The Mandalorian is a Video Game and Comic Book
By the time you read this, it may already be proven to be complete and utter nonsense, but I wanted to share some thoughts on The Mandalorian on the Disney+ streaming service.
I want to take on a common “issue” people are bringing up on social media about the show and address it head on. No, this isn’t a baby Yoda / T.I.N.Y. (@RBatSWNN) / yodling / The Child discussion – although, I mean, c’mon … cutest thing ever. What this is a perspective on the apparent lack of Cara and IG-11 and Kuilll and Greef. Their appearance on posters, interviews, and trailers has made us fans believe that we would be getting a lot of screen time with them and, through four chapters, they have had bit parts and egresses leaving many to feel disappointed or … worse … mislead.
Many people have (correctly) made the observation that The Mandalorian plays out like a classic western in many ways. Hell, Favreau and Filoni have openly discussed its western roots. It’s important to note that these stories also share lineage with classic samurai tales. While I don’t disagree with these connections at all, there are two other story telling styles that are dominant in the series so far: comics and video games. I’ll start with the latter first.
Ready Player One
Each of the first four episodes of The Mandalorian has been presented and executed like it was made for the PS4 or X-box. The hero is given a quest with a promised reward, he is met with an obstacle, works through it only to face a larger “boss” battle before gaining his treasure and leveling up. And, like a great video game, the smaller chapters form a larger story.
Mandalorian goes so far as to all but have a “level up” badge appear on the screen. The opening of the series with Mythrol plays out like a tutorial in a game. It tells us what bounties are, how to use all his weapons and skills, how to fly the ship and where “home base” is. Then he is told of a special mission that only he is qualified for and the reward ties directly to him personally. He accepts the mission, masters monsters (Blurrgs), meets a guide (Kuill), has a big battle then finds the mission objective. And, like a video game, it’s not over there. There are other obstacles. His ship is dismantled, he fights Jawas who eventually give him another mission which leads to a boss battle with the mudhorn. He returns with the prize and is given back his parts. From there it’s back to the man who gave him the mission to collect his treasure, level up and literally go to the armorer and get a new kit. One last boss battle to escape town and he’s out.
One could argue that chapter four, Sanctuary, is the same formula but done in 40 minutes. In a video game, the characters you meet along the way tend to play a part in your character’s development and disappear after they’ve played their part having gotten what they need from the hero – and the hero gets what he/she needs from them.
IG-11, Kuill and Cara all come into the “game” for specific reasons that help the Mandalorian along the way. Once their role is finished, they exit the story. However, because this also plays like a comic book, unlike a video game, I believe they will be back.
The Story Has Issues
Admittedly, I am not a comic book aficionado by any stretch. I can’t even keep up with the Star Wars comic book series! But I do know how they work … and The Mandalorian works the same way.
Each episode so far has been under 40 minutes. Every shot, every line, every image is important. Comic books tell stories with images and some of the best use a minimal amount of words. No one would argue that The Mandalorian as a show has been overly verbose.
What the great comic book stories do is give each character their own story alongside the hero within the arc to give them purpose and effective background so that when they return – and they always do – the reader already knows enough about them so that they don’t need to be established (distracting from the narrative). Their strengths, weaknesses and quirks are illustrated (literally and figuratively) to ensure that when their appearance is needed, we know what they will bring to the fight.
When the time is right – I’m guessing by the end of Chapter 7 – they will all return with their skills perfectly aligned with the story’s need. IG-11 will bring blaster accuracy and a sense of humor. Cara Dune will bring more grit and firepower. Kuill will be the tech support and Greef will be there as an extra gun and may or may not be trusted. As a viewer, we will welcome these characters back just as the Mando himself will. And we will already be invested in them so the story will flow. We will know what he knows about them because we already enjoyed their initial stories together. And, much like a good comic book, the “issue” will be able to remain tight and efficient.
The Mandalorian has already established that it is not a sweeping, galaxy-wide, soap opera with enormous consequences. It is his story. It is a personal adventure we see from his perspective. The supporting characters are introduced by how they interact with him and that’s all we need to know. Could there be a Cara Dune spin-off? Absolutely. Just like when a supporting character in a comic gets her own series. But, right now, she is a sidekick and will appear in other chapters of the story when she is needed to move it along.
But where does Baby Yoda fit?