We’re continuing our episode-by-episode review of Disney+’s flagship show, The Mandalorian. It’s the first live-action Star Wars show ever produced and Lucasfilm has spared no expense with it, giving it a feature film-worthy budget, top creative people overseeing it, and an all-star cast. You can check out previous reviews here…
9/10 – The Mandalorian starts off strong with a visually-entrancing debut outing. The series is confident, highly produced, with a great lead and a great premise…and there’s even room for improvement.
8/10 – The Mandalorian continues to be gorgeous to behold. After eighty-minutes of the story, however, I’m ready for things to start happening.
9/10 – The third episode of The Mandalorian is a lot of fun in a short amount of time and, if nothing else, finally launches out into the expanded Star Wars universe and to all the fun that’s sure to be found therein.
After episode three ended, I said this…
Now three episodes down, I feel like we’ve finally finished the first act of the story. I can’t help but be frustrated with the piecemeal way Disney is delivering the show.
Episode four, titled Sanctuary, clearly serves to reset the board, lower the stakes, and begin a slow climb to the next big climactic moment. It’s the most detached episode of the series thus far, and the most “episodic” of the bunch. In a lot of ways, the shift from the highly serialized nature of episodes 1-3 to this episode reminds me of a similar shift in focus in the back-half of Battlestar Galactica’s third season. There’s still an overall arc to be considered but it’s put on the backburner while the “plot of the week” is given the foreground, a reversal from the previous approach to the show.
The story this week is classic Kurosawa, feeling like a streamlined, stripped-down re-telling of “Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven:” Villagers, suffering by invading raiders who are stealing their crops, hire lawless mercenaries to defend them. In the case of The Mandalorian, instead of seven ronin/gunfighters, there’s only two: our Mando and an acquaintance named Cara Dune, a former Rebel Shock Trooper-turned-Mercenary. Together they will teach the locals how to defend themselves and stave off an attack from a hijacked AT-ST.
When I say the episode is “stripped-down” I mean it.
With a run-time of forty-one minutes, it’s the longest episode of the show, thus far, but it’s not enough time to do justice to the plot without everything feeling rushed; there’s a strong set-up and conclusion and not much middle. Instead, there are moments of humanity, peppered throughout, meant to endear us to the star of the show. These short scenes of potential romance with a villager, candid discussions with Cara, and fatherly-protection of “baby Yoda” all work on paper, but the execution is a bit lacking. At times it felt a bit ham-fisted, both in script and in acting.
I’ve seen some chatter here and there that the episode was like watching a live-action episode of The Clone Wars. I can see that, especially with the way the plot was laid out: “tease, reset, short action, build-up, climax, rushed ending.” I don’t know if that’s a good thing, however. I might be more forgiving of such an inconsequential outing if (A) it wasn’t 1/8th of the whole season, or (B) it did something to significantly advance the plot.
Instead, the episode felt like a throwaway; in a season with twenty-two episodes (like Clone Wars had) that’s fine; it’s not so fine when you only have eight opportunities to tell the story of the season. At the same time, I’d be okay with a side-story kind of plot if, during the course of the episode, we moved the season-long arc forward, making the “side” story consequential in retrospect.
Clearly, I have a lot of issues with the episode from a structural and purposeful standpoint, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it.
First, Both action sequences were tremendous and offered the best side of a “live-action Clone Wars” feel. The red eyes of the AT-ST rising between the trees was chilling, and the bang-bang stuff that followed was well-directed by Bryce Dallas Howard.
Sidebar: I should point out how laugh-out-loud funny it was for Clara to say: “I’ve seen an AT-ST take down an entire company of soldiers.” I mean, okay, maybe, but I’ve seen Return of the Jedi: I’ve seen a gaggle of Ewoks take down a company of AT-STs. All you need is a rope and some logs!
Second, I also enjoyed the short and sweet training montage, as Mando and Cara worked to get the passive villagers into fighting form. It reminded me of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, though I’m sure I was supposed to get an Army of Darkness vibe from it too.
And third, Baby Yoda continues to delight…
Every Mom on Christmas morning watching you open presents: pic.twitter.com/m7hI1qYoVz
— Julie Benson (@TheJulieBenson) November 29, 2019
Hopefully, soon we’ll get things back on track with understanding who the little tyke is and why he’s so important.
7/10 – Not a bad episode, but nothing memorable or consequential either, and for a show with only eight (weekly-released) outings, that’s a bit of a disappointment.