So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #057: “The Mandolorian” Broke Me of My Star Wars Malaise

A long time ago in a galaxy far away… a nerd convinced a studio to give him money to make a visual effects masterpiece with significant merchandizing appeal. He mashed together the tropes of the science fiction and fantasy serials he loved growing up, and put together a wonderful homage to the hero’s journey. It made a lot of money, and soon thereafter, Star Wars became an empire. But you already knew that.

As I’ve detailed before: my personal Star Wars fandom was mild to possibly salsa verde at any given point. As an only child of parents not into pop culture, I didn’t actually sit down to enjoy the original trilogy in earnest until the late 90’s special edition releases. And while I’d been inundated to all the significant moments through delightful pastiches abroad, as well as avidly played through any number of Star Wars licensed video games (Tie Fighter, Rebel Assault, and Dark Forces)… in the battle between the light and dark side, I was quite the mercenary. That’s to say that I was a fan only when it suited me to be.

When the prequels dropped, my fandom fell with it. George Lucas released overly-CGI’d nightmares of wooden acting, convoluted political trade-route plots, and flippy-dippy laser sword battles that soured the original appeal of the Star Wars universe in my mind. What was touted as the great fall of Anakin Skywalker was shown to be merely a whiny brat-turned-sour-milk-emo-teen ultimately cooked to well done during his final tantrum. What followed was a creepy old man tossing the still-smoking embers of bad acting into that immortalized suit, firing up the breathing apparatus, and convincing the idiot he’d murdered his betrothed. “NOOOOOO!” Darth Vader shouted. “NOOOOOOOO!” I shouted. Chapter closed.

Smash-cut to a few years ago when the scar tissue of Episodes I, II, and III healed enough to no longer burn, and we got the conclusion to the Skywalker saga. And while I personally walked out of The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker with a smile on my face… my fandom in each case remained right back where it was prior; politely tucked beneath several dozen other buckets of minutiae I’ve committed to memory.

And then came The Mandalorian.

I know nitpicky readers of this column will roll their eyes immediately. It wasn’t long ago I was washing my hands of the Disney+ streaming service — specifically touting “Yet, no matter how many trusted friends stamp The Mandalorian with their recommendation, nor posting about reruns of Darkwing Duck… the excitement bounces off of me much like I assume elation over a new BTS album dropping does to a hipster.”

But funny how things work out, right? I work for Pop Culture Squad, which turns out to have a subscription to said service. And our HBIC in her immense wisdom to see me as uncomfortable as lil Annie in the sandbox… politely poked me and asked me to at least check out The Mandalorian. If it wasn’t for me, maybe my patented Hot Takes™ would make for some hilarious content on the site. Well, color me Imperial Crimson, and give me a Praetorian dualsaber, cause here comes the Snark Express faster than the Kessel Run!

And then I actually watched The Mandalorian.

No doubt you can find a litany of lofty language to lay at the feet of Jon Favreau and his team for creating an amazing show. And I could easily fill a second article capturing every moment across 8 episodes to detail specifically how and why The Mandalorian has become the single greatest iteration of fiction within the Star Wars filmography (fight me)… but I don’t need to. Simply put: if you’ve seen it, you know. And if you haven’t? You should.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t aim to land this rusty bucket of blurbs without waxing poetic, if only for a few stanzas. What Favreau (and again… his amazing team) did better than any other author within the Star Wars empire, is marry the low to the high. The story absolutely is ripped from any number of other (better) iterations within sci-fi/fantasy lore. Our lead character is visually emotionless for 90% of the performance. Episodes wind up in impossibly complex video game cutscenes where our heroes all role natural 20s, and deus ex machina occurs each time a script writes itself into a corner. The Mandalorian is flawed. But by orders of magnitude less than literally any other Star Wars movie, TV show, or other in-canon incarnation I personally have been privy to.

The characters feel weighted to an actual universe. The motivations for our heroes and villains are believable. The action set-pieces — while still small in scale due to this being a streaming show, not a movie — are memorable and still amazingly rendered and played out. Guest stars shine, without too many winks-and-nods (minus you, Bill Burr…). And ultimately the simple story of an orphan finding connection to another orphan rings truer than 9 movies of Skywalkers all being whiny man-children (pardoning Leia, of course). And if your heart doesn’t melt each time Baby Yoda (shut up) shows up on screen? Your heart is black and I don’t want to be your friend. Smoosh it all up with the Darksaber, Gus Fring, and about 1000 meme-able moments… and you have a show that single-handedly made me care about Star Wars after a lifetime of malaise.

I have spoken.