Spoilers for all currently available Mandalorian episodes.
Mere weeks after defeating marauders and returning harmony to a secluded village on Sargon, Mando and Baby Yoda have been living in peace among the villagers. A budding relationship between Mando and an unnamed woman is reaching its apex and the camera cuts away to a crosshair focused on Baby Yoda’s head. Is the character going to die, sending Mando into a blind rage? A shot is heard with the camera cutting skyward. Low and behold, Mando’s friend has shot the would-be assassin, saving us from any drama the show could have had.
The Mandalorian is another example in a long line of “too safe” television. While flirting with some ideas that differ from Star Wars conventions, the series has delivered absolutely nothing original over the course of its first four episodes. Worse still, it seems afraid to raise the stakes or develop its characters in any interesting manner. Cribbing imagery and themes from Westerns, Kung Fu films, and Samurai pictures, this series can best be described as a smorgasbord of ideas stolen from other, better popular media.
When that scene tempted viewers with the idea that Baby Yoda’s fate was sealed happened, I could only think of one thing: “Disney isn’t bold enough to kill off a potential marketing angle.” With Baby Yoda out of the picture, the series would finally have some dramatic heft, but fans would be angry at the corporation. Instead of trying to tell a story that focuses on its titular character (this show really should be called The Baby Yoda), Disney has been preoccupied with establishing Baby Yoda as the cutest thing in the galaxy so it can sell tons of merchandise.
This follows closely with other mega-popular shows on TV. Look no further than The Walking Dead. Having been running for the past 40,000 years, the series began as a captivating show where no one was safe. As it’s grown older, though, certain characters are basically given god mode among the cast. Obviously Daryl Dixon isn’t going to be killed because fans love Norman Reedus. AMC would be stupid to remove him since that would then end any potential products it could sell with his face on them.
Hell, the series couldn’t even kill off its original main character, Rick Grimes. While his final episode initially made it seem like Grimes had committed a heroic sacrifice, the epilogue reveals that the man is still living in seclusion away from the walkers. Talk about a cop-out!
Contrast this to Breaking Bad, a show which regularly dropped popular characters. It certainly was no surprise that protagonist Walter White was making it to the ending, but everyone else was fair game to the writers. Deuteragonist Jesse Pinkman found love in character Jane Margolis and despite becoming a fan favorite; she was killed off toward the end of the second season. Her death created a ripple effect in the storyline, which led to an interesting examination of Walter’s crumbling morality for the remainder of the show.
The Mandalorian was never going to be as compelling as Vince Gilligan’s landmark series, but it definitely could do with having actual stakes. It seems like in more modern times, we’ve been getting show after show that is too scared of creating actual tension and drama. A character death isn’t the only way to achieve that, but how insane would it have been to see Baby Yoda get killed?
Having failed in his self-appointed mission, Mando could have gone on a rampage throughout the galaxy. This might have given us insight into Baby Yoda’s origins, why Mando has taken to him, and maybe even provided us with some actual depth to Mando’s personality. For all its expensive production values and amazing sound design, The Mandalorian really is a vapid experience.
It’s hard to know if Disney planned for Baby Yoda to be such a sensation, but I’m guessing the show’s producers had an idea. There was no reason to keep the character secret otherwise. I didn’t find the “revelation” at the end of the first episode to be all that shocking, but the internet has shown the opposite to be true. Most everyone lost their collective minds when a small, cute version of Yoda showed up.
If the expected reaction from Disney was what I felt, then pre-release trailers and promotional material would have revealed their hand sooner. Instead, we got a lot of mystery around the show that shrouded any concrete plot details. That’s certainly commendable –especially in this day and age-, but I don’t believe the intent was for artistic integrity.
What’s the best way to generate interest in a brand new character? Hide their inclusion until the last minute. With no one expecting a Baby Yoda to show up (and why the hell would you in a series called The Mandalorian?), lightning is going to strike if you pull off your idea. When lightning strikes, people are immediately going to want t-shirts, lunch boxes, plushies: the works! It is genius marketing, something Star Wars has always excelled at.
The side-effect, though, is that the series now feels toothless. I liken this to the MCU and how deflated I found the ending of Avengers: Infinity War to be. Reportedly, people were crying when heroes like Spider-Man and Black Panther “died” because they were in love with them. For me, I thought about the reality of Marvel’s movie business and the immense box-office success those two characters brought the company. It was pretty damn obvious they weren’t gone for good unless Disney suddenly had a creative change of heart.
That same thinking is what is holding The Mandalorian back for me. Disney hasn’t released any stats relating to how many people have streamed the show, but the Disney+ service has been subscribed to by 10 million people. If even one-quarter of those watched The Mandalorian, that’s an insanely popular thing to toy around with. As shown by current trends, you don’t fuck with massively popular IPs.
It could also be a response to how bold The Last Jedi was. While the film was immensely successful (grossing $1.3 billion worldwide and becoming the best selling Blu-Ray of 2018), a vocal minority of fans began shouting at Disney for daring to take creative risks. Whether or not you think the movie was “good”, it did attempt to shake up the tired Star Wars formula. The blowback to that film could be why all current Star Wars media is playing it extra safe.
Maybe the show really will surprise me by the end of this season, but I’m going to call it now. The Mandalorian is just too safe for its own good.