On Missing The Show ‘The Mandalorian’ Used To Be

In this week’s episode of The Mandalorian, “The Spies,” hey, we got a jetpack fight and all – and I truly do love the way Rick Famuyiwa directs episodes – but a lot of the dangers and obstacles, from a story standpoint, are starting to feel repetitive. In more than a few ways. Moff Gideon is back and it’s always great to see Giancarlo Esposito in literally anything … but didn’t we already beat this guy? Oh, okay, he escaped. Great. So we get to do this all again. When Bo-Katan tells him she should have killed him while she had the chance? Yeah, probably, because then at least we wouldn’t be back here with the same villain from the first two seasons that had been defeated.

But this is the inherent problem with trying to make big stories in this era of Star Wars, right after two of the most noteworthy villains in the Star Wars galaxy – and, from a popular culture standpoint, in our galaxy – are now dead. Vader and Palpatine literally cannot be topped, and The Mandalorian was smart early on to not even try. Remember when this show was about a bounty hunter? What’s interesting about this era of Star Wars is how unstable it would be with a new government coming in and establishing its authority over a galaxy that had been ruled by fear and terror. And the Moff Gideon character worked as basically a local warlord with a few leftover loyal stormtroopers.

But now he’s building a secret lair with the full support of the former Empire? And he has a full army of royal guards and jet-pack troopers? It does feel like we are getting into, “Oh, you thought Darth Vader was evil? Well now here’s Moff Gideon,” territory. When this show first started we were drawn to the relationship between Din and Grogu and their weekly adventures. Their relationship seemed important. But somewhere along the line it was decided The Mandalorian, as a show, needed to be important to the galaxy and the lore of Star Wars in general and, along the way there, trading characters for lore, has lost what made it special to begin with. To the point when Din gets captured at the end, it took me a few seconds to even make sure it was him since he’s literally wearing the same outfit as 30 other characters on the screen.

I mentioned earlier this felt repetitive in more ways than one. I’m really curious how the all-but-certain future appearance of Grand Admiral Thrawn will be received. The late ’80s and the early ’90s weren’t the best time to be a Star Wars fan. (Though, in retrospect, the calmness of the era doesn’t sound altogether terrible.) The Original Trilogy had morphed into basically three movies that came out a while ago. People were into the Batman movies. But then in 1991, Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire was released, which gave us our first new adventures with Luke, Leia, and Han since 1983. In 1992 came Dark Force Rising, followed by The Last Command. These are the books that introduced us to Thrawn. My honest-to-goodness memory of these books at the time was they were basically, yeah, good enough.* They all somehow seem a lot more popular now then they were then.

But, to be fair, there was no real internet then so it was hard to judge what the widespread reactions were. But, anecdotally, Thrawn just seemed like, well, he’s following Palpatine and Vader, what really can you do here? And in today’s The Mandalorian I kind of got that same vibe again. Basically, I see they are going to try to make Thrawn a big deal. And I have no doubt Thrawn will be a big part of the new movie taking place after Return of the Jedi. In fact, all of this season just feels like it decided to get rid of interesting stories in an effort to set up a movie, with all these movie parts and the two main characters, Din and Grogu, just relegated to background characters. But with Thrawn, it’s just weird to go from a character we all, back then, just wished were Vader to now being sold that this guy is as evil as it gets. And I’m curious how this plays to the people who don’t watch the animated series. (A thing this show is really starting to forget is that the vast majority of people watching did not watch the animated shows and I seriously think that’s a problem.)

*As opposed to Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command; Shadows of the Empire did seem like a big deal. There was a great Nintendo 64 game, there were action figures, there was even somehow a soundtrack. And then the reaction to that book was also, yeah, it’s okay. Though people kind of hated Dash Rendar because he was obviously a knockoff Han Solo. And I have no doubt if Dash Rendar showed up in an episode of The Mandalorian people would lose their minds and I will not understand.

What’s my point? My point is The Mandalorian has morphed into a show about lore. And you know what? There are people who like that. But when The Mandalorian‘s ratings were higher, it wasn’t about lore. It was about the Mandalorian trying to make money. (Honestly, I still think a Han Solo show would be amazing. Just Han and Chewie taking on a new job every week and getting into trouble.) I miss the show The Mandalorian once was and I wish it had resisted the urge to dive deep into Star Wars‘s more esoteric history just to set up a movie.

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