I was 7 when I watched Star Wars for the first time at my local cinema. My dad was snoring in the chair next to me the whole time, but somehow remembered that there was lots of violence or something.
To be honest I don't have strong memories of that first viewing either. The love I have for the Star Wars universe comes from repeated viewing sessions every christmas and during marathon theatre showings of the whole trilogy as a teenager.
Then came the prequels... and overall I was extremely satisfied with them especially the art design, the music, and the young Obi Wan kenobi. I was also - at the time - more tolerant of novel cgi characters like Jar Jar Binks, but now - after 20 years - appreciate how goddam awful he really was.
More recently, any hype I may have had for the Disney trilogy was completely obliterated by The Last Jedi and the garbage that followed. The Force Awakens wasn't too bad as a rehash of A New Hope, but a fresh story would've been much better and the new characters were cartoonish and shallow in my opinion.
So when The Mandalorian was announced as a live action TV series, I glanced at the little Jango Fett figure that sits on my desk and thought "This could be the coolest thing to happen to the Star Wars franchise for a long time."
Could The Mandalorian restore my faith in everything Star Wars?
Well... yeah... kinda... but it falls short in a few departments.
Within the first few episodes of The Mandalorian season 1, it was clear that I was being served the kind of shallow, episodic, deal-with-one-problem-every-week type of entertainment reminiscent of The A Team TV series of the 1980's. The budget was impressive, the CGI convincing, the nostalgia cranked up to 11, enough backdrops and props to make all the hardcore fanboys cream their pants, but was that enough to overcome the lack of depth?
As an older viewer spoiled by many years of quality, adult-themed content along the lines of Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, The Punisher, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Mr Robot, Fargo, Stranger Things, and more recently, The Witcher, The Mandalorian fell a little short in the serious, serialised drama department. The storytelling came across as shallow, mostly action oriented, and heavily dependent on visually pleasing icons that satiated the desperate desire for anything resembling Good Old Star Wars.
The Mandalorian satisfies the superficial needs and wants of rabid fans - mostly men in their twenties, thirties and forties - that sqeal with delight like little girls at the sight of the Dark Sabre or a ship design that they recognise or an alien type that appeared once in a previous movie or the promise of seeing a cartoon character made flesh such as Ahsoka Tano.
Manchildren aside - I get it... I'm the same way with The Walking Dead - the female viewers have also found a new reason to aaaawww in Baby Yoda. But it's still the men I see with toy Baby Yoda replicas sitting in their laps while recording their reaction videos! Seriously, I'm starting to get very worried about the human species in general, but the manbabies... sheesh. Time to grow up fellas.
As well as being relatively weak storywise, the episodes in season 1 were extremely short emulating the cartoon series format that Dave Filoni worked on previously during Star Wars: Clone Wars and Rebels. I would have preferred a heavier tone with long form storytelling from the beginning, especially fitting for such a mysterious character who is feared by everyone he encounters. Season 2 appears to be adding more time to each episode so that's an improvement. No need to rush through each mini story - allow the scenes to breathe without falling into filler territory.
Many of the stories in season 1 reminded me of completing side missions in video games such as The Witcher 3 or Assassin's Creed Odyssey - village locals have a problem with a nearby monster which the hero deals with and collects a reward allowing him to continue with the main overarching plot complete with beskar armor upgrades and Razor Crest repairs!
The Witcher protagonist Geralt of Rivia has a lack of human emotions and I thought that would not translate well to the tv show, but Henry Cavill did a magnificent job given the restrictions with subtle displays of humor, anger and love without betraying the character's stoic nature. At least we could see his face.
When it comes to The Mandalorian, Mando is not only stoic, emotionless, expressionless, and generally a bit stiff when not blasting stormtroopers in endless corridor battles, we haven't seen his face 99.9% of the time which makes me wonder if this is a first for a tv series, some kind of experiment to see how much the audience can tolerate following a protag that never shows facial acting of any kind.
In other masked superhero type stories, we get to relate to the human characters in their downtime when the mask comes off. I feel this is an extremely important aspect of bonding with these personalities. We get to see another side of them, usually complex, almost always interesting and very revealing, a softer side, a vulnerability, something, anything to make us care. Not so with Mando. It's all very flat, even his dialogue delivery, robotic even. All we get is a little back story about how he was saved from a sure death by battle droid. Beyond that, he's just a bounty hunter that fell for the cuteness of an egg-eating, baby alien with magical powers along with all the other manbabies. Aaaaaaaaawwww.
That's not to say that watching a helmet stare into the distance isn't effective. It is. But you have to admit, you barely need a well known actor for this. The stunt guy would do.
Moving on... let's talk about Mandos reputation as an almost invincible warrior feared by all in the galaxy. Mandalorians may be fearsome but this one in particular appears to have skipped all the classes on tactics and strategy, and much like John Wick, prefers to wade into toxic situations following the massive-body-count school of combat while wearing copious amounts of plot armor!
Getting constantly bested and beaten up by enemies while being conveniently saved by buddies are not what I'd call the hallmarks of a mighty warrior. It's early days. What happens when we up the stakes as seasons progress? How about another boss fight with Moff Gideon or a skirmish with Jedi Masters? Mando doesn't stand a chance. All these bosses have to do is target the gaps in the Mandalorian's armor. Easy peasy lemon squeasy. But if you want to be more sneaky... Mando has to eat, sleep, and shit just like everyone else in the Star Wars universe, and his kryptonite, his Achiles heel... is Baby Yoda.
Guess what? Baby Yoda is a puppet. Nooooooooo! How dare you!
That's right folks. The incredibly versatile actor you thought was portraying the lovable midget known as Baby Yoda is in fact a puppet. I know. Shocking right? Millions of grown men and women are this minute screeching LIAR!! as they hug their full-size Baby Yoda replicas. Their hurt feels may never recover, but I'm on a ruthless streak and these people need serious help.
I think we can accept that during season 1 the Mandalorian lacks experience with anything to do with childcare so we can give him a pass, but it's more than clear that he is extremely careless with any kind of package delivery. He often leaves Baby Yoda on his own while he saunters off in his usual boring way only to realise that the tiny green burden has followed him or wondered off into a danger zone.
This Din Djarin fella loves to leave his precious lil newfound buddy with complete strangers while he's off putting his own life in extreme danger. It's as if he hasn't learned anything from all the abduction attempts they sustained throughout season 1. Bad daddy!
Anyway, despite the bashing, and the fact that the whole Star Wars franchise was getting a little worn around the edges, I have come to accept The Mandalorian as the way forward for a New Era opening up opportunities for further exploration of Star Wars stories. The other characters in this series are certainly building up to be very interesting in their own right. Mando, in a way, acts as the central fulcrum around which these other performers - Carl Weathers, Gina Carano, Giancarlo Esposito, and yes... Bill Burr - can show off a bit. As more characters come forth in the episodes to come, it really could start to flesh out the adventure as a whole. Obviously, we're going to be seeing a lot more of Moff Gideon and Mando's well established buddy characters, but I would have liked to keep the engineer guy Kuiil a little longer. I thought it was a waste to kill him off so soon.
Without a doubt, the visual elements of this show have consistently satisfied my expectations. Everything from creature features and X-wing fighters to watching Mando launch himself via jetpack into the air to joust with a TIE fighter or down a canyon followed by stormtroopers on speeder bikes is all good in my book.
Storywise, if The Mandalorian continues to build on this solid base, then I really believe we're in for an incredible ride. Viewers like me have to accept the show for what it is - light episodic entertainment - and once that is established, it's much easier to kick back and enjoy the spectacle. Just don't expect me to get all mushy every time the Yoda puppet is doing something cutesy. It's already been milked to death and Baby Yoda has already survived so many near death situations that I'm beyond caring. I know he's not in any danger whatsoever. But then neither is Mando. It's just a ride. And I'm OK with that.
Where I think Star Wars could really open things up to a more adult minded audience is with the promised series for Obi Wan Kenobi. I have no idea how they intend to pitch it, but I ain't holding my breath.
Maybe those of us yearning for a more adult treatment of space opera and fantasy in general have to wait for something like a tv series based on the Mass effect video games. I have always thought the potential to be "massive."
And while we're at it, what about Metal Gear Solid?
And of course, it goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway... I feel that these projects would all be in good hands if kept as far away as possible from anything Disney. Judging by Amazon's treatment of The Boys, I would trust them with other projects such as these.
Long live Star Wars and may The Mandalorian go on to prove that it can be more than just an entertaining side story. Mando and Baby Yoda may need a little help from their friends, but all together the effort could amount to something that stands firmly on its own two feet beyond being yet another vehicle for selling Star Wars merchandise to grown ups.