'The Mandalorian' is Surprisingly Dark 'Star Wars' Western Noir (No Spoilers)

Wednesday, 13 November 2019 - 10:17AM
Sci-Fi TV Shows
Star Wars
Wednesday, 13 November 2019 - 10:17AM
'The Mandalorian' is Surprisingly Dark 'Star Wars' Western Noir (No Spoilers)
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The trouble with revolutions, as any student of history can tell you, is that they tend to be followed by an unstable period rather than some glorious utopia. Power, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Disney Plus' much-anticipated addendum to the Star Wars canon shows such a vacuum in The Mandalorian, which takes place five years after the events in Return of the Jedi. The Empire has been toppled. Former Stormtroopers are reduced to working as hired guns, assuming they haven't ended up with their heads on a stick. Imperial currency is near-worthless. Crime pays and a black market thrives. Kowakian monkey-lizards roast on spits. In other words, it's a galactic wild west, utterly amoral, and cluttered with detritus: the perfect place for a gunfighter to ply his trade.


Enter the eponymous Mandalorian (Game of Thrones' Pedro Pascal): a nameless, faceless, trigger puller making his living by bounty hunting, collecting his blood-won profits from Greef Carga (Carl Weathers of Rocky and Predator fame) who runs the bounty hunters guild which is, as you might expect, a decidedly competitive union where whoever gets to the quarry first wins. There's no second place. 


The series' narrative arc begins when The Mandalorian picks up a contract from a sinister, unnamed client (a perfectly cast Werner Herzog) to hunt down and deliver an unnamed subject and is partially paid with an ingot of Beskar steel: a rare commodity used to make Mandalorian armor. Once paid, our antihero goes on his merry way amassing a pretty serious body count as he travels to locate his meal ticket. To go any further with plot details would be to ruin the episode.


The violence – efficient, practiced, and brutal, if bloodless and relatively sanitized – is definitely not what I expected from Disney Plus. Unlike Star Wars: A New Hope, there's little room – or need – for moralizing about "who shot first," in The Mandalorian: whoever shoots first generally wins, and woe be unto whoever shoots first and misses (the Star Wars universe remains populated by heavily armed people who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, not unlike certain countries I know). There's no moralizing at all, come to think of it: although the post-Empire universe is filled with some decidedly unsavory – perhaps even evil – characters, this is less the archetypal "Hero's Journey" story than it is its shadow: "A Stranger Comes Into Town." Like The Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood) in Sergio Leone's "dollars" trilogy, the Mandalorian is neither a force of good, or a force of evil: he's simply a force to be reckoned with (no puns about The Force here). 


Stories like The Mandalorian tend to follow – or at least pursue – an arc of redemption, especially in Star Wars. Given the relative neutrality of the protagonist and his hinted-at past, my guess would be that we'll see some interesting character development along that trajectory. That said, I don't think that this will be a story of a mercenary-turned-saint. He's not Han Solo and he certainly isn't Luke Skywalker. This is a world that has knocked out of balance; a world where survival means living with a certain moral flexibility. The Mandalorian succeeds in navigating that terrain while still providing some light moments in very dark places. 


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