Six episodes in to Disney+'s The Mandalorian and we have some major questions: What are the stakes? Is Baby Yoda just here to be cute? And shouldn't we be more emotionally invested in Mando's story by now?
On paper, The Mandalorian seemed like a no-brainer. The first Star Wars live-action series, set post-Return of the Jedi with new characters and worlds and, presumably, conflicts, that we haven't seen before. It would be feature-quality in terms of visual scope and scale and it would star a new character (The Mandalorian) who resembles another fan-favorite bounty hunter, Boba Fett.
But, six episodes in, the show seems to mostly succeed at ticking fan-favorite boxes and being a very episodic series that, six episodes in, seems to have no overarching drive or plot and falls significantly short in delivering anything resembling emotionally-honest storytelling or character-driven stakes for audiences to really latch on to.
Yes, Baby Yoda/The Child is cute and we love him from the jump because he looks like Yoda, a character we have over three decades of investment with.
Outside of that, however, this two-hander between Mando and Baby Yoda is executed so far in a way where the latter is just an accessory for the former. And he is more powerful than our hero, along with having more mystery and agency in the story -- which is problematic from a screenwriting perspective.
For example: Baby Yoda is very strong with the Force. He has used it at two significant moments in the show so far, especially when in peril or when Mando is in danger.
And yet, in Episode Five, when captured by a rookie aspiring to join The Guild -- with a blaster practically aimed at Baby Yoda's head -- Baby Yoda does nothing. Because the story/plot has to let the Mando save the day because it's his name in the show. That is the only reason why Baby Yoda does not behave in a way that makes sense, emotionally, honestly, for that moment. We would not react the same way in that situation, if we were that character. That's why we bump into this narrative choice -- it doesn't reflect emotionally honest storytelling. And that's not good writing.
Worse, the way Mando saves the day makes us like him less. He shoots at the wannabe Guild member seemingly with little concern for the hostage he holds. And when Mando's target gets hit and falls to the ground dead, taking Baby Yoda with him, you'd think Mando's first reaction would be to inspect or check in on the well-being of his little co-pilot -- a character Mando upended his entire code and existence for.
Instead, Mando's primary concern is recovering the loot from his kill and then eventually getting around to check on Baby Yoda just in time for the little guy to make another cute, GIF-able moment.
There's also the issue of Mando frequently leaving his very valuable cargo, that the entire galaxy and Guild is supposedly after, alone on the ship every time to venture off. Despite his previous experiences doing that resulting in the little guy wandering off or getting intro trouble and risk exposure and potential death every time. I'll believe The Force and lightsabers exist before I believe a bounty hunter like Mando, a supposed professional really good at what he does, would leave behind his charge and risk harm coming to it after that is exactly what happens EVERY. TIME. HE. LEAVES. BABY YODA. ALONE.
In screenwriting, the writer is often told to keep "refilling the tank" on the hero. That means to make him likable, find new ways to show off how he is the best at what he does. For example: if someone has the drop on the hero, that's because the hero wants to be cornered because they're always two moves ahead on a bad day.
Each time Mando behaves in waves inconsistent with the rules and background established by the series, or in ways that ring dishonest to audiences in that moment, that tank is emptied. In fact, these behaviors punch holes in it and make it hard to root for or invest in the hero -- outside of fan loyalty to the franchise and wanting to get our subscription's worth in.
These are just a few issues we have with the series. Here are a few more questions we have:
1. What is the goal of this series? What is the overarching plot of the season?
Where is Mando taking Baby Yoda? Does he have a plan to save him? Is Baby Yoda going to be around for future seasons? If so, is there more to him than just riding shotgun and getting into trouble spots that Mando's neglect creates?
2. What is Mando's plan?
Surely, Mando -- given the implication that he has been around for awhile, doing his bounty hunter thing -- he has an endgame. He must know people or places he can turn to for refuge or to help protect or, at the very least, smuggle Baby Yoda out of harm's way and some place far from the murderous reaches of Werner Herzog's character and his band of post-Return of the Jedi Imperial Stormtroopers.
Instead, it seems Mando is just gonna lightspeed jump from planet to planet, dropping "into town" like a Western's gunslinger, exchange blaster fire, dispatch minor bosses, and repeat. The show's attempts to pad a throughline across the episodes, with a mysterious character (whose face we do not see) appearing in Five's final moments, raises more questions than it answers. And not in a good way, like the best seasons of Lost did. By now, you'd think the series would be running with a solid B-story that pushes the narrative forward, reveals why Baby Yoda is so vital and to whom, while tightening the screws and increasing the stakes and threats on our hero.
That's basic one-hour action drama storytelling and writers and EPs Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni are falling short.
3. What makes Mando a compelling hero?
Outside of speaking in short bursts and firing weapons similarly, all we know about him is that he never takes off his mask, is grumpy, broods, and has a thinly-veiled sense of a troubled past and he needs to get back into the Guild's good graces.
If the show is indeed a tale of redemption for its main character, we need to have already seen more of how far he has fallen to care if there is anything left or worth saving. We should know what he had, and why he is willing to sacrifice everything and not kill Baby Yoda in the pilot to risk losing his chance to get it back. Or how not killing Baby Yoda helps put him on the path to redemption. That choice is not set up in the pilot, there is no emotional motivation behind it other than, seemingly in that moment, in real-time, Mando decides that killing is bad. Even though he just killed many bad guys with a floating .50 cal blaster canon.
We were denied the dramatization of that change of heart. And you'd think given that choice, Mando would be hellbent on doing anything to protect The Child. That he would never leave him alone in that ship. Especially when doing so results in a rinse-and-repeat plot.
We should know how far Mando is willing to go to protect this baby, and why the struggle to do so is worthwhile to him. That, even if he loses, he goes down fighting. Because that's what heroes do.
At least the good ones. Here's hoping Mando eventually joins their ranks before the end of the season.