Removing The Mandalorian from its Star Wars trappings reveals a rare, seriously badass sci-fi Western. If this were the first episode of an entirely new IP, I would still be vibrating with uncontrollable enthusiasm.
The Man With No Name walks into a bar, blasts the place apart, and convinces his target to come willingly rather than succumb to a hole in the head. Years after a Civil War, pickings are slim, but the bounty hunter delivers his trade for scraps. Until. A client with a dark history tied to the losing side offers a mighty sum for an exceptionally dangerous bit of biological cargo. Sold.
The fact that the unknown gunslinger is skulking the cantinas within the most wretched hives of scum and villainy and comes from a noble line of lost Mandalorian warriors is an added bonus. If this is your first trip into the long time ago galaxy far, far away, you will find plenty to catch your attention, but if you’re an entrenched Star Wars die-hard, there are loads of easter eggs to fry your circuits and at least one major introduction to send you down the Wikipedia void.
This is where we get into spoilers for the Disney+ series. Consider yourself warned.
The first episode, written by Jon Favreau and directed by Dave Filoni, does little to establish the titular killer (Pedro Pascal) as anything more than a quickdraw born from a traumatized childhood. He’s lone, but he’s not alone. When he secures a few measly Mon Calamari credits from his bounty-guild handler Greef Carga (Carl Weathers) and a brick of Beskar steel from a mysterious Imperial client (Werner Herzog), the Mandalorian presents his earnings to his clan’s blacksmith (Emily Swallow). He’s not just a killer out to make a buck. He’s a soldier who works to bring his people out of the shadows.
The blacksmith forges the steel into a new piece of shoulder armor and encourages the bounty hunter to complete the Imperial’s job since the rest of the payment will be used to armor many Mandalorian younglings. With only the bounty’s age (50 years old) and a tracking fob to lead the way, the Mandalorian hunts his quarry to another border planet. He’s guided by a somewhat gruff but friendly Ugnaught (Nick Nolte) to a collection of outlaws held inside several barracks. Before he can sneakily infiltrate their ranks, IG-11 (Taika Waititi), another bounty hunter hired by the guild, ignites a blaster war in the streets.
Working reluctantly together, the Mandalorian and IG-11 dispatch the townful of killers and secure the package, which is a baby Yoda!?!?!?!? Well, no. Most definitely not. Probably, not. It could get weird.
Yoda was revealed to be 900 when he met Luke Skywalker on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. The new show takes place five years after Return of the Jedi. Being 50 years of age would place this little greenie’s birth occurring sometime during The Clone Wars era. Of course, Clone Wars means Clones. We might be looking at a genetic duplicate of the Jedi Master; a weapon created by the Empire to counter the righteous hero of the Republic.
Or, better yet, the little one could be the genuine offspring of Yoda and Yaddle!
You remember Yaddle, right? The only other member of Yoda’s species we’ve ever seen before. She was one of the 12 Jedi masters that served on the Coruscant Council before the Emperor went Order 66 on their asses. We have no idea what went on when the lights went down in the prequels. Yoda and Yaddle may have mated and produced this cute little wombat, and the reason we never saw Yaddle again was due to her rearing the child. The galactic patriarchy at work.
Unlikely. Favreau may want to bump up against some rich Clone Wars history, but as fun a name as it is to type, no way he goes anywhere near Yaddle. Nor is it likely that the baby is a clone. What this green munchkin actually represents is a tremendous new opportunity for creators to explore.
George Lucas purposely kept Yoda’s history shrouded in secrecy. While the Expanded Universe did dip into exploring his species and introduced a couple of kinfolks, the canon steers clear of dishing details. We know almost nothing of Yoda’s people. We don’t know their homeworld or even their designation. We just know that they live a very long time and that the two members of the species we’ve encountered onscreen were Jedis.
Revealing a new member of Yoda’s race kicks down a very large door blocking a particular section of the Star Wars Universe. Favreau has an opportunity to contribute massively to the mythology that reared him, and it’s a precarious position for a creator to find themselves. Yoda is an icon. Don’t mess him up.
But if Darth Vader could survive The Phantom Menace with his cred intact, then we can allow a little extra slack for Favreau and Yoda to dangle. With the Mandalorian blasting a hole through IG-11’s head to secure the baby’s safety, we can bet that he won’t simply hand the child over to the diabolical Herzog. By the end of the episode, we’ve transitioned from Western conventions to that of the Samurai and Lone Wolf and Cub. The baby cart is at the river Styx and they’ll soon be surrounded by plenty of demons to slay.