The Mandalorian: His Backpack’s Got Jets

My reactions to the last couple episodes of The Mandalorian, “The Jedi” and “The Tragedy”

WAMPAAAA! (Advance to 11:58 for the really good stuff)

I didn’t have much to say about last week’s episode of The Mandalorian, titled “The Jedi,” because I didn’t have the same visceral attachment to the characters that a lot of other Star Wars fans seem to. I never got into The Clone Wars series1I’m trying again, and I’m currently at the end of the first season., partly because I was still a little bitter that Genndy Tartakovsky’s brilliant series was so quickly forgotten, but mostly because I was still getting comfortable with the premise of “What if the Star Wars prequels had much more engaging stories and were performed by CGI versions of the Thunderbirds puppets?” when they started lobbing Jar Jar-centric episodes at me. I mean what the hell, Star Wars? I thought we’d reached an understanding.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that I don’t have any attachment to the character of Ahsoka Tano. But some people on Twitter and YouTube were so excited they were already posting breathless takes by 1 AM on Friday. I watched it quickly to try and avoid any spoilers, and… I thought it was quite good.

I may not feel strongly about Ahsoka Tano, but I think Rosario Dawson is just the absolute best. I’d love to see an Ahsoka-driven spin-off series, as much as I’d love to see an Obi-Wan series. They’re wise to ease up on the throttle a bit and not over-saturate the market with so much Star Wars that it loses its novelty. But some things are just a no-brainer.2Now I’m imagining a timeline in which the First Lady of the United States is lead actress of a Star Wars episodic television series, but I’m not sure this universe would allow something so wonderful to happen.

Another interesting thing about “The Jedi” was seeing how The Mandalorian continues to mix and match genres. Star Wars already, famously combined westerns, samurai movies, samurai westerns, and sci fi — now, The Mandalorian seems to be distilling it down to its original inspirations and then recombining them. Shots that seem to be directly inspired by Lone Wolf and Cub lead into moments reminiscent of Yojimbo, and then the climax plays out as a space-samurai battle taking place in a Japanese-inspired garden on one side of a wall, an Old West-style fastest-draw showdown on the other. It’s a perfect tonal fit for this series, which strives to feel like a classic that could’ve existed in 1983, if only the technology had existed.

If “The Jedi” were designed explicitly to give fans of The Clone Wars and Rebels heart palpitations, the next episode, “The Tragedy” must’ve been aimed directly at all of us who were kids when The Empire Strikes Back came out, and who spent all of our time smashing our action figures and spaceships together, imagining all the different ways the story could go next.

I’ve already said that The Force Awakens bypassed any intellectual level of enjoyment for me; seeing the Millennium Falcon swooping through the wreckage of a Star Destroyer, and X-Wing Fighters swooping down over a forest-surrounded lake triggered nostalgia receptors in my brain with surgical precision. And I somehow found myself having an even stronger reaction to The Mandalorian‘s first shot of the Slave I flying over the horizon to bring trouble.

It’s been an ongoing joke that Return of the Jedi managed to take one of the most intriguing characters in the entire Star Wars franchise and make him look like a bumbling idiot. Seeing Boba Fett returned to badassery, both on his own with a gaffi stick, and then with a piece-by-piece demonstration of all the functions of his armor, seemed gratuitous but at the same time profoundly necessary.

All of us who were pre-teens in 1983, gravely disappointed that such a cool character had been so ignobly taken out with such clumsy physical comedy, were now being given glorious catharsis with every single shot of Stormtrooper armor being shattered to pieces. This is for the stupid jetpack being triggered accidentally! This is for the pathetic scream when he hits the sail barge! This is for the Sarlaac burp! And this is for making Chewbacca do a Tarzan yell, which was in a completely different scene, but was no less upsetting!

My review of every episode of The Mandalorian has been some variation on “this show makes me feel like I did when I was a Star Wars-obsessed kid,” but this episode was on a whole other level. When it became clear that our hero was going to get in the Slave I with Boba Fett and Ming-Na Wen (!!!) and this ongoing TV show was going to now be about the three of them flying around having adventures, I actually had to pause the stream. Is this a real thing that’s happening right now?!

I’ve said before that I’m envious of people who gasp, or scream, or cheer, or spontaneously applaud when they see something on TV or in a movie. It’s not that I can’t enjoy things, but it’s always with at least a little bit of detachment, and it almost never hits me viscerally. Now I know that all you have to do is show me Boba Fett landing the Slave I on a planet, and I’ll basically start hyperventilating.

So far, I’ve watched the episode twice. The first time got such a reaction out of me that a “review” seems completely irrelevant. The second time, I had a few issues with it. The pacing is a little off; it seemed pointless to have the Mando keep going back to the seeing stone again and again, instead of introducing some other way to raise the stakes.

His jetpack felt like a huge plot hole they didn’t do enough to address — 90% of the drama and tension of the episode could’ve been avoided if he’d just taken a second to put his jetpack back on. And I can’t think of a reason why — since they clearly recognized that they had to take it out of the picture, like cell phones in a horror movie — they didn’t do more to try and explain it. Just off the top of my head, they could’ve made Fennec’s re-introduction more dramatic by having her disable the jetpack with a precise blaster shot, so that Mando couldn’t escape.

And finally, it sounds like they’re bringing back Bill Burr’s character, who is easily the least interesting character in the entire series. The only reason it worked at all in his last episode, “The Prisoner,” is because they were essentially running a Blair Witch Project-style con: make these characters incredibly annoying and unlikeable so that the audience is filled with tension and dread until they’re taken out. I’m hoping that they have something solid in mind, and they’re not just doing a favor for an actor/comedian friend, but I guess we won’t know until next week.

3 thoughts on “The Mandalorian: His Backpack’s Got Jets”

  1. I let out an audible yelp when the Razor Crest blew up. But holy shit, I hope Boba Fett’s new canonical look is half armor half robes, because jeebus, badass.

    Also, seeing Stormtrooper armor actually break was really effective. Oddly, reminded me of an otherwise absolutely terrible movie, Ultraviolet, where the enemies’ armor shattered like glass. It was super effective because it was otherwise basically indestructible. Stormtrooper armor is useless, but seeing it break really gave that Gaffi stick some punch.

    1. Yeah I’m not that familiar with Robert Rodriguez’s movies, but this seemed to fit in with the ones I have seen, since it didn’t make much sense, but it was more like you felt it than watched it.

      I’d swear I’ve been hearing/reading for years, all the way back to the original movies, that Stormtrooper armor is good at deflecting indirect blaster hits, but it seems like nobody involved in Star Wars ever got the memo. An episodic TV series could’ve been a good opportunity to have a Star Wars story about NON-super-heroes who can’t just one-shot kill eight stormtroopers at once, but it’s kind of too late for that.

      And I probably shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but I never did like the Razor Crest. For a property that depends so much on building an emotional attachment to spaceships, it felt like such a boring design. It was like if they pitched Magnum PI where Magnum drove a VW Jetta.

      1. Haha. Funny thing – I initially felt exactly the same way about the Razor Crest, but it grew on me as the story went on. It’s not “cool” or aspirational like a lot of SW ships – but I thought it was kinda like the A-Team van, in that it’s more of a utilitarian kind of vehicle than a pure expression of style. So yeah – exactly like if Magnum PI drove a Jetta. It’d be a hell of a lot smarter for him to drive that than his ridiculous Ferrari.

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