I realize criticizing The Mandalorian is going to make some people furious before they even hear out what I have to say, so let me be completely up-front here: I actually like the show. I was a latecomer to it in Season 1 but quickly became a fan of the series, although I did wait until deep into the release of Season 2 before signing up for Disney+ again (yes, I’m one of those). Anyway, the series has breathed new life into Star Wars by hearkening back to the early roots of the movies, and by that I’m referring to the fact it was always a space western, not some political thriller set in the Republic Senate like in the prequel trilogy or whatever the last trilogy claimed to be (other than a total mess). So what I’m about to say is out of a love for The Mandalorian as constructive criticism, not that I expect anyone involved with the show’s creation to read this and make any changes for Season 3. As a writer I’m always analyzing stories and if they’re particularly good or compelling I analyze them even more, so I’ve thought a lot about what works and what doesn’t with The Mandalorian.
Also, before I begin you should know there will be spoilers for Season 2 in my analysis, so if you haven’t watched the entire season and don’t want to know what happens, stop reading, bookmark this post, and come back after you’re done.
Perhaps the biggest piece of criticism I have about The Mandalorian is something I noticed in Season 1 and hoped it would be fixed for Season 2, but alas it wasn’t. Maybe it’s that everyone involved with the show is scared to tinker with a formula which seemed to resonate so well with fans, but this I strongly believe is something which could be eliminated and will result in stronger writing and an even better fan response.
I am referring, of course, to the standard formula for an episode of The Mandalorian. The majority of the episodes in both seasons follow the same format: Mando needs something (information, parts for his ship, etc.) and he goes to a planet to get the thing. Someone says they can help him, but the bounty hunter needs to do something first, to which he agrees. Then there’s some curve ball in what needs to be done, Mando figures it out or a new person arrives on the scene to help solve the problem, the job is complete, and the Mandalorian rides into the sunset on the horse he rode in on. It’s not a bad formula for one or two episodes, but when this plays out over and over and over it starts to feel familiar like underwear that’s been worn for three days without washing.
What’s ironic is that in the first and second seasons of Star Wars Rebels, a cartoon series which came out years ago, that kind of formulaic writing isn’t present. Instead, the plotting is varied and interesting, even if some episodes are admittedly better than others. Sometimes, just when you think you have figured out where everything is going, the writers pull something unexpected yet not unforeseen and there’s a huge payoff for viewers. It’s great and I wish The Mandalorian were more like that, which brings me to my second point.
Luke’s appearance at the end of the final episode in Season 2 was interesting but out of nowhere. Some fans will be screaming obscenities because for them this moment of seeing Luke as a powerful Jedi in action and not some bitter, sad old man was amazing, something they wanted to see in The Last Jedi and quite frankly should have, so it’s understandable why they feel raw. It’s not that featuring a younger Luke was bad, it’s that what’s missing was any type of foreshadowing that Luke might have known about Baby Yoda or that the little green guy using the structure on the one planet would signal to Luke that he needed help.
Maybe Ahsoka knew all that and she didn’t have to come right out and say it, but something which would’ve just hinted at the possibility would have been enough to foreshadow Luke’s coming. Instead, he just shows up out of nowhere. Yeah, it was a shocking and welcome surprise for many, but that one tweak would’ve helped. I’m not saying it makes no sense that Luke came to collect the little force user, but some foreshadowing would’ve increased the emotional payoff in the moment of the Jedi master’s appearance. Perhaps the production team felt any hint that Luke would be in the series would’ve been too much for fans to speculate about, but I still maintain some foreshadowing without giving away everything would’ve been better writing.
Speaking of Ahsoka, a character I’ve always liked and thought was incredible well-written, her appearance in The Mandalorian was similar to Luke’s. I liked how she looked, thought the acting was spot-on, but for the brief time she was in the plot it seemed like she was just inserted in there to help Mando do something as well as offer some incomplete insight into Baby Yoda, but we get little view into how she’s developed since the events of Rebels, which was the last time we saw her. Basically, she was there to do what the plot needed at the moment and maybe for some marketing purposes. With an Ahsoka series announced which hopefully won’t be left in production limbo forever like the Marvel shows for Disney+ have been, we will get insight into what’s been going on with her, but not like a firehose gushing information all at once.
There were smaller things about the episodes which irked me or made me wonder if they were honestly just oversights, like what happened to the male Mandalorian who was hanging out with Bo-Katan Kryze (whom I thought was portrayed masterfully by Katee Sackhoff) and why did Mando fall for that obvious trap when he agreed to ride on the ship in the same episode, and why was Mando’s armor all but impervious in the final episode, but those are more minor issues.
The number one thing I want to see change with the show is the standard episode formula that’s been used for two seasons now. Can we ditch the formula and go with a more organic plot which weaves through all the episodes? If that one change comes with Season 3 I will be pretty happy.
All in all I like The Mandalorian, despite its problems. But the fact so many people act like it’s masterful, flawless storytelling really does demonstrate how much writing for Star Wars and television shows in general have suffered in recent years, because the slop that gets hurled at us these days makes this good show look great.
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