Three years before “Andor” became almost universally regarded as the best “Star Wars” content since the original trilogy, “The Mandalorian” was slowly winning over legions of fans disgruntled by the controversial “The Last Jedi,” the disappointing “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” and whatever the hell that godawful “The Rise of Skywalker” was supposed to be. Critics and audiences alike praised its impressive visual effects, its high production values, its lean storytelling, its kinetic action sequences, and, perhaps most of all, its colorful characters; among them the titular bounty hunter and the incorrigible rascal Grogu, also known as “Baby Yoda” (also also known as “Incredibly Profitable Merchandising Opportunity”). With the pilot episode of “The Mandalorian” Season 3, it seems that the Disney+ series is still going strong.
Maybe my inner child has died or something, but I’m just not buying any of it. I’m no hater: I actually used to be the biggest “Star Wars” geek around. I loved the cool costumes, the badass spaceships, and the elaborate special effects. And while “The Mandalorian”— based on its Season Three pilot “The Apostate”— has all those things, it sadly has very little else. The show is not bad, not by any means; it’s just not particularly good.
It really should be, though. For one thing, it’s got an enormous production budget— each episode reputedly costs a staggering $15 million to create— and it shows. For another, it’s got fantastic production design, with everything looking like something you desperately want a toy of. (The animatronics on display, some enhanced by CG, are absolutely fantastic.) And the show has got a terrific cast, too, led by the inimitable Pedro Pascal (who, with this show and HBO’s “The Last of Us,” seems to specialize in playing taciturn anti-heroes entrusted with the care of magical children). Furthermore, this episode has got wall-to-wall action; really, this episode has action sequences out the wazoo: [SPOILER ALERT] A giant crocodile-turtle monster attacks some Mandalorians during a riverside ritual. Two gunmen face off against a band of savage pirates in a tense, Western-style showdown. A solitary spaceship engages in a suicidal dogfight in the middle of an asteroid field reminiscent of the one in “The Empire Strikes Back.” Really cool stuff…
… or it would be, if any of it had any stakes or dynamism or sense of peril at all. The scene with the crocodile monster is a prime example. While displaying top-level CG and truly breathtaking stunt work, the sequence goes on for far too long; and since we don’t know any of the characters involved— they’re masked, of course, so we can’t even see their expressions— we don’t really care when they get eaten or drowned or thrown against a mountainside. (And why the hell are they even performing this ritual, which appears to involve the entire community, beside a river that houses a giant goddamn monster?) It all looks great, as does everything else in this show, but that’s about it. So far, “The Mandalorian” has been the televisual equivalent of empty calories. (And the dialogue throughout, I’m sorry to say, is pretty hokey.)
The high point of the episode (at least for me) is the scene in which Din Djarin (that’s what the Mandalorian’s friends call him, apparently) attempts to revive his former robot partner IG-11, who perished when the lower half of his body blew up in the previous season. Once reactivated, the droid suddenly reverts to his initial directive, and begins clawing its legless way toward Grogu, the character he was programmed to kill way back in Season One. The scene, aside from being a clever homage to “The Terminator,” is genuinely thrilling and a lot of fun. Sadly, nothing in the episode— nor, to my recollection, in the entire series— comes close to this.
If you want a cowboy-inflected sci-fi TV series featuring gritty anti-heroes and colorful villains, with witty, whip-smart dialogue and action-packed gun fights and space battles, you should watch the 2002 show “Firefly” instead. Because there’s nothing in “The Mandalorian” that “Firefly” doesn’t do ten times better.
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