Old Western Classic: The Mandalorian 1.5

In this episode, the Mandalorian finds his ship once more in disrepair after the opening scene, requiring a pit stop on one of the most familiar worlds of the Star Wars galaxy. He needs funds to cover the repairs, so he takes on a job acting as a mentor of sorts for a hotshot young guy eager to join the bounty hunters’ guild. This youngster (played by Toro Calican) is more hustler than professional, though, and their target is a hardened mercenary with a dreaded reputation (played by Ming-Na Wen). To round out the new characters, the backwater mechanic (played by Amy Sedaris) hired by the Mandalorian also picks up baby duty while he’s out trying to bring in the credits.

Much of the episode was a classic western bounty hunter story, culminating in a clash between young gun and old, and the setting of the episode encourages a Wild West vibe.

[Spoilers follow]

That said, not everything has to end up on Tatooine. I do get the impression that the Mandalorian has some background with the planet, between his familiarity with Jawas in an earlier episode and his easy ability to communicate and negotiate with the Tusken Raiders in this episode (nice to see the Tuskens treated as rational sentients instead of mindless, violent savages). It makes sense; a lot of seedy types with underworld connections would have had reason to spend time on the planet at some point. And I can hardly begrudge the use of the planet, and so many familiar vistas, when it really allows the episode to feel like a gritty episode of some forgotten Western.

I do hope that we get some story momentum soon, though. At this point, nothing’s happening too quickly, even though each episode remains individually entertaining.

A final question about the ending: who do you think the figure is who comes across Fennec Shand’s body? The usual suspects seem convinced that this is a hint at a Boba Fett reveal. I’d rather Fett not show up; there are already enough real Mandalorians in the show, thank you very much. Plus, dropping him in would almost necessitate considerable explanation, re-focusing at least one episode around the figure previously presumed dead. And to have him suddenly reappear, years after the rescue of Han Solo and defeat of Jabba the Hutt, would feel bizarre if without some sort of explanation. Anyway, if it is an existing Star Wars character, and I suspect it’s not, I would hope that it’s Cad Bane. The jingle of the spurs fits in with his cowboy aesthetic. And while Bane may have been intended to be killed off in a canceled arc from The Clone Wars, for now I think his fate is ambiguous. Either way, it seems easier for a Duros to bounce back from a blaster wound than anyone recovering from being eaten.

Review: Disenchantment Part Two

The second season of Disenchantment introduces some new characters and settings, but it ultimately fails to disrupt the aimless wandering from the first season, and its first three episodes neatly resolve the massive changes to the world and the main characters left by the previous season’s cliffhanger ending, restoring the status quo for another round. That means that we have five episodes of Princess Bean, her boorish king and father, and her best friends Elfo the elf and Luci the demon getting up to more reckless antics.

I enjoyed watching most of the season, though I never had a burning desire to continue it. It still rested on a lot of excessive violence and gross-out humor, but I found that I cared a little more about the characters, as they had all softened somewhat. We saw this in Luci by the end of the first season, but he continues to grow and humanize, and while he still talks a big demonic game, he’s largely turned his back on the role of supernatural villain (even making some significant sacrifices for his friends), settling comfortably into the identity of sassy talking cat bartender (yes, that string of words does quickly make sense within the context of the show). Bean was deeply affected by the resolution of season one, and while she is still without a larger purpose, she seems more sentimental and slightly less selfish (though her royal upbringing results in an entitlement and self-absorption that she’s still not fully aware of and that often gets used for laughs). Bean’s relationship with her family is further complicated, and she finds more value and connection with some of her family members. Funny enough, Elfo, returning from death itself, has become slightly more hardened and jaded, though he and his elf friends are still a regular source of sweet naivete.

The season goes to some fun new locations, including an occult, Egyptian-influenced desert empire and a steampunk realm. But it still lacks a sense of direction–which the show acknowledges, as it is always willing to do with its flaws. Bean says in the last episode, “While I was growing up, I was completely lost, and then after I met you guys I was still lost, but at least we got lost together.” This sentimental moment is quickly followed by another cliffhanger ending that I’m sure just about everyone will see coming (though the particular details of its occurrence are still wild), setting up yet another season. Now I’m not so confident that the show will ever truly grow beyond what it is, but I’m enjoying what that is a little more now. Even if we only get incremental development of the characters and plot, I’ll probably keep watching. Still, for Part Two, I can safely suggest skipping the middle episodes. I previously recommended watching the first and final three episodes of season one. For season two, another ten-episode affair, you could easily get away with watching the first three and the last two.

Two Samurai: The Mandalorian 1.4

In this episode, our intrepid bounty hunter attempts to find safe haven for his young ward, leading him to accept a job protecting a small farming village in exchange for lodging. It doesn’t work out as planned.

The Mandalorian seems like a man hungry for connection. He didn’t seem to quite fit in with his fellow Mandalorians, even though they aided him in the end. (It turns out that he’s adopted into the clan.) He was betrayed by his fellow bounty hunters–or I guess you could say he betrayed them by breaking the rules of the guild, but he saved a small child from torture and death, and they were motivated by greed in hunting him down, so it’s clear to me that they wronged him and not the other way around. But he was so quick to find a connection with the kid, and with Kuiil, and now with Cara Dune and the capable widow of the farming village (do we ever learn her name? I didn’t catch it). We learn that the Mandalorians gave him a community and a family when he had none, taking him in after the death of his parents, but the burden to remain separate and apart from others, to always keep his armor on and to never reveal his face, weighs heavily on him. Perhaps he was just too old to become a good Mandalorian, just like Anakin was too old to become a good Jedi, but it seems like he is increasingly wearied by those cultural obligations.

The structure of the episode’s main plot pulls heavily from the Samurai/Western roots of Star Wars, serving up a variant of the plot seen in Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven and, more recently, the “Bounty Hunters” episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The structure is obvious, but the episode keeps its focus largely on the Mandalorian and his foster child; the adventure protecting the farmers is just one step in their journey, as the Mandalorian considers finding a safe place for at least one of them.

Another influence appears to be Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. The pirate raiders who live in the woods have a general aesthetic and purpose that appears to be half-Marauder, half-orc. The planet inhabited by the farmers and raiders, with its temperate forests and calm waterways, evokes Endor. Even the farmers’ residences are at least slightly reminiscent of concept art for the Ewok abodes in Return of the Jedi.

The raiders in the episode appear to be Klatooinian, but it’s hard for me to shake the impression of visual and thematic connectivity to that old Ewok movie.

We’re now halfway through this season, and I’m beginning to wonder if we ever will get bigger answers about just who and what Baby Yoda is. It’s seeming increasingly unimportant to the story being told here, where Baby Yoda is part MacGuffin and part softening agent for the protagonist. I could easily see the next four episodes telling a story of continued flight before the Mandalorian finally tries to take the fight to those who want this child so badly.

Escaping Expectations: The Mandalorian 1.3

[Note: spoilers for the first couple episodes follow.]

The story that this series is telling has become increasingly satisfying. In the first episode, we meet the Mandalorian, who takes on a dangerous job and successfully secures a vital target, which turns out to be a baby of an unknown species (or known–it’s not really clear to me how much people know about the species of Yoda and Yaddle in-universe). In the second episode, he must go through trials to get off-world, in so doing forming a bond with the youngling and learning that it possesses special powers; in the timeframe we’re in, it appears that most of the galaxy isn’t familiar with the Force and may not believe that the Jedi were ever real, so the Mandalorian does not appear to understand what he’s observed. In the third episode, he delivers the bounty–and then retrieves it. It feels like a complete story with a three-act structure over these past few episodes.

Now the story feels free to do…just about anything. Much like with the end of The Last Jedi, I can’t anticipate where the story might go; it feels complete in and of itself, even though there are plenty of threads to continue pursuing. I am sure we will learn more about the Mandalorians and what happened to them. I imagine that the story’s central Mandalorian will have more opportunities to advance within his culture, and it looks like we’re starting to get more and more details about his past. And we might have big answers about that Yodaling, or we might not.

This is turning into a great show! At the same time, I recognize the response from fans who note the lack of on-screen women, especially in speaking roles. It’s true that there aren’t many speaking characters at all, but it is also a little bizarre that all but one character with lines of dialogue so far is a man. When we see the Mandalorians together in this episode, for instance, it’s disconcerting that their apparent leader is a woman but all of her followers speak in deep masculine voices. Perhaps we’ll find that the Mandalorians we’ve seen are just a fraction of them all, that there are more offscreen, or that some of the ones we’ve seen are women and we just haven’t heard them speak. And it’s my understanding that there are more female characters coming soon. But this absence in representation is noticeable, especially given the franchise’s movement to better incorporate diversity overall and increase the number of prominent female characters within its stories in particular. Still, while this is disappointing and something that I certainly hope is corrected in future episodes, it’s an otherwise strong episodic narrative.

I’m happy that this show exists, and I want to see where it goes (and hope it fixes its representation issues), but more generally The Mandalorian has given me hope that we can see more live-action Star Wars stories in the future, and that they can continue to deliver quality story-telling while truly embracing the diversity of the human experience.

Gaining Focus: The Mandalorian 1.2

The second episode of The Mandalorian, titled “The Child,” was more focused than the first and benefited greatly from this. There are only a handful of characters with speaking lines, most of them indistinguishable Jawas, and of the three primary characters, one doesn’t talk at all. There was a good deal of action, which typically propelled the plot forward instead of feeling extraneous. And the story being told was simple enough: the Mandalorian needs to deliver his quarry. The Mandalorian’s ship has been stripped down by scavengers, and he needs to retrieve the parts. In fulfilling the objectives of recovering his parts and repairing his ship, he learns some pretty interesting things about his current “captive,” and he spends more time bonding with the gruff, wizened old Ugnaught pioneer, Kuiil.

Pedro Pascal is really managing to pull off a lot behind a helmet and full body armor. His character is gradually seeming like, well, a full character, instead of just a cardboard cutout of a gunslinger. We don’t know a lot yet, but he seems like a weird combination of violent and vulnerable. I still don’t know the character well enough, but at least the series seems committed to developing him. It’s Kuiil, played by Nick Nolte, who’s the truly engaging character so far. He’s incredibly resourceful, his past is more than a little bit intriguingly mysterious, and he also possesses a fair amount of compassion and wisdom. It’s too bad that it seems like the Mandalorian is leaving Kuiil behind on his journey, though they at least part on amicable terms.

The show is doing some interesting things with this bounty target. Things that I wouldn’t expect to happen so quickly. We might have some answers about the first-episode surprise coming at us quicker than I expected, answers that could have some wild and weird implications for the larger galaxy far, far away. Given that the first episode only came out earlier this same week, I don’t feel comfortable discussing this much further just yet. But suffice it to say, the show appears to be aiming at something more unique than episodic sequences of the Mandalorian Man With No Name snapping up quarry and shooting through obstacles. I think I’m now on board with this show–at least, I’m very eager to see what happens next!

War Criminals: The Mandalorian 1.1

I watched the first episode of The Mandalorian last night, and I’m finding that my opinion seems to conform to a pretty common set of reactions. I thought it captured the atmosphere of certain elements of the nineties Expanded Universe, for better and worse. I enjoyed watching an episode of television that was less than an hour in length, though I felt like it dragged on a bit, meaning I suppose that the show was effectively contained to a narrow time limit but wasn’t economical with its storytelling within that time. At the end of the episode, it felt like a fun adventure, but I also had very little idea of the characters or the overarching plot. The surprise revelation at the end truly was surprising, and it raises a lot of questions, but it has me more baffled than excited.

But after so recently re-reading Tales of the Bounty Hunters, I’m in the mood for more of The Mandalorian. I’m certainly willing to stick with it for at least a few more episodes to see where it goes and what it’s trying to do (then again, there are only eight episodes in the first season, so it’d be easy enough to watch it all).

If there’s something that stands out to me so far, besides the old Legends callbacks, it’s the setting. Set five years after the fall of the Empire, we’re in a time period that’s relatively unexplored within the new continuity. There are certainly echoes of the Imperial Remnant’s splinter factions and warlords from the old Expanded Universe, but I was especially intrigued by how much the show seemed to be reflecting narratives about the post-World War II era. I get that people are amused by the absurdity of a Serious Auteur like Werner Herzog delivering lines about Mandalorian beskar (and forgive me, but I can’t claim to have even the slightest familiarity with his oeuvre), though I instead found it striking to see an older gentleman with a German accent, draped in an ornamental costume and wearing a flashy medallion from his fallen Empire, negotiating for an illicit operation to abduct or kill a target with the promise of payment in ingots of a rare metal collected from a people subjected to a purge by his former military authorities. The Galactic Empire has always relied on a visual language that evokes Space Nazis, but there has been a gradual ramping up in the obviousness of that imagery over time. The First Order is draped in Nazi-esque fascist iconography, and it’s a common observation that the movement of Hux and Kylo Ren feels more than a little like the real-world resurgence of far-right movements across the globe. In The Mandalorian, the Imperial holdouts we’ve seen so far are like Nazi war criminals in hiding in the decades following the end of the war. This progression from aggressive fascist empire to scattered war criminals operating underground to a seething resurgence maps up with real-world developments all too well.

I wonder if this theme will tie in more directly to the developing plot. For now, anything else is pure speculation.

Changing hunters

In my review of Tales of the Bounty Hunters, I started by saying that I wanted to some day talk a little more about how these bounty hunters have changed in their depictions between Legends and the Disney canon. That day has come. I’ll admit that the timing is awfully convenient, what with a show about bounty hunters in the new Star Wars canon premiering this Tuesday. It’s truly just a coincidence, though, or if it isn’t, my subconscious was primed for thinking about bounty hunters given the marketing for this show. Either way, it’s not exactly new ground for this blog (examples one, two, three, and four for consideration).

One thing this post is not meant to be is a biographical sketch of the characters from Tales of the Bounty Hunters, or a careful examination of the differing details of their interpretations across Legends and canon sources. You want that, go to Wookieepedia. What I want to do is talk about how I reacted to some of these changes, and how my opinion might have changed in revisiting a work that was so nostalgic for me.

To begin, I found Dengar’s transition from Legends to canon to be most welcome. In the new canon, he’s consistently been portrayed as a sarcastic, playful personality. He seems to enjoy being around people, even if he’s still a little bit of a sociopath. We are still missing a lot of details in his arc, but we see him go from a member of Boba Fett’s bounty hunting team in The Clone Wars to an aging, sardonic loner desperately yearning for a reconnection with others in the Aftermath books. It seems like his adventures during the reign of the Empire are still mostly untold. I haven’t kept up with the comics in a long while, but it seems like they’ve slowly included some Dengar appearances in which he seems to be much more grizzled. It’d be interesting to learn why exactly he became more hardened and violent and if those wrappings ever became actual bandages.

Regardless, Dengar’s fun now. He’s charismatic on-screen (and on the page), even if most of the other characters find him annoying. I’ll take this depiction over “Payback,” the dour ex-Imperial serial killer bent on revenge from Legends. Plus, the broader story of Dengar now appears to have all the elements of a story of loss, pain, and recovery that formed the core of the older version of Dengar. We’re still missing what caused that pain for him in the middle of this arc, as far as I’m aware, but maybe we’ll see it someday. I prefer Dengar finding salvation in found family over a romantic entanglement, anyway.

Bossk also seems a lot more “fun” in the new canon. He’s loyal to Boba Fett in The Clone Wars, at least. I’m fine with this version of the character; he’s not a mentor, exactly, to Boba, but maybe he’s a sort of weird uncle. That we don’t really have a clear picture of how Boba and Bossk fell out is an unfortunate gap. Bossk’s fate is equally unclear; by the peak of the Galactic Civil War, we only have a snapshot with his cameo on board the Executor. I don’t really know how to feel about this version of Bossk. The original incarnation of the character was so scary, vile, and outright evil. Then again, it’s interesting that Bossk’s character traits went on to largely define Trandoshans as a whole, then in the new canon, with greater individualization within species, Bossk is given a friendlier identity while a faction of Trandoshans is still characterized as Wookiee-hunting psychopaths within The Clone Wars.

Meanwhile, IG-88 doesn’t really seem to have been changed at all. There are a lot of other IG-model droids, from the Clone Wars onward, and these other versions often get used instead of IG-88 himself. That’s been a deliberate choice; in an interview with IGN, Dave Filoni explained:

So a droid like IG-88, if you know the Expanded Universe and the Star Wars history, there are a lot of stories around him or what might’ve happened to that particular droid. So out of respect for people that have been with this franchise a long time, it’s like, “well if we do something with this space, would that be contradicting those stories?” So it’s better just to say, “Well, there’s other droids,” it’s not like it was a unique assassin droid.

I appreciate Filoni’s tendency to bring in things from Legends as reasonable and to leave Legends elements ambiguously canon where possible instead of always explicitly contradicting them with new material, but I also find it ironic that he says that it wasn’t a unique assassin droid, when “Therefore I Am” is very much so about how IG-88 was a unique prototype (something already undermined in Legends with ideas like the IG lancer droids). That all said, I wouldn’t mind a revamped version of IG-88 that more fully explores the contradiction between his lofty ideals for a droid revolution and his practices of overwriting programming and operating through brutal violence. Why does he want the droid revolution? What are his end goals? Something more than simply being disgusted with organics could be really interesting, especially in the wake of L3-37’s debut (and IG-88’s plan to become the Death Star II could provide an interesting mirror to L3’s becoming part of the Millennium Falcon).

Zuckuss and 4-LOM became such weird, splintered characters in Legends. Zuckuss had multiple personalities; 4-LOM had a memory (and personality) reset. These elements appear to have been attempts to explain too many stories about these characters from different writers with different visions who didn’t bother to make for a consistent presentation. That said, I like the earlier versions of these characters. Zuckuss is a thoughtful, meditative, tradition-bound member of a mystic hunting tradition. 4-LOM is a constantly adapting droid who believes that he can program himself to allow for intuition and to maybe even access the Force. It doesn’t seem like the duo have appeared much in the new canon yet, so it’s hard to say how their personalities will cement.

Boba Fett has had the biggest transformation, from weird zealot-murderer to vengeance-obsessed clone; in some ways, he’s become more like the old Dengar. I like the newer version of Boba Fett better. The biggest mark against Boba Fett is that he has an unsatisfying ending. His death was treated as a sort of joke in Return of the Jedi. In a way, Attack of the Clones makes his death more of an inescapable tragedy; his “father” tried to raise a better version of himself, and Jango’s untimely death set Boba down a path that would see him die in a similarly unceremonious way at yet another elaborate execution gone wrong. Legends tried to make Fett virtually indestructible, overcoming the Sarlacc so that he could go on to be a continuing threat to Han and his family. But I think Fett’s life from Kamino to Tatooine has a better, self-contained arc, even if his on-screen death will always be a silly footnote.

As a special addition, I have to mention Greedo. Greedo’s formative Legends tale was in “A Hunter’s Fate,” collected within Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina. There, he’s a young hotshot who’s basically goaded, unprepared, into a fight with Han so that his bounty hunter “friends” can in turn collect a bounty on the inept Rodian. Whatever happened in that cantina–Han shooting first, second, or simultaneously–fits comfortably with this narrative. Greedo was unprepared and couldn’t outgun Han. Greedo’s new canon version is actually frustrating to me; he’s been in operation for at least a couple decades, with an active involvement in the underworld of the Clone Wars era, and yet he still bumbles a point-blank shot at Han. It’s a wonder that such an incompetent gunman could have survived in his line of work for as long as he did. If Lucas had simply left Han to shoot first, this wouldn’t bother me as much–Han would have been taking out a threat proactively, before the dangerous hunter could get a shot off. But if Han fires second, or even simultaneously, it becomes difficult to understand how Greedo, with weapon rested on the table before him the whole time, could have screwed up so badly.

Obviously, the above only reflects my opinions and interpretations of these characters. Bounty hunters are on my brain. I’d love to hear which versions of the characters you prefer and why, or even which versions of the characters you’re more familiar with. And as a separate prompt, are there any other characters who have had particularly successful/unsuccessful transitions from Legends to the new canon? Do you see new characters, like IG-11, that are filling the role of a Legends character in new stories? I hope to see some interesting replies!