Star Wars is used to flying at faster than the speed of light, but The Mandalorian doesn’t take advantage of the time and space that television provides.
A funny thing happened while I was watching the thrilling assault on the Imperial cargo ship in Chapter 11 of The Mandalorian, “The Heiress.” I started saying to myself, “slow down, and not the action.” The assault on the fortified cargo ship is one of the most impressive scenes so far in the show, and indistinguishable from anything in the films. Bryce Dallas Howard made a 35-minute promo reel for why she needs to direct a Star Wars movie ASAP. But the show is speeding past what makes TV, and especially streaming, great.
SPOILERS for all of season two follow.
So far season two is like season one. It’s one mini-adventure after another, contained in episodes that run very short in comparison to other dramatic streaming series. A typical ad-free drama in streaming runs close to an hour or sometimes more, unburdened with the needs of network time constraints. The Mandalorian is so far cutting just over a half-hour on average, which is more like an extra-long episode of one of the Star Wars animated series. Each episode is exciting and you want to get back on and go again, but it goes too fast to appreciate what is actually happening.
Case in point: the introduction of Bo-Katan Kryze in Chapter 11. On one hand, this is a punch-the-air fan moment (here the reaction of The Mando Fan Show here). Bo-Katan is a significant figure from the Clone Wars animated series, and her migration into live-action – with Katee Sackhoff reprising the role in the flesh – is one of the coolest things the show has done. Her appearance also portends great things for other animated characters, namely Ahsoka Tano. Bo-Katan immediately illuminates a lot about her recent past and Din Djarin’s misconceptions about their people. But the show doesn’t capitalize on it.
We discover that Din Djarin is a ‘Child of the Watch.’ He was a foundling raised by extremists who sought to bring the Mandalorians back in line with ancient practices. ‘The Way,’ as he understands it, is not necessarily the way for Mandalorians at all. Definitely not for Bo-Katan, who is the heiress of the title. She is sister to Satine Kryze, and the once and likely future ruler of Mandalore. She explains this in a way that’s recap for some and news for others. But she doesn’t connect the dots. Bo-Katan, like the Watch, is an extremist.
Bo-Katan was once a member of Death Watch, a splinter group led by Paz Vizsla that eventually fell into the hands of Darth Maul. It could be the same Watch that raised Din Djarin; it’s unclear. What is clear is that Bo-Katan opposed the peace her sister sought, and in the process lost everything. She lost Satine ,she lost Mandalore, and now she’s lost the Darksaber. She explains the dichotomy between the Watch and her brand of Mandalorians, but she doesn’t relate her own personal experience.
That’s a failure to leverage the format of the show.
All Chapter 11 needed was a small, quiet scene in which Bo-Katan helps Din further understand his own relationship to the Mandalorians by explaining hers. It’s the type of dramatic scene TV lives on, but The Mandalorian has yet to really even attempt. Outside of small moments where Cara Dune references her past or Kuiil tells his story, the show doesn’t linger on dramatic scenes that don’t advance the plot. This is pure Star Wars and it’s pure Saturday morning matinee adrenaline. You don’t mind at all until after, when like after any piece of candy, you still feel hungry.
The show is some of the best Star Wars ever and is in many ways the kind of Star Wars fans have been looking for since the original trilogy. It’s high octane, it’s visually stunning, it’s full of characters you care about. But it’s a dramatic TV series that is running short nearly every week. It’s leaving money on the table and that’s not exactly Star Wars. It’s arguable the show is still finding its legs, but dramatic scenes were routine in The Clone Wars and Rebels, and some of them involved Bo-Katan.
Bo-Katan remains militant. That much was obvious in her unrelenting attack on the cargo ship. She wants the Darksaber back and she’s going to get it no matter the cost. This was a great opportunity for the show to compare and contrast her with Mando himself. Din Djarin has laid it all on the line for The Child, for complete strangers, and his quest is in some ways as zealous as hers. Their pasts have been very different, but they were also in many ways similar.
The Mandalorian, by not slowing down and taking more time to investigate its characters, threatens to become repetitious. There are already signs of this everywhere. Season two features a return to Tatooine, recurring secondary characters like Peli Motto, and a monster of the week plot structure that while exciting, becomes somewhat predictable. The show is unlikely to spend 45 minutes on just two people talking, but it needs to spend time with and explore all the characters it is generating.
That becomes even more necessary as the show begins to intersect with major avenues of Star Wars canon. The Mandalorian can’t speed through Ahsoka Tano, the lynchpin of the Clone Wars era, and a character whose legacy is as profound as Luke Skywalker or Rey. The series seems to be setting up the eventual effort to retake Mandalore. That prospect of that is exciting, but so is the idea of really getting to know all of the people involved.
The Mandalorian has the time and space to truly investigate the world and characters of Star Wars in a way no iteration of the franchise ever has before. All this great show needs to become a classic is the willingness to pump the brakes a bit and embrace its advantages.