase and as dialogue it rocks way more than it reads.
Mando butts heads with a rival, an IG-11 Bounty Droid. It looks a lot like the IG-88 who was (very) briefly in The Empire Strikes Back, appearing alongside OG bounty hunter Boba Fett. Double Easter Egg.
But this is IG-11, a pencil-pusher and computer-says-no pointy-head who quotes “subparagraph 16 of the Bondsman Guild protocol waiver”. Nonetheless, he can hold his own in a firefight. He and Mando take out wave after wave of Nikto, melt-faced fighting lizards whose next gig you imagine will be in Tarantino’s Star Trek (should QT ever get round to writing it).
And, bonus, IG-11 is, hilariously, “played” by New Zealand actor/director Taika Waititi, last seen being Hitler in his film Jojo Rabbit.
Mando takes on a cave-dwelling furry ultra-rhino-cum-rodeo-bull known as a mudhorn. He’s attacked by a blurrg, which are like evil, two-legged armoured goldfish.
Still, there are some comic missteps. When Mando initially fails to break in a blurrg as his new steed, Ugnaught tells him straight: “You are a Mandalorian. Your ancestors rode the great Mythosaur.”
Mythosaur? That’s a name which sounds like Favreau isn’t taking the Star Wars canon entirely seriously. What’s next? A Fake-osaur? Not-real-osaur?
Equally, early on Mando is compensated for a previous job by one Greef Karga in the only currency he’ll accept: Calamari Flan. Definitely not sure about that one. Who wants paid in squid omelette?
Ultimately, though, it’s all about Baby Yoda. From the very first sight of him (her? It? They?), the character solemnly referred to as The Child dominates the show. His (her? Its? Their?) dialogue, as previously mentioned, amounts to COOS, GIGGLES and WHIMPERS. Out of the crib, The Child’s “action” is toddling excitedly after some sort of desert frog, then eating it.
And then, finally, towards the end of episode two, The Child does what children do on every known (and unknown) planet: with a look of intense concentration, it squeezes out a fat nappy-filler.
Oh, wait, what? Ah. In fact, what’s happening is that, with all three fingers flexing and both big baby-brown-eyes fluttering, Baby Yoda is saving The Mandalorian by halting a charging mudhorn in its tracks, then making it levitate.
The Mandalorian – a (backstory alert!) foundling who’s rapidly coming over all daddy daycare amidst the alien slaughtering – can’t believe his helmeted eyes. What strange powers are these? Now who’s protecting who?
Meanwhile, spent, The Child falls back in his cosmic crib and now knocks out a satisfying post-Force poo. Probably.
As Ugnaught says in a farewell to Mando: “Good luck with The Child. May it survive and bring you a handsome reward.”
Amen to that. This is The Mandalorian, it is Disney+’s jewel in the crown, and it will help get us through these worst of times. And it’s worth waiting a week for each episode.
I have spoken.
New episodes of The Mandalorian will debut on Disney+ every Friday. The weekend, whatever that means any more, starts there.