By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – December 27, 2019)
With every step Jon Favreau takes with The Mandalorian, it’s so much easier to understand why The Rise of Skywalker was so underwhelming. There’s a school of thought, not inaccurate, that Star Wars is often held to a higher standard than many other properties, but here’s the deal: With great power, comes great responsibility. Hopes are high because what George Lucas created means so much to so many people. It’s easy to overlook lesser universes because they haven’t ever had anywhere near the impact of this one.
Thus, it becomes easy to disappoint a fan base that might have too much invested in something that has, for over 25 years, been uneven to say the least. But, if The Rise of Skywalker left you a little less than jubilant, The Mandalorian makes up for all of it in spades. This first season, a tight collection of eight episodes, featuring a reveal that was so adeptly handled as to do the unthinkable in 2019, was a knockout. The fact that Jon Favreau reportedly told Disney to hold off the release of Baby Yoda toys that no doubt would have been the Tickle Me Elmo of this holiday season so that no leaks from toy manufacturers could spoil the unveiling of the Child on screen tells me he cared about his finished product, about the fans, and it also tells me those that matter trust him.
So, it’s not a surprise in retrospect that this season was so good, built as it went along, made sense, and ended in such a satisfying fashion. Favreau has been good at redemption stories for a while, crafting a growing, evolving humanity in Tony Stark in the original Iron Man, just as one example. But, while we saw every character grow this season, or stay true to laudable qualities they already possessed, the best change may well have been IG-11, a droid that was reprogrammed by a fallen hero, that sacrificed its life to protect the Child, to protect our protagonist, and died in an amazingly beautiful way. The relationship between IG-11 and Din Djadin (who we used to call Mando, and maybe still will) was unexpectedly deep, but Favreau laid it out in such a way that we understood every step it took.
That was the magic of The Mandalorian‘s first season, once we began to see that all the self-contained episodes, or those we thought might be one-offs, all had some purpose to further the larger story. Once we got to the season finale, we had heroes, we had villains, we had a very believable big baddie, and we even had nothingish antagonists PUNCHING BABY YODA. Luckily, IG-11 handled that business for us, and in that moment we were all IG-11. The old Saturday Night Live skit about Happy Fun Ball? Yep. You don’t taunt Baby Yoda. You don’t look at Baby Yoda. Else you get got.
Moff Gideon had to survive in the end, because there must be a specific, identifiable adversary for us to ponder and consider as we await what’s to come in the second season of the show. The addition of the sword/lightsaber combo just added a bit more, as did the mild backstory of him supposedly being dead due to war crimes. Favreau also used him to tell us in a unique way…who Din Djadin was, who Carasynthia Dune was, and even who “disgraced magistrate Greef Karga was,” not how we knew them, but how they were perceived in the universe. It led to the full flashback of Din’s status as a Foundling, which then explained perfectly why he now must serve as the Child’s father until he delivers him to the Jedi.
Speaking of which, what an awesome way to say, so HERE is where we’re going with this show next. Din Djadin is now on a quest to safely take Baby Yoda to an “ancient order of sorcerers” we all know to be Jedi, and that also seals the idea that the Child’s powers are exactly what we thought they were, although forcing the flame back on the enemy was especially effective. Between that story and the Armorer, who placed the Signet on Din, gave him the jetpack, and provided more backstory for the Mandalorians in general, this episode was a treasure trove of information, fan service, and emotional storytelling.
I love this show, but I absolutely adored this finale. We got some good Baby Yoda stuff of course, very good as a matter of fact, but the story has gotten just as complex as it needs to, without becoming arduous. It’s RICH with feeling, nostalgia, and the bonds of friendship and love, but it’s so darn intelligent. Never, not for a second, was I bored watching this season, and even in the one semi-forgettable installment with Bill Burr and company, it was still entertaining. We also saw some solid firefights and battles, including some really fun stuff with jetpack Din going after Moff Gideon’s craft and handling business.
Cara and Greef staying on Navarro and Moff Gideon still being alive should indicate there will be a reunion with Din at some point, although we may focus more away from them, with a side story effect, which then will bring them all together later in the season, Stranger Things style. This will be perfectly fine, but again, The Mandalorian has brought Greef Carga to a place of honor (somewhat), Cara is easy to root for, and Gideon is pure evil, power, and everything an enemy needs to be.
We have a plan, we have a structure, we have characters we already know, and we have people that evolve around every turn. Plus, Din’s humanity under the helmet, shown in his care for IG-11, his love for the Child, and the way he memorializes Kuiil, makes him the single easiest fictional character to root for in 2019 on television. We live vicariously through the main character of the show, and for once, it makes us feel good, because he bucks the antihero trend. He’s flawed and he’s learning, but his heart is right and he’s honorable and lives up to his promises. He is a role model for children watching the show, and a reminder of why the struggle of Good vs. Evil will always produce the best stories…and the best realities.
Taika Waititi, fresh off the outstanding Jojo Rabbit and other triumphs, directed the episode while also serving as IG-11’s voice. I love the dude, find his humor as charming as it is funny, but never lame. It’s got a quality that just works, like the two stormtroopers conversing, leading to the Baby Yoda finger bite we all cheered for, but he’s also uber talented. This had some set pieces and some shots that needed a different feel. All season, everybody, especially Deborah Chow, have done exquisite work, and Taika definitely held up his end of that bargain as well.
As I look back on these eight episodes, I didn’t know what to expect before I started the premiere. Now that we’re done with the first season, this was one of the true joys of 2019 in TV and film. It’s one of the best shows of the year, had a perfect finale, and will make my top five list without a doubt. I can’t wait to see what’s next, and it has me jazzed for Obi-Wan. Everything The Rise of Skywalker failed to do for me…The Mandalorian did and then some.
Favreau should be proud. THIS is why we give our time, our money, our emotions to storytellers. This was an A+ season. Just wonderful.