A review of this week’s The Mandalorian, “The Siege,” coming up just as soon as I use the Force to steal your macaroons…
Everything old is new again on The Mandalorian, from the use of practical effects like the Baby Yoda puppet to the mission-of-the-week structure. So why not revive the backdoor pilot while you’re at it?
The backdoor pilot, for younglings who don’t know, was an old and common TV practice where an episode of a hit TV show would be transformed into something that could function as the first episode of a spin-off. Sometimes, this would involve a popular character from the original show heading in a new direction, like the failed attempt to follow Dwight from The Office to his family beet farm. Other backdoor pilots introduce a brand-new set of characters whose mere proximity to the old show’s leads is meant to give them a stamp of approval. (NCIS, which began as a two-parter on JAG, is probably the most successful backdoor pilot of all time.)
Disney and Lucasfilm play things close to the vest, but there have been rumors lately of a Cara Dune-centric Mandalorian spin-off, and “The Siege” very much felt like a backdoor pilot for it. Where the show has mostly stuck with the POV of its title character, there are several sequences where he’s absent while we focus on Cara, Greef Karga, and Mythrol (Mando’s very first bounty of the series). When our heroes arrive at the Imperial base on Nevarro and Mando flies up a level to take out some stormtroopers, we stay down below with Cara and the others. Mando flies off again right before the episode’s biggest piece of action — a canyon chase involving speeder bikes, TIE fighters, and a commandeered Trexler Marauder, which was one of the best sustained sequences of its type the show has done — leaving Cara and friends to hold the screen. Mando even swoops in to save the day at the end in a manner similar to how he’s often been saved by others recently, like Bo-Katan or the X-Wing pilots. This only adds to the sense that he’s a Very Special Guest star in someone else’s show. Finally, the episode’s emotional climax was entirely about Cara, whom Carson Teva tries convincing to rejoin the Republic and help stop the Empire from re-establishing itself in the outer rim of the galaxy.
If that really is the plan, “The Siege” offered promising evidence that this world is still fun, even if Mando and Baby Yoda are both off-camera. Of course, much of the liveliness came from the interplay between Gina Carano, Carl Weathers(*), and Horatio Sanz, since there’s a limit to what Carano can do as a solo actor. (Steven Soderbergh’s excellent B-movie Haywire mainly just lets her kick ass early and often.) A Cobb Vanth spin-off would be a safer bet, if only because we know Tim Olyphant can carry a series. But keep in mind how entertaining this one is with a main character whose face we never see(**), and who is frequently played by the leading man’s stunt double. If Favreau and company can do that, they can absolutely build a compelling show around Carano. And the idea of what happens to the Empire in the wake of Palpatine’s death is promising, especially since we know how many elements of it will wind up turning into the First Order from the Rey trilogy.
(*) Weathers also did a terrific job as a director here, though the digital effects and stunt teams deserve a ton of credit for making the chase scene look as good as it did. During one of the fallow periods of his acting career, Weathers worked fairly steadily as an episodic TV director, mostly on syndicated action and thriller shows like Renegade, Silk Stalkings, and Sheena. In another era of television, this show would absolutely have been syndicated alongside those and others like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
(**) Note that in the opening sequence on the Razor Crest, Mando lifts the helmet ever so slightly so he can drink while in the presence of Baby Yoda. He wouldn’t have done that earlier in the series. I wonder if the next time he shows his face won’t be an intentional thing, but a slipup coming from him growing too comfortable around the kid.
Mando is still fairly prominent for most of the episode, even if both he and Baby Yoda get sidelined at different points. (Baby Yoda also gets one of his cutest moments yet when he raises his arms in rollercoaster-style triumph as Mando points the Razor Crest straight up into the air to chase down the last TIE fighter.) And to make sure that it doesn’t feel as if outsiders have completely taken over our hero’s show, we also get a big piece of the puzzle as to why Moff Gideon so desperately wants Baby Yoda. Based on what Dr. Pershing says in his video message, it appears Gideon and his Imperial remnants are trying to transfuse midi-chlorian-rich blood into people who can’t otherwise access the Force. The episode ends with Gideon facing a row of armor similar to his own — possibly empty, or possibly occupied by test subjects. We know where Mando is headed, but now (thanks to a tracking device planted by one of Greef Karga’s men) so does the big bad, and that’s unnerving enough to justify this entertaining detour, regardless of what business reasons might have been behind it.