The Disney+ original is a nostalgia-free, action-packed, and unexpectedly thoughtful Star Wars story
This post contains spoilers for The Mandalorian season finale, which premiered December 27 on Disney+.
As Star Wars stories go, The Mandalorian used its eight-episode run to unspool a very different story from the much bigger and higher-profile The Rise of Skywalker, which debuted in theaters December 17. The movie, which concluded the story of Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), leans into themes of inheritance, succession, and dynasty—all pivoting around a mid-film reveal about Rey’s parentage and the ongoing, nine-film arc about the struggle between the light and dark sides of the Force.
It’s illuminating that The Mandalorian—which is suffused with the aesthetics and mood of Star Wars, particularly the slower and emptier original trilogy—is both indubitably a Star Wars property and yet, from the start, has had nothing to do with these lofty concerns. The discovery of the Being—that is to say, baby Yoda, the cutest creature this side of the galaxy—is the closest the show has gotten to the Force or any conception of lineage, and yet The Mandalorian has firmly placed the creature in the care of the titular Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal), naming him the baby’s foster father. No one has even articulated the words “the Force,” and in the finale, the mysterious Armorer (Emily Swallow) refers to the Jedi as an enemy race of powerful “sorcerers.” The Mandalorian is ignorant to the Skywalker stories; it’s about something else.
That “something else’ has become increasingly compelling throughout the Mandalorian’s first season, which combines a faceless sworn sword with an acutely adorable child and then ping-pongs them through a few galactic sectors. It can be seen in how the show has caught on in pop culture, despite premiering on a brand-new platform as a day-one offering. Pascal’s character has taken on the nickname “Mando,” both in and out of the show; the Being has never been called “baby Yoda” in the show, but that is what we all know to call him. There’s not much more to the spare plot—the basic premise is understood in a snap—which leaves a lot of room for Ludwig Göransson’s scintillating score, the numerous scenes of blistering fight choreography, and the wide open spaces of the galactic frontier.
In short, The Mandalorian offers reams of blank canvas for us project our Star Wars visions onto—not least of which is Mando’s expressionless helmet, as Pascal murmurs with finality, “This is the way.” Shrouded in mystery—and with the full power of the Star Wars universe behind it—The Mandalorian emphasizes the chaos and desperation of the galaxy, as it’s experienced on the ground, by residents without, you know, lightsabers. A New Hope’s space western atmosphere has never been rekindled as well as it has been in The Mandalorian, which takes the audience through a galaxy that is really rife with danger—and strangers. Free of the requirements of nostalgia, The Mandalorian has had the flexbility to create fascinating new characters. Thanks to the enthusiastic, spirited performances of brilliantly cast supporting players Werner Herzog, Gina Carano, Carl Weathers, Amy Sedaris, Nick Nolte, and Giancarlo Esposito, The Mandalorian’s universe feels vividly inhabited by different, variously motivated characters—each with their relationship to the Empire, the Being, and maybe most importantly, to money.
As a result, The Mandalorian has created a Star Wars story where, for the first time in a long time, the story feels unpredictable. The adventure stands alone, without prequels or sequels; it has nothing but its own momentum to rely on. The stakes of the adventure are smaller than the glitzy theatrical releases—but much easier to grasp than huge spacecraft battles, or the slippery definitions of the Force. At the same time, it hasn’t lost its sense of fun. Somehow, in the midst of depicting multiple massacres, the finale has room for multiple laughs—be it the banter of idiot stormtroopers Jason Sudeikis and Adam Pally, neither of whom is much of a marksman, or the droll comic timing of IG-11 (Taika Waititi), the former hunter turned “nurse-droid.” In episode seven, the last appearance of Herzog’s client character, he deadpans one of the best single-serving lines in Star Wars history in a snarling drawl: “Can I offer you a libation to celebrate the closing of our shared narrative?” (Then he dies.)