Sunday 19 April 2020

This is the way for Star Wars

The Gunslinger cemented The Mandalorian as one of my all-time favourite Star Wars spin-offs.

The previous episode Sanctuary, featuring a menacing AT-ST stalking unarmed villagers through a fairytale forest, solidified the series' status as not only an homage to George Lucas' beloved space saga, but also spaghetti westerns and Jim Henson's The Storyteller.

Nick Smith, our resident stellar scribe from the US, picks up a puck and goes in search of intergalactic bounties and untold riches from the franchise's storied history.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Where would The Mandalorian be without Baby Yoda?

The Disney+ streaming show would be inhabiting a smaller galaxy of niche fan love if not for the adorable green tyke, capturing the hearts of viewers on a multigenerational level. He’s just so damned cute – and if there’s one thing Star Wars can pull off without losing all credibility, it’s cute [don't mention Ewoks - Ed].

It’s not known whether “Baby Yoda” is the secret love child of “Regular Yoda” or another of his kind, he be. Since The Mandalorian is set five years after the empire has fallen in Return of the Jedi, it remains to be seen where the kid comes from – and what his destiny might be.

Right now, he’s a foil for the title character, played by Pedro Pascal. While The Child might draw us in, the bounty hunter’s interstellar adventures in babysitting keep us engaged and will bring Disney+ subscribers back in October 2020 when the second season is due to air.

Writer/Executive Producer Jon Favreau (Iron Man) has had a lifelong fascination with the opening Tatooine sequence from A New Hope - specifically the cantina scene. What was the backstory of Mos Eisley’s denizens? His inquiring mind wanted to know [as did we - Ed].

Hence we meet scoundrels like Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) and villains like The Client (Werner Herzog). Striding through all this is the honourable Mandalorian, Din Djarin. But for a bounty hunter, honour can get complicated. Complete an assignment or save a youngling from experimentation or worse? Din, aka “Mando,” has a tough choice to make, one with far-reaching consequences.

Despite its dark tone, The Mandalorian is driven by hope and optimism. Mando, a member of a seemingly cold guild, shows he has tenderness and a conscience. He can’t leave The Child to its fate. He risks everything – life, career, code - to rescue this unknown creature. He is rewarded when the creature uses its affinity with the Force to get him out of scrapes (though it could be argued that B.Y. gets him into those scrapes in the first place). In mythological terms, the hero risks his life and gets a magical reward.

From the first episode or “chapter” onwards, the show has a Wild West flavour, as if it’s directed by Sergio Leone with a dash of red Kurosawa sauce. Leone mythologised bounty hunters (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), made powerful use of flashbacks (For a Few Dollars More and Once Upon a Time in the West) and remade Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo as A Fistful of Dollars. The Mandalorian revels in its roots and Star Wars creator George Lucas’ homages to those genres… and has a lot of fun doing it.

While it’s not playing like a meaty version of ‘60s Italian cinema – a Spaghetti Bolognese Western, if you will – the show kowtows to Lone Wolf and Cub, an entertaining and sometimes brutal series of manga and films featuring a wandering samurai who pushes his toddler around in a pram while he chops his enemies into pint-sized pieces, the cub watching the violence with wide innocent eyes. This contrast between the inhumanity of men and the guilelessness of children can be very powerful and moving, as seen in films like the Harrison Ford thriller Witness and the George Lucas fantasy Willow. Whatever the nods, Favreau knows that a good action scene isn’t just about the fight – it’s about the tension building up to the first shot fired.

Also important: character portrayal and development. This is Star Wars’ first series not aimed directly at kids, so there is time and opportunity to develop Mando and Cara Dune (former MMA fighter Gina Joy Carano). However, the emphasis is on cinematic visuals rather than dialogue; Mando’s actions, especially as a reluctant parent, speak louder than words. The pace is slow enough for us to soak up the atmosphere. This show. Takes. Its. Time. But it’s never dull.

The Mandalorian also benefits from a big budget ($100 million, give or take a dime), credible acting, its popular, highly recognised source (Star Wars) and the fact that it works on more than one level – excitement for the kids, moral ambiguity for the grown-ups. It also helps that Favreau is a fan [a super fan - Ed].

Kuiil's (Nick Nolte) beasts of burden, the blurrgs, are recognisable from the Ewok TV movie The Battle for Endor [you had to mention Ewoks - Ed]. Life Day from the Holiday Special is mentioned. There are vibroblades, which originated in the spin-off novel Han Solo at Star’s End. There are clever references pulled from cartoons, video games and RPGs, making many elements canon for the first (or second) time.

One of the most noticeable is the troop transporter [first seen in Star Wars Rebels - Ed] that arrives to trap our heroes on Nevarro. The vehicle was created by Kenner in the 1970s, brought to life four decades later on the streaming screen. Alas, unlike the toy, there isn’t a button you can press on it that squawks, “There’s one, set for stun!” [probably my favourite Star Wars toy after the AT-AT - Ed]

All these Easter eggs are little rewards for Star Wars groupies who have read the books, played the games and watched the animated shows [and reenacted scenes and have the battle scars to prove it - Ed]. Their bounty hunting has finally paid off with a series that manages to be reverent but not staid, carefully paced but always entertaining, full of scope but satisfying too. This is the way a saga should be told.

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