This isn’t a review of The Mandalorian. I’m working on one but this happened first. We’re gonna call it a refutation of the main complaint I hear when someone is talking about The Mandalorian is: “The story’s thin.”
I must disagree. Vehemently. You are being manipulated. With intention, however, with no malice in mind. It is a form of cinematic reprogramming.
The goal? To return you to a time where story, not spectacle, is the order of the day, in a world where a man makes choices and how he lives makes a difference.
You are being managed. Let me explain.
The Shift from Climax to Plot Point
Modern cinema has taken to overloading their audience with a constant deluge of adrenaline in their adventure stories. A scene which was once the culmination of a movie, the action-packed conclusion, was a singular beat in the movie.
The movie was a slow build-up, with tiny pieces revealed over a series of events, with the final explosion revealing all of the plot seeds planted in the first scenes. The movie’s climax was the thing which drove the movie into memory.
The very first Star Wars was such a movie, with the destruction of the Death Star immortalizing the movie forever in your memory, if you saw it the first time when it happened.
Then the context of that climactic scene had to change, because after Star Wars, to keep adventure movies interesting, there had to be higher highs, even earlier in the story, and what were once plot elements now became action scenes, layered with a bit of exposition.
Those plot elements were two thirds as emotional as the explosion at the end of Star Wars. Our expectations of how movies are supposed to feel had been altered. We demanded a greater sensory experience, our movies were louder, ruder, with more energy in every scene.
.. But It Still Works
Ironically, this is why Star Wars doesn’t wear with with kids from the modern era. They’ve have watched movies where every scene is an energetic, frenetic crazed series of plot element which end in a movie experience so mind-bending you think you are having a seizure (or could actually have one if you are sensitive to visual displays which could trigger one).
Think about the end of the Miles Morales Spiderverse movie as a fine example. If you have seen this movie, how in the hell could the original, sedate, glacially slow by comparison, Star Wars compare to that ending: noise, light, sound, visuals, puns, witty one liners, shoved into a 16 to 20 minute mind boggling event?
The Mandalorian isn’t thin. It’s paced. It’s structured. It’s a return to storytelling from an earlier time. It’s a return to sanity, a return to storytelling which doesn’t need to have everyone die (though they could) in a scene, a return to storytelling which will occasionally stop and explain something. Remembering a bit of exposition won’t kill anyone. The Mandalorian is a return to storytelling which establishes a rhythm in the story, something that good stories used to do.
How The Mandalorian Works
It depends on one scene to showcase the protagonist. We learn a bit more about the Mandalorian, each time. We learn what kind of person he is each time the show starts.
One scene establishes the challenge. We are given a setup for new characters, and time is taken to build upon the mythos. When he lands in the repair yard, and shoots the pit droids, we get a taste of the old ideas (I knew those yards from playing Star Wars Galaxies) and yet they give us a new character (who didn’t die) stayed on screen long enough for us to connect to her and will likely live long enough for us to see her again.
This show does take its time. Yes, it also doesn’t have much time to work in, so it is economical when it needs to be, but lingers when it is making a point. The Mandalorian’s ship is stripped by Jawas. One would think Jawas aren’t much of a threat, but even he learns there is a bit of respect which needs to be put on their name when he needs to negotiate (not shoot and kill) the Jawas. This show builds its characters – all it’s characters. Even ones we didn’t respect earlier. Like Jawas. It doesn’t cast them aside.
One scene resolves the challenge and sets up the seed plot for the next issue. Each show ends with him confronting a challenge, growing from the experience, getting and giving help. Evolving as a person. We’re watching him grow, slow and steady.
What you are not getting is the sensory abuse that you have come to expect from Star Wars. It feels thin, but only because it’s less noisy, less flashy, less dependent upon special effects, and more oriented toward story, not spectacle.
The Mandalorian is a space western, with slow and deliberate, character-driven, thread dependent storytelling. It’s divergent from the Star Wars movies, which are more broadly space opera, larger, bombastic, and magical, complete with space wizards, war machines and planetary stakes.
The Mandalorian takes its time for an audience overloaded and overstimulated, and institutes a detox program desensitizing you to the expectations and building a slower, more interesting show because its less dependent on spectacle and more on storytelling.
This is likely to be a problem for an audience looking for space opera complete with magic and wizards and instead discovering a space western where the story is about a man is discovering himself, the nature of grit, the need for heroic comraderie, and the challenges where a single man can make a difference with either a well-placed blaster shot or an open hand where one shouldn’t have been expected.
The Mandalorian is a morality tale, where morality and the choices made drive the story. The Force is a fascinating concept, but with this show, what matters is the man, not whatever magic you are connected to.
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