A review of The Mandalorian‘s second episode, “The Child,” coming up just as soon as weapons are part of my religion…
In its series premiere, The Mandalorian came across as fun but slight: a pulpy adventure about a stock anti-hero with a heart of gold, played with minimal dialogue by an expressive actor hidden entirely under a Beskar steel helmet.
If anything, “The Child” — written again by Jon Favreau, and directed by Rick Famuyiwa — should feel slighter. The episode clocks in at only 33 minutes. Unless you’re fluent in Jawa, the first discernible line of dialogue isn’t spoken until the chapter’s more than a third over. The Mandalorian and his young bounty spend much of that time simply walking back and forth along the desert terrain. Even the episode’s plot — the Jawas strip the Mandalorian’s ship for parts, forcing him to chase them down and eventually do a dangerous job for them to get his stuff back — could feel like a stall. It’s the sort of thing many serialized dramas (particularly streaming ones) like to do: delay the inevitable conflicts to elongate the amount of time viewers spend watching.
But it works, even more than the premiere. Instead of slight, “The Child” feels admirably compact. It does the job it intends to, then moves on to the next thing. The Netflix or Amazon version would have had a lot more walking in the desert, where this take offers just enough of that to convey both the difficulty of the journey and the Mandalorian’s stoic professionalism. And the episode proves to be less about getting the ship repaired than it is about deepening the Mandlorian’s bond with his adorable — and this wide-eyed little member of Yoda’s species seems destined to sell a million plushies — sidekick. As an impoverished bounty hunter living on the edge of the galaxy decades after the Jedi were wiped out, he doesn’t seem to know much about the Force. So on their first night together, he brushes away the little guy’s attempts to heal his wound. Later, he’s stunned when the baby is able to halt and levitate a charging beast. It’s clear he already has a softer spot for this tyke than he would let on, but “The Child” briskly lets us see this soft spot growing, even though our hero has yet to show his face.
And my goodness, but the action is really excellent so far. “The Child” offered two dynamic set pieces: the Mandalorian’s failed assault on the Jawa mobile fortress, and the bounty hunter getting utterly trashed in the mud by the creature whose egg he had to steal. Both are as much slapstick as combat, as our hero gets soundly trashed by creatures great and small, and the choreography is a treat to watch play out.
Dave Filoni is an executive producer, but what The Mandalorian so far evokes more than anything else is the work of the man who made the first Clone Wars animated series: Genndy Tartakovsky. The action’s not as jaw-droppingly insane as the best things Tartakovsky has done on Samurai Jack or Primal. But the way the storytellers lean so hard on the visuals — pairing a warrior who doesn’t say much with a child who seems too young to speak at all — and the visceral nature of each fight scene makes it feel like a cartoon that this creative team had enough money and skill to produce in live-action format.
Thus far, The Mandalorian is proving to be a simple pulp tale, executed very well. If you were hoping for the Star Wars equivalent of Breaking Bad, that’s clearly not what this is, even if we’re hanging out in the desert and Giancarlo Esposito is eventually going to show up. But there’s nothing wrong with simple if you do it right. Sometimes, you need an elaborate plan to blow up an Imperial base. Other times, though, you just need your cuddly partner to distract your opponent just long enough to stab it in the right spot. I have spoken.