The Mandalorian: Why you don’t have to be a Star Wars fan to love it
October 31, 2020
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Most people have likely seen at least one Star Wars film, if not all nine episodes of the Skywalker Saga (the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy that kicked off in 1999, and the new trilogy that wrapped up in 2019). But when it comes to delving into the deeper lore, that’s when the mainstream viewer may get lost.

Which may make The Mandalorian, the first TV drama set in the Star Wars canon, seem intimidating. The Disney+ series is based almost entirely on new characters from planets untraveled in the movies. There aren’t any Wookiees or Skywalkers for the most base-level Star Wars viewer to point at and get stoked about. Instead, our hero is a bounty hunter who refuses to ever remove his helmet, which means that we unfairly don’t get to enjoy the face of the actor beneath it, the beautiful Pedro Pascal. Along the way, the Mandalorian works alongside other bandits and bounty hunters of all stripes. Aside from the Child — a.k.a. Baby Yoda, the painfully cute, tiny version of the beloved, sagely green alien — there aren’t any immediately familiar faces or characters for the cursory Star Wars viewer to latch onto.

But The Mandalorian is fascinating for what it adds to the Star Wars universe, while also being accessible to the more rudimentary viewer because it doesn’t rely so much on preexisting storylines or characters. Instead, the show takes the semantics of Star Wars — space battles, unique creatures, a Big Bad that a Morally Gray Good Guy needs to vanquish — and applies them to the classic TV Monster-of-the-Week model. The result is something very fun, engaging, and just Star Wars-y enough.

In case the cuteness of Baby Yoda and the age-old desire for new TV to watch is somehow not the only sell you need on the show, perhaps its awards track record can offer impetus. The Mandalorian’s first season was nominated for 13 Emmys, including the top trophy, Outstanding Drama Series — a huge deal for a streaming-exclusive genre show on a new streaming service. The Mandalorian ultimately took home seven statuettes, all in creative categories, on the strength of its fantastic world-building and stylish look.

If you’re thinking of watching The Mandalorian but still haven’t checked it out, here’s a brief guide to get you started on the show just in time for season two, which debuted Friday, October 30.

In-depth knowledge of the Star Wars movies is not required

A screenshot of the Mandalorian.

The Mandalorian (Pablo Pascal) himself.

There’s no need to have watched any of the previous Star Wars films to make sense of The Mandalorian’s first season. What you need to know is that the show takes place five years after Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi, released back in 1983. Return of the Jedi ends with Luke Skywalker and company having thwarted Darth Vader and his evil Empire, so Vader is well out of the picture when we meet Mando (as he’s lovingly known). Since the galaxy is so dang big, it’s totally plausible that Mando has no interaction with any of our main Star Wars heroes. So, for the purposes of the show, he does not.

Instead, Mando is an independent bounty hunter who does jobs for questionable dudes in exchange for cash. The most important gig he’s taken on so far has been to deliver an ultra-powerful, very rare creature (the cooing, precious Child/Baby Yoda) to someone who clearly has some evil plans for it. By season one’s midpoint, Mando and Baby Yoda become a father-and-son pair, and Mando decides he’s not going to hand over his new charge to the bad guys and instead protect him and raise him as his own. The bad guys don’t like this. Fighting ensues.

The Mandalorian is thus far divorced from the main Star Wars canon, but the contours of Star Wars are there. It’s an engrossing plot — can Daddy Mando keep super-strong Baby Yoda safe from the bad guys? And what’s Baby Yoda’s whole deal, anyway? — but it’s also breezily episodic. This aspect might change some in season two, as the season premiere leans a bit more into established Star Wars lore. Still, season one should get you comfortable with the world to the point that you’ll be able to embrace it even if you haven’t been a huge Star Wars fan in the past.

The Mandalorian is a super-easy TV drama to watch

In contrast to something like Succession or The Handmaid’s Tale, The Mandalorian is rarely too layered or overly dense. There’s the overarching “Protect the Child” plot, but otherwise, most of the first season feels very self-contained. The first handful of episodes play out like acts in their own mini-Star Wars movie, as Mando nearly delivers the Child, decides not to, and escapes the consequences of shirking his duties. It’s gripping and quick enough to watch in one sitting.

Then the rest of season one unfurls, and nearly every episode feels like a stand-alone story. Mando goes on new jobs that take him to exciting locations around the galaxy. There’s an adorable episode where Mando and Baby Yoda find what might be a perfect place to settle in, a village where everyone loves and dotes upon Baby and Mando reunites with an old friend/love interest. Then the next episode is one guest-starring Amy Sedaris that is almost entirely forgettable. So it goes with The Mandalorian’s first season: It’s a little uneven, a little slow, but who cares! Almost nothing specifically matters from episode to episode, and the episodes run between 30 and 45 minutes long. There are only eight of them. It’s super-easy to blitz through, with very little active thinking required and plenty to enjoy along the way.

There are lots of big names attached, and they’re all great

Jon Favreau co-created The Mandalorian and serves as its showrunner; he also wrote most of the episodes of both seasons. If you’re a fan of his Marvel work (Iron Man, Spider-Man: Homecoming) or his Disney adaptations (The Jungle Book, The Lion King), then you know what to expect. Favreau has an eye for combining eye-catching action with strong humor, and keeps The Mandalorian from ever feeling grim or plodding.

Behind the camera, Bryce Dallas Howard and Taika Waititi each took a turn in the director’s chair during season one (as did Star Wars: The Clone Wars writer-director Dave Filoni, which is a huge deal for Star Wars nerds). But in front of the camera is where the real magic happens: Giancarlo Esposito, Werner Herzog, and Carl Weathers all play recurring characters. Herzog is only briefly jarring to see as the guy who hands over Baby Yoda to Mando; he fits in really well to the Star Wars universe otherwise. Esposito is intense and horrifying as the show’s major villain, recalling his days on Breaking Bad. And Carl Weathers is Carl Weathers. You have to love Carl Weathers. Taika Waititi also voices a character in the season one premiere and the season one finale, a very funny, ultimately heartbreaking droid.

Baby Yoda alone makes the whole show worth it

Baby Yoda on the back of a truck.

All I want is to hold him. Just once! Please!

Everything you’ve heard about Baby Yoda is true. On top of being a lucrative merchandising opportunity for Disney, Baby Yoda is so cute that he will absolutely make you cry. He will leave your heart so full of love and affirmation that, for at least a short while, you’ll wonder if the world is perhaps less dreadful and harrowing than it often seems.

I never understood why people liked babies so much until I saw Baby Yoda and his tiny hand stretching weakly toward his Daddy Mando. His powers are a little bit scary — there’s a moment in season one where he uses the Force to almost choke someone, which is a lot, especially for a character depicted as a baby — but all babies are unpredictable. At least this one is solidly the most precious one in any galaxy.

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