This episodic, story-of-the-week formula is something I haven’t seen in live-action television for a while. Sure, we’ve got the week-to-week sitcom styles and BBC staple Doctor Who, but even those haven’t fully allowed themselves to delve into the realm of a cartoonish system of symbolic and piecemeal stories that vary between episodes. The production value allows this to function and look like a Genndy Tartakovsky design without actually being one, and that speaks to the visual take on this universe.
So this week there’s a cold open that just drops us into a small village. Raiders swing in and we’re shown children and adults losing their livelihood, forced to hide to stay alive. Enter the Mando and our collective love, Baby Yoda, to join in the fray in exchange for a place to hide from those hunting them. The two barely escaped with their asses intact last week, and with the Mandalorian warrior tribe now scattered they have no protection left other than anonymity and backwater worlds. Aside from Baby Yoda adorably slurping soup, we’ve also gotten the pleasure of being introduced to Cara Dune (Gina Carano), a fugitive that is also hiding on the forest world that the dynamic duo has found to squat on.
This addition to the cast serves a few purposes, but none so important as to give the Mandalorian someone to trust while enjoying an antagonistic relationship with. Mixed in is a mother and daughter that agree to watch Baby Yoda while the big kids go on a mission together. There you have it, that’s the plot of this week’s episode.
Now we can talk about the really cool thing this week – Bryce Dallas Howard’s direction.
I still remember her acting debut, way back when she starred in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village (my favorite of his films, don’t @ me), and I thought she was something special. Sixteen years later and she’s directing episodes of a Star Wars television series and I can’t help but enjoy her work. It’s definitely the work of an untested director, someone trying out their skills in a controlled environment to show off what they can do. It’s wobbly and uneven but definitely feels like an episode of an animated action series and that works to its strengths. I enjoyed the previous episodes, their pacing perfect for the half-hour runtime. This episode is longer, but it flies by with less time to devote to the slow and methodical pacing and more to the action that develops. There’s also just…so much dialogue. The Mandalorian has, so far, been filled with silence and serenely beautiful action. Now, though, we’re given a ride at a breakneck pace with awkward transition effects that recall Lucas and his quick delivery. I found myself at peace with it, but things were different than I was expecting.
All of this still revolves around the central question – will Baby Yoda be able to find a happy and peaceful life, something The Mandalorian clearly craves himself, or are they destined to travel the galaxy together forever? We’ve understood for a long time that Yoda grew to be 900 years old before passing on, training generations of Jedi for most of that time. Baby Yoda is only 50 years old, so he’s got a bit to go before reaching any form of adulthood. In that time his new, surrogate father will age to death if he doesn’t go down in battle first.
Howard is able to take these ideas and wrap them up in a fun action sequence that is, admittedly, a bit quick in execution and contains a ridiculous training montage that I can’t completely get behind. The entire episode feels like the Ewoks setting up for their final battle in Return of the Jedi. It’s a mishmash of ideas that works by the finale but doesn’t wholly function in segments.
The Mandalorian continues to be a wonderfully violent series that manages to contain friendships and sweetness that can’t be rivalled in other modern Star Wars media. It’s fun, adorable, and yet strangely compelling. A friend compared this to Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack and that’s a wholly accurate statement. Our lead is travelling, week to week, and carrying a baby into harm’s way to complete his goal. What that goal is…well, that remains murky since we’re not sure what we’re working with on that front, but it’s full of action and minimal dialogue that delivers on the wow-factor with nothing but badassery. Baby Yoda continues to be adorable, our in-universe references continue to be wonderful, and a hero continues to evolve. It’s fun, exciting, silly, and a perfectly lovable episode of television.