Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Mandalorian Season 1, Chapter Two: The Child

This week on The Mandalorian we get another excellent episode, as Manny and his new-found pal travel the desert wastelands of Not-Tattooine, facing many dangers, perils and setbacks along the way.

So far, so good! We're only two episodes in, but so far I'm liking this series quite a bit. As I said last week, for the first time in a long time, I actually give a sh*t about Star Wars again.

This week's episode is a classic example of "Show, Don't Tell," as there are long stretches of screen time with little or no dialogue. I'm fully on board with that, as the silence commands the viewer's attention and helps draw you into the story far more than dialogue ever could.

As with last week, this episode was written by series creator Jon Favreau. He's doing an amazing job so far, and I have nothing but praise for him. Apparently I'm not the only one, as there are online rumors (that no doubt should be taken with an entire box of salt) that Disney's may be dumping current Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and replacing her with Favreau.

I don't for a second believe that'll ever happen, but I (and the vast majority of fandom) would be fine with that. Favreau obviously loves Star Wars, and understands the property in a way Kennedy has never demonstrated in all the years she's been in charge.

Many fans claimed the first episode of The Mandalorian felt much like a videogame, as Manny had to fight his way through several levels, met numerous NPC characters, outfitted himself with powerups and even went on a couple side quests.

Eh. I guess I could see that, although it didn't seem all that overt to me. That all changed this week though, as this episode is virtually one long live action videogame! In fact there's even a sequence which is almost a direct copy of an early 1990s game I used to play! And you know what? I'm fine with that! Whatever it takes to Make Star Wars Great Again!

Lastly, this week we get to spend a lot more time with the baby of Yoda's species. There's a theory floating around out there this infant is actually a clone of the Yoda we all know and love. One grown by Emperor Palpatine, as he allegedly attempted to create his own army of Force-sensitive soldiers for his own nefarious purposes.

That seems like a bit of a stretch to me, but who knows? Cloning's definitely a thing in the Star Wars Universe, so maybe that's really where they're going here.


The Plot:
Once again, I'm not gonna type out "The Mandalorian" every time I refer to the titular character, so I'm just calling him "Manny." Similarly, I'm calling the infant he finds "Baby Yoda." I'm pretty sure it's not THE Yoda we all know and love, but after nearly four decades we still don't know the name of Yoda's race, so I dunno what else to call him.

After discovering his bounty is an infant Yoda, Manny takes the child back to his ship. As he walks, the baby's anti-grav cradle floats along beside him. Manny enters a deep ravine, where he's attacked by three Trandoshans. After a brief battle he kills two of them, and sees the third running toward the baby with spear in hand. Manny disintegrates the Trandoshan at the last second. Afterward, he notices the trio had a tracking fob just like his— meaning there are likely more bounty hunters after the baby.

That night Manny sits by a campfire, trying to cauterize a wound he got in the battle. Baby Yoda climbs out of his cradle and toddles toward Manny, his hand outstretched. Apparently he's adorably trying to heal Manny's arm with the Force. Manny doesn't understand his intention, and stuffs him back in the carrier.

The next day Manny returns to his ship, and is enraged to find it being stripped by a clan of Jawas. He shoots and disintegrates several of them, and they take off in their massive Sandcrawler. Manny (with Baby Yoda floating close behind) runs after them.

He leaps aboard the Sandcrawler and begins climbing up the side of it. The Jawas do their best to dislodge him, trying to scrape him off onto a canyon wall and bouncing spare parts off his head. Eventually he makes it to the top, where he's surrounded by a couple dozen Jawas. They fire a disruptor at him, and he falls off the Sandcrawler, landing hard far below.

Manny wakes up sometime later, as Baby Yoda curiously watches over him. He returns to his decimated ship and rummages through it. All the weapons are gone from his locker, and when he tries the engines, they tentatively sputter and die.

Manny and Baby Yoda then hoof it back to Kuiil's farm. He suggests they find the Jawas and trade with them to get the ship parts back. Manny reluctantly agrees.

The three catch up to the Jawas, who've set up camp many miles away. They're not very happy to see Manny, but Kuiil smooths things over till they're willing to talk. The Jawas agree to trade the parts for Manny's Beskar steel armor, but he says that's a deal breaker. They then asks for Baby Yoda, but once again he tells them no dice. Finally they agree to trade if he brings them back... an Egg.

For no good reason, Manny brings Baby Yoda with him as he walks several miles and stops in front of a foreboding cave. He enters the opening, and after a beat is violently thrown back out. A large Mudhorn (a rhinoceros-like creature) roars out of the cave and charges at Manny, throwing him in the air again.

Manny's blaster rifle jams (?), so he has to fight the beast by hand. He gets trampled, gored and stomped repeatedly as the beast hands his ass to him. Exhausted and near death, Manny pulls out a tiny knife and holds it up as the Mudhorn runs full blast at him.

Suddenly everything goes quiet. Manny looks up and sees the Mudhorn floating helplessly in midair. He looks over at Baby Yoda, who's gesturing toward the creature with his tiny hand. Manny stabs the Mudhorn in the neck with his minuscule knife, which somehow kills it. Baby Yoda then collapses in exhaustion.

Some time later, the Jawas become impatient and pack up their Sandcrawler. Kuiil begs them to wait a while longer, but they say nah and start driving off. Just then Manny returns with a large Mudhorn egg. The Jawa leader takes the egg from Manny and slices it open. Several Jawas then dip into it, greedily slurping up the yolk.

Cut to Manny, Kuiil and Baby Yoda hauling a large sled full of parts back to the ship. Neither Manny or Kuiil know what to think of Baby Yoda and the power he displayed. Kuiil's afraid the baby's dying, but Manny thinks it's just resting.

They make it back to the Razor Crest, and Manny says it'll take months to rebuild the stripped ship. Kuiil says it'll go faster if Manny stops fretting and helps

Cue a montage of the two of them repairing and rebuilding the ship. Once the Razor Crest's up and running, Manny offers Kuiil part of his prodigious bounty for his help. Kuiil politely refuses, saying that helping a guest is the Ugnaught way. Manny offers him a job as first mate, but Kuiil says he's had it with servitude and would rather enjoy his now-peaceful valley.

Manny blasts off into space. As he flips various switches, Baby Yoda wakes up and stares at him.

• Because The Mandalorian doesn't air on a traditional network, it apparently doesn't concern itself with standard episode length. Chapter One was 38:42 minutes long, while this one's a mere 30:56.

As I said in last week's review, Chapter One felt much like a Spaghetti Western in space, with the Mandalorian taking the role of Clint Eastwood's The Man With No Name.

That all changes in Chapter Two. Manny now travels through a dangerous desert wasteland with Baby Yoda at his side, as this week's episode veers deep into Lone Wolf And Cub territory.

Kenji Misumi's 1972 film Lone Wolf And Cub tells the story of Ogami Itto, a disgraced executioner who was framed by the rival Yagyu clan. Ogami then travels the countryside with his three year old son Daigoro, as the two seek revenge on the Yagyu. Oh, and Daigoro's baby carriage is outfitted with an array of deadly weaponry!

The similarities to Lone Wolf And Cub are so blatantly obvious they're like a flashing neon sign, and once you see 'em, you can't unsee 'em. I'm assuming this was intentional on the part of the creators.

 There's no actual dialogue in this episode (other than Jawaese and some grunts from Manny) until the 11:09 mark! And you know what? That made it even more awesome! If fact I think it actually made the episode more compelling, as the story was told solely through action rather than dialogue.

Hats off to actor Pedro Pascal as the Mandalorian. Somehow he manages to give the character quite a bit of personality through body language alone— while his face is completely covered with a helmet!

"First of all, keep him out of the light, he hates bright light, especially sunlight— it'll kill him. Second, don't give him any water, not even to drink. But the most important rule, the rule you can never forget, no matter how much he cries, no matter how much he begs, never feed him after midnight."

Seriously, Baby Yoda couldn't look more like Gizmo if he tried!

• I LOVED the part where Manny's in the canyon, and we get a quick glimpse of his attackers as they're reflected in his steel helmet. That was an AMAZING little detail. Kudos to director Rick Famuyiwa or whoever came up with that bit.

• Manny's attacked by a trio of reptilian Trandoshans, who're also after Baby Yoda.

All good Star Wars fans will instantly recognize the race, as they first appeared nearly four decades ago in The Empire Strikes Back. Bossk the bounty hunter was a Trandoshan.

• After the attack, Manny tends to his wounds by a campfire. Baby Yoda waddles over and reaches for his arm in an attempt to heal him. That's something we've not seen from Force users before.

Eh, I'm OK with this. Virtually every movie added some new Force power to the mix, so the ability to heal isn't that far-fetched.

• Great confusion surrounds the question oft just what planet Manny's currently on. Many fans believe it's Tattooine, and i certainly looks like it. It's a dry desert world filled with mountain ranges, canyons, sparsely populated outposts and deadly wildlife.

There're even Jawas living on this planet, which seems like definite proof it's Tattooine.

Eh, I don't think it is though. At one point we see Manny, Baby Yoda and Kuiil trudging through a thunderstorm (complete with lightning!) as they make their way to the Jawa camp.

I don't know if it's ever been stated onscreen, but I'm betting it doesn't rain on Tattooine. After all, Luke's Uncle Owen was a moisture farmer, who used vaporators to coax liquid from the air. I doubt he'd need to go to that trouble if water regularly fell from the sky.

I'm honestly hoping it's NOT Tattooine, as that's the most overused planet in the entire Star Wars saga. It's appeared in at least five of the movies, as well as many, many episodes of The Clone Wars. In fact it may be the most heavily featured planet in sci-fi pop culture.

• If this planet isn't Tattooine, then that raises many questions about the Jawa's presence. I was under the impression they were native to Tattooine. I suppose they could be indigenous to that world and still travel to other planets. They're scavengers after all, and there's a whole universe of junk out there for the scrounging. Why limit themselves to one measly planet?

Of course that doesn't explain their Sandcrawler. How the hell did it get to this planet? Did they transport it here on some massive cargo ship? Or did they build one after they landed here?

• This week we see Manny using his blaster rifle to disintegrate a Trandoshan and several Jawas.

This is no doubt another callback to Empire, where Darth Vader hired a group of bounty hunters to find Luke & Co. and specifically told Boba Fett, "I want them alive. NO disintegrations." Apparently it's a well-known fact that Mandalorians are notorious for blowing up their opponents!

• When Manny returns to his ship, he finds it's being stripped by a clan of Jawas. He then holds up a narrow telescope to his visor in order to get a better look at them.

Gosh, it's too bad his helmet doesn't have some sort of built in scope. One that can tilt down in front of his visor, and then be raised up when not in use. If only Mandalorian helmets came with an option like that...

• The Jawas flee in their giant Sandcrawler, and Manny runs after them. He jumps onto the Crawler and climbs up the side of it, while various Jawas pop out of panels and try to dislodge him.

It's a fun and exciting scene, but as I watched it I kept thinking it felt familiar somehow...

Then it finally came to me— the Sandcrawler scene is from the Super Star Wars game for the Super Nintendo!

The game more or less follows the plot of A New Hope. Early on there's a level in which you play as Luke, who has to— you guessed it— climb up the side of a speeding Sandcrawler, as Jawas and robot arms try to knock him off.

I spent many an hour playing that game, and it had pretty advanced graphics for 1992. If I remember right though, it had one MAJOR design flaw— you could pause the game, but it didn't have any save points. If you died or shut the game off for any reason, you had to start all over from the first level— even if you were nine tenths of the way through it! Crazy! And frustrating! 

In fact I remember one time I was playing it and got almost to the end, but had to quit & go to bed because I had to work the next day. So I turned off the TV, paused the game, and left it on all night and most of the next day, till I could come back home and finish it! Yikes! Unless I'm mistaken, when they came out with Super Empire Strikes Back and Super Return Of The Jedi they FINALLY added save points so you didn't have to resort to such lunacy.

Anyway, there's no way the Sandcrawler scene in this episode was a coincidence. I'm betting Jon Favreau played Super Star Wars a lot back in the day as well, and included the scene as an homage to it.

• At one point the Jawas swerve their Sandcrawler into a canyon wall, to try and scrape Manny off the side of it. The same thing happened to Indy in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, when Colonel Vogel tried to dislodge him from his tank.

• Last week Kuiil told Manny that he'd never make it to the asset compound on foot, and would have to ride there on blurgg-back. In this episode Manny returns from the compound to Kuiil's place— on foot! Whoops!

• When telling Kuiil what happened, Manny calls the Jawa Sandcrawler their "Crawling Fortress."

• Manny, Kuiil and Baby Yoda ride to the Jawa camp. Of course when the Jawas see them approach, one of them shouts, "Utini!"

• As far as I know this is the first time Jawas have ever been subtitled. Up to now we've always had to infer what they're saying.

"Follow only if ye be men of valor, for the entrance to this cave is guarded by a creature so foul, so cruel that no man yet has fought with it and lived! Bones of full fifty men lie strewn about its lair. So, brave knights, if you do doubt your courage or your strength, come no further, for death awaits you all with nasty, big, pointy teeth!"

• I was very impressed with this shot of the Sandcrawler entrance. I honestly can't tell if it's a practical set or CGI. If it's real, then it must have cost a million bucks to build. If it's CGI, then it looks absolutely real. Either way, it's damn impressive.

• There's some blatant plot trickery going on when Manny sets out for the Mudhorn egg. For absolutely no good reason, he brings Baby Yoda with him on this perilous mission, when he could have easily left him with the honorable and responsible Kuiil. 

The ONLY reason he brought the baby along was so it could use the Force on the creature and save him.

• I thought the CGI Mudhorn looked amazing especially for a TV show. I was particularly impressed with the way it interacted with the environment, kicking up mud as it charged and lumbered. At one point it even splatters mud on the camera lens! Cool! This series must have a massive budget.

• Manny must know exactly where to stab alien creatures for maximum effectiveness. He stick his tiny knife in the neck of the twelve foot long Mudhorn, and it instantly dies!

• Poor Baby Yoda. Lifting up Mudhorns with the Force is tiring work!

• Dayum, Jawas, you nasty.

• After retrieving the egg, Manny gets his ship parts back. He and Kuiil haul them back to the husk of the Razor Crest. Yeah, based on the state it was in, that pile of parts doesn't look anywhere near big enough. The Jawas took at least five times that load off the ship!

• As Manny & Kuiil return to the ship, they discuss the fact that Baby Yoda somehow lifted a full grown Mudhorn off the ground without touching it. They're both completely mystified by the incident.

Apparently neither of them have ever heard of the Force. At first glance it seems like a plot hole, but I don't think it is. Back in A New Hope, Luke had never heard of it either until Obi-Wan told him about it. So far every Star Wars movie has revolved around various Force-sensitive characters. We forget there's an entire galaxy of people out there who have no idea it's a thing.

• At the end of the episode, Manny blasts off from Not-Tattooine with Baby Yoda. The big question now is what next? He's obviously bonding with the kid is he really going to hand it over to Dr. Pershing, who'll no doubt want to study and maybe even dissect it? I hope not, as it's fun seeing a ruthless bounty hunter saddled with a kid. But I seriously doubt they're gonna be a permanent team though, so...

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