Review — The Mandalorian

It’s been a while since I’ve actually reviewed something, and since I watched the whole first (and for now only) season of The Mandalorian in one sitting while staying home sick from work, I thought now would be a great time to talk about it, since it’s still fresh.

Since it is relatively new, though, this review will be completely spoiler-free. I was intending to add a spoiler-section at the bottom as I normally do, but my typical commentary went on long enough, and I didn’t feel I had much to add that required spoiling. So if you’d like to chat, feel free to comment and I’ll add spoiler tags if necessary.

My understanding is that everybody loves this show. It’s got everything from Space John Wick to Baby Yoda, what’s not to love? Well, I’ll tell you something contentious (to incentivize your reading): I thought the show was okay at best.

The biggest problem I had can be tied in a nice little bow, too. Every character the show told me to root for felt… edgy. The Mandolorian is the resident Batman/John Wick/whatever of Star Wars. So cool he never even takes off his helmet. He gets a pass because this is long-established Mandalorian lore, but I believe it is still worth mentioning. You have Cara Dune. Ex soldier and so awesome she can mop the floor with several guys at once ’cause she has a huge gun. You can tell she’s competent because our resident Batman likes her and wants to team up. You have Kuiil, who is so wise and obviously always right that you’ll be facepalming every single time the other characters don’t listen to what he has to say. And of course, you have Baby Yoda, who is so adorable that even when he’s being stupid you can’t help but ugly cry every time he’s on screen. And so on. I’m exaggerating, of course, but you get the idea.

Tied to the concept of edgy characters, this show had a serious problem with presenting and solving problems to the character. Often, these problems would arise without warning, or worse, would be solved out of nowhere, or both!

It felt like everyone was cool stereotypes that had X amount of their #cool scenes, and only failed when the plot felt it was necessary for them to be less competent. Successes and sudden salvations felt unearned because the show taught me that success and failure alike cannot be predicted.

For example, in the very beginning, when Mando (which is a stupid abbreviation, given “Lando” is already a character) is fighting the blurrgs, he is suddenly attacked. He does not hear footsteps and has no inclination that danger is near. Interesting that a master bounty hunter failed to notice a huge primal beast. Then, in the same fight, he is saved, again without warning, by Kuiil. This is more forgivable, as Mando is a little preoccupied with possible death to notice a tiny man coming to his rescue (even if he is on another blurrg). The stakes feel weird in this scene because danger was both presented to and taken away from our hero without his input in the situation at all. He was just… there. If the actor had been replaced with a punching bag, the entire scene could have played out exactly the same way (given that blurrgs are a punching bag’s natural predator, of course). This scenario happened multiple times throughout the show, but this is the best example of it because it shows both problem and answer being solved suddenly, and in the same scene to boot.

How do you solve this? Easy. You present the characters, and the audience, with a problem that seems like there is no way out. Then, when the character makes a clever use of the resources they have available to win the day, that success feels earned. If the character notices a crumbling wall earlier that day and later uses that crumbling wall to get away from the bad guy, it turns into foreshadowing and makes our hero look more competent. When salvation comes out of nowhere, the opposite happens.

The show, as a whole, also does a poor job making me care. The Mandalorian protects the asset in a way that is—as the show tells us—uncharacteristic of somebody like him. This is fine, I have no problem with that concept, but it fails to tell me why I should believe he would do such a thing. Spoilers I won’t mention aside, character choices like this are important enough to at least hint at their root. Also, the Mandalorian has a very strange gauge for who he can and can’t trust. He implicitly trusts some strangers with the most valuable baby in the galaxy while he goes off to kill people, then doesn’t trust a droid who was practically designed to protect him. Now I know what you’re going to say. “But the plot! But the plot!” And I get it. The reason he doesn’t trust droids makes sense. My point is more that he trusts random people for no reason. Also, he doesn’t trust that protector droid, but in a previous episode he leaves the baby alone on his ship with a droid he knows even less.

Overall, though. It’s a great series and has some awesome moments. The scene where he gets trapped behind a door (and the way he gets out) is incredibly well done, and did a great job at making the Mandalorian feel awesome in ways other scenes failed. The Mandalorian Armorer very much feels like a “rest zone” in a video game where you come back to upgrade your gear, and while the armorer herself is pretty one-dimensional like the other characters, I couldn’t help but enjoy every minute of screen time she had. Maybe she was my edgy OC whereas the other characters simply didn’t vibe with me.

P.S. I thought the way they ended the season was weird, as they revealed a thing that seemed too important to throw into an “after credits” style scene, but after talking to my brother about it, he made a good point. You need something to tease the next season with, and revealing it earlier in the episode/season would have left nothing to be excited for for later.

Review — Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I know, I know. There’s nothing I can say about this movie that hasn’t already been said. Most people hate it, a few people love it. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any other movies recently, so this is what I’m going to talk about today. My perspective may have been a little different than most, so I’ll tell you what: regardless of what you may think about the movie, you’ll probably disagree with me. So, since it’s been several weeks, and nobody in the universe is going to read a review about a Star Wars movie at this point if they haven’t already seen it, there will be spoilers ahead.

Before I get into likes and dislikes, some background. My close family, (at least the people I spend the most time with) are all nerds. That said, I’m also the youngest of six, so sometimes I can be left out of the loop with things. Such was the case with the Star Wars franchise. The first Star Wars movie I watched in its entirety was Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in theaters. Before you bust out your pitchforks, though, know this: I was eight at the time, and while I knew vaguely about the characters and the premise, I didn’t really know anything. The literal eight year old I was liked the movie for the action, but since it was just one of many movies for me at the time, I all but forgot the entire thing within a year.

Fast forward to now. I’ve since seen every Star Wars film, and the first movie I got to really see and appreciate in theaters as a valid audience member was Rogue One. For as much as I liked it, I couldn’t give you more than two names of any of the characters in that movie. It was just too much, too fast for me. A solid war movie overall, and you can read my review of it here. (Plus if the entire movie was made just as an excuse to put the Vader scene in theaters, it would still be worth it).

Anyways, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, was the first time I really got to sit down and watch a new story unfold in this universe. I was ecstatic, and I’ll be honest, I loved it. I walked out of the movie theater thinking it was the best Skywalker film made yet. That isn’t to say it didn’t have flaws, but overall, the choices that were made in the movie worked really well for me. At the time.

I’ve since watched YouTube commentaries on the film, and have read up a bit on a lot of things, and it’s opened my eyes a bit to really see what the current trilogy is doing wrong. The Last Jedi is not a masterpiece. The side-plot with the planet only serves to further a love interest that I hated (which was my biggest gripe immediately after watching it) and narrative-wise makes things worse for our heroes, there were lots of silly character choices that were either meaningless or contradictory, and nobody in this movie ever learns anything.

But I did enjoy a lot of the scenes. The “silent scene” was astonishing to me, because everyone in the theater managed to be quiet, and it was a great moment. (It did make me wonder, though, why wasn’t that choice made half an hour ago? Or, heck, why aren’t spaceships used as missiles all the time? One cruiser for one flagship? Deal.) I actually really enjoyed Rey’s character arc, and the complexity of her character in contrast to Kylo Ren was pretty neat. It was an interesting new twist, and I liked it. I also didn’t mind things like Leia using the Force to save herself and the kid using the Force at the end. Sure, you can make the argument that nobody can use the Force until you’re trained to use it, but the Star Wars universe is a big place that encompasses a very long period of time. Lots of strange and unexpected things can happen. Besides, a character saying “This is impossible” in a story should not be taken as absolute, 100%, unavoidable truth. Things change.

As I said, the movie isn’t without it’s faults. There’s a lot of valid complaints about it, but I still think the movie is overall great, and certainly quite enjoyable. Maybe not for diehard fans that have trouble suspending disbelief for new content in familiar mediums, but still.

As for me, I’m just hoping that whatever trilogy what’s-his-name got approved to direct after Episode IX is an Old Republic trilogy. That would be sweet.