With Lockdown 2.0 ongoing, we’re all looking for something to fill endless hours spent at home. Some people like jigsaws or painting, but for me, you can’t beat TV, and luckily there’s a plentiful supply of new shows being released. The Boys just finished airing their second season on Prime Video, Netflix’s limited series The Queen’s Gambit has everybody talking and then of course, there’s The Mandalorian on Disney+. (Spoilers ahead).
The Mandalorian is a show that confuses me. Not because I don’t watch Star Wars. I’m a huge Star Wars fan. I spent the best part of the first lockdown watching Clone Wars and Rebels again and reading eight Star Wars books. No, I love Star Wars. What confuses me about The Mandalorian is why everyone praises it so highly. Every Friday without fail, my twitter feed will explode with an outpouring of praise and revere for this show. Yet, all I see is poor storytelling and weak characters. It makes me question whether or not they’re watching the same show I am.
One thing I will admit is that the show is visually stunning. There is no denying how high the production value is. The combined and seamless use of practical and digital effects is like nothing I have ever seen. Unfortunately, no amount of technology can fix bad writing. The opening episode does a weak job of setting up who ‘the Mandalorian,’ is and why we should care about him. In place of really getting to know him, we are instead told several facts about Mando. He dislikes droids. He never takes off his helmet. He is good at bounty hunting. But what do we actually know about him? What is it that’s driving him? What does he want?
We see that he is a part of a wider group of Mandalorians, but he never interacts with them in any meaningful way. He doesn’t seem to care about any of them, or anything for that matter. You could argue that that’s the point. He begins the series as someone who’s uncaring, so that when he finds Baby Yoda, he can enter a journey of learning to care about something. But there’s no journey. He chooses to care about the child from the get-go. He chooses to save it from IG-11, in a decision that feels entirely unexpected and unjustified. But regardless of whether or not it makes sense, by the end of the episode, I didn’t care.
I didn’t care because Mando’s not an interesting character. He isn’t compelling and we’re never given a reason to care about him or empathise with him. And worse yet, a reason never comes. When the show first came out, everyone praised the way it told the story without showing the protagonist’s face. In the behind the scenes show Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian the directors discuss overcoming this challenge too. Do not be fooled by what these people are telling you. This is not something that is achieved.
Mando, also known as Din Djarin, is clearly not an emotive person, so sticking him in a helmet makes him impossible to read. We never know how he feels, so even if there was a reason to empathise with him (which there very rarely is), it is impossible to do so. Why then, do they insist that he keeps his helmet on? Sure, the Mandalorian creed says he has to. But, as season two has shown, there are other Mandalorians who are fine with taking theirs off. So why does he specifically care? I couldn’t tell you. It’s never justifiably explained. It just ends up feeling like the show is restricting itself for no reason.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the show, however, is that nothing new or interesting ever seems to happen. Most episodes seem to follow an unchanged, predictable pattern. Mando arrives on a planet. Someone needs help. He reluctantly agrees to assist them. He solves their problem and then leaves again. It doesn’t matter whether the location is a sand planet, a snow planet, a forest planet, it’s the same conventional story dragged out over 40 minutes, when it could be done in half the time, and I am bored of it.
The main reason for my persistent boredom is that Mando never learns anything or grows from any of his experiences. He uses the same approach wherever he goes and always succeeds, with very little adversity. By the end of season one, the main thing that has changed about Mando is that he no longer hates droids, a trait that always felt weak anyway. We are also told that he has made some new friends, but the show never really shows any convincing signs of friendship (the exposition is strong with this one). The most exciting thing that the first season has to offer is the tease in the finale episode’s closing moments. The villain, Moff Gideon, cuts his way out of a crashed Tie Fighter, using the Darksaber.
For anyone who is unaware, the Darksaber is a Mandalorian relic which was wielded by the first ever Mandalorian Jedi. It’s also an important connection to the wider Star Wars universe since it first appeared in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the incredible animated series created by Dave Filoni. It’s not a good sign when the first time a tv show makes you excited is its connection to another TV show. But at least I was excited.
The closer we edged towards season two, the more we heard rumours of potential appearances from characters created by Filoni, most importantly Ahsoka Tano. Being a fan-favourite character, the prospect of Ahsoka’s appearance gave me a renewed sense of hope for the show. Sadly, despite being now halfway through season two, the quality of the show has yet to pick up, with much of it still feeling like filler. ‘Chapter Eleven: The Heiress,’ has, thus far, been the one saving grace. The writing still felt clunky, but we did at least finally meet a Filoni-created character, Bo-Katan Kryze in live action for the first time. Seeing the heir to the throne of Mandalore, and rightful owner of the Darksaber, succeeded in creating the feeling that the story is finally headed somewhere bigger.
Bo-Katan’s appearance also felt like it could directly impact Din Djarin personally. She is a Mandalorian who removes her helmet (as we’re told all modern Mandalorians do). My hope is that this challenge to Mando’s worldview could be enough to force some much-needed character development out of him. I’m not holding my breath though. But for me the most important thing Bo-Katan gave us was a tease for Ahsoka. Not only was she mentioned by name, but Bo-Katan also sent Mando off to find her. With episode five having been written and directed by her creator Filoni, the stage is seemingly set for her live action debut. Now, I’m not suggesting by any means that Ahsoka is somehow going to fix everything. I think there is a lot that would need to change before that could happen. But it does once again give me, if you’ll pardon the pun, a new hope.
The Mandalorian is not a good TV show. I would even go so far as saying that it’s not even “fun,” like many people argue. It’s frustrating to watch because it could be so much better. It has all of the right pieces to be something truly great and unique, but it just continually misses the mark. Its focus on special effects, cheesy action and drawn-out sequences of Baby Yoda lead it to neglect the thing that has always been the heart of Star Wars, the characters.