We look back at the highs and lows of The Mandalorian‘s first season.
Who would have thought that the best Star Wars story of 2019 was not the highly-anticipated conclusion to the Skywalker saga, but a smaller, scaled-down space Western series on Disney+? And yet here we are, with a song on our lips and Baby Yoda in our hearts, while many of us fight the sense of nagging disappointment that came with the rushed, deeply messy Rise of Skywalker. That said, it’s still astonishing how well The Mandalorian ended up working conceptually — as a flagship show for a new streaming service, as a live-action TV continuation of a franchise mostly popular in film, and as a continued argument for the week-to-week release format over the binge-watching trends of their contemporaries.
The season finale to The Mandalorian came out on Friday, a full week after we had some time to register our feelings about Episode IX, and already it feels like a balm to the franchise’s lack of direction. Where Abrams’ trilogy was a head-rush of clumsily-solved mysteries and breakneck pacing, Jon Favreau‘s eight-episode first season was patient, almost overly simplistic — a straightforward tale of a Mandalorian bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal), the young bounty he couldn’t bring himself to turn in, and the cutthroat edges of the universe they had to navigate.
As much a frontier Western (or samurai epic, depending on whose influences you want to credit more) as a space opera, The Mandalorian wasn’t without its faults. But as a showcase for the darker, more interesting corners of the Star Wars universe, it’s hard to beat. And, well, never underestimate the cultural power of Baby Yoda, a creature of weapons-grade cuteness that kept the Internet talking about the show week after week.
Now that we have the benefit of hindsight (and because we only recapped the first episode), we thought we’d look back at the season as a whole to see where our chrome-domed hero’s adventures soared highest, and where they may have stumbled a bit.
8. Chapter 5: The Gunslinger
This isn’t to say “The Gunslinger” is a bad episode, by any means. Hell, it’s got Ming-Na Wen as cagey assassin Fennic Shand, Mando treating the Tusken Raiders with respect, and lest we forget Amy Sedaris as nervous mechanic Peli Motto (complete with Ellen Ripley wig, no less!). But in the grand scheme of things, an episode where Mando hides out on Tatooine to take a job with a smug young upstart (Jake Cannavale, Bobby’s son) doesn’t pack the same punch as its counterparts. It’s a decent look at the lengths to which the galaxy has changed post-Empire — Stormtrooper helmets on pikes, a robot-staffed Mos Eisley cantina — but it feels comfortably isolated from the rest of the series, and we don’t learn much more about Mando himself. What’s more, that post-credits tease of Shand’s potential return hasn’t borne fruit yet. Maybe we’ll see her in season 2?
Baby Yoda Moment: Everything with Peli taking care of the Child; Sedaris is a killer space mom. “That’s alright. I know. That was really loud for your big old ears, wadn’t it? It’s OK. Shhh shhh shhh shhhh.”
7. Chapter 7: The Reckoning
Two-parters are hard to pull off, especially in adventure series like these — the first part is usually just place-setting for the more cathartic conclusion next week. But “The Reckoning” at least gives us the impression that these formerly-isolated procedural episodes were building towards something, as Mando gathers an entourage of Rebel shock trooper Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Ugnaught farmer Kuiil (Nick Nolte), and assassin-turned-nurse-droid IG-11 (Taika Waititi) to finally end the bounty on Baby Yoda once and for all. As episodes go, it’s a nice re-introduction to some of our favorite characters from the series (and a nice character rehab for Carl Weathers‘ Greef Karga), but it inherently suffers from its burden of setting up the series finale.
Baby Yoda Moment: Baby Yoda healing Greef’s wound from the Arkanian dragon — little did we know it was a tiny set-up to Rise of Skywalker‘s liberal use of Force-healing as a major power. (I bet Qui-Gon Jinn wished Obi-Wan knew that trick back in Episode I.)
6. Chapter 2: The Child
As the middle chapter of The Mandalorian‘s three-part pilot, “The Child” still has its fair share of virtues. Mando gets his first precious moments as a struggling single dad just trying to make things work with a fussy baby, and everything with the Jawas was hilarious (get ready for “The Egg! The Egg!” to become a regular brunch-time chant among the worst people alive). But apart from getting to know Kuiil better, and Mando gaining unexpected respect for Baby Yoda during his tangle with the mudhorn, a lot of “The Child” feels like running in place. Still, Mando’s frustrating attempts to scale the Jawa sandcrawler brought back flashbacks to the most infuriating level in Star Wars video game history.
Baby Yoda Moment: It’s tempting to include Baby Yoda’s first successful on-screen frog dinner, but in terms of narrative importance, we have to give it to Baby Yoda levitating the mudhorn and saving its new daddy’s life.
5. Chapter 1: The Mandalorian
The first episode of The Mandalorian had a lot of responsibility on its shoulders: it wasn’t just launching a new series, or a new streaming service, but a whole new leg of the Star Wars universe. But the alchemy of the Dave Filoni-directed premiere was in its atmosphere-building; here, Mando is even less talkative than usual, more an action figure being moved from place to place. But the world around him was dazzling, textured, and incredibly evocative; we immediately got the impression of a galaxy in transition, a Wild-West frontier where there was no dark or light side, only shades of grey. That said, it had to sacrifice a little story (and a lot of pace) to set up its atmosphere, which is why it’s a bit lower on this list. Still, everything involving IG-11 and the Wild Bunch-esque attack on a merc-occupied frontier town was golden.
Baby Yoda Moment: There’s only one, really, because somehow Lucasfilm managed to hide this reveal so we could all organically experience it. But the first glimpse of Baby Yoda in its li’l floating pod, looking up at Mando with a plaintive mix of love and naivete, was enough to set the Internet ablaze with burning love for the big-eared asset.
4. Chapter 6: The Prisoner
One of The Mandalorian‘s under-appreciated virtues is its ability to bring in some of the most unexpected character actors to play fun supporting roles. Rick Famuyiwa‘s “The Prisoner” is one of those, surrounding Mando with folks like Bill Burr (whose presence implies that Boston still exists in a galaxy far, far away), Mark Boone Junior, Natalia Tena, Richard Ayoade, and Clancy Brown. The story itself, a tense heist on board a New Republic prison ship, is a wonderfully exciting hour filled with double- and triple-crosses, and the hour gives each of Mando’s team a moment to shine. It feels like a one-shot adventure from a Star Wars RPG come to life, which is maybe the highest compliment I can give it.
Baby Yoda Moment: Looking down at its widdle hand after Mando shoots Ayoade’s hunter droid Zero from behind, thinking maybe he did it with The Force.
3. Chapter 4: Sanctuary
As soon as we grokked that The Mandalorian was going to be cribbing from Westerns and samurai films for their inspiration, we all knew it was only a matter of time before a Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven pastiche would crop up. Luckily, not only is “Sanctuary” a fun, exciting adventure (directed with verve by Bryce Dallas Howard), it would turn out to have some of Mando’s best character moments in the entire series. Whether confiding in Julia Jones‘ incisive villager or talking soldier-to-soldier with Cara Dune (who makes a most impressive introduction here), Mando reveals more of himself and his wants/needs than we’ve seen since the pilot. He even contemplates settling down for a simple life with The Child, before the prospect of more bounty hunters coming for them forces him to maintain a nomadic life.
Baby Yoda Moment: I mean… it’s gotta be him sipping the soup, right?
2. Chapter 3: The Sin
When viewed together, the first three episodes of The Mandalorian serve as a complete pilot for the series — telling the story of a taciturn mercenary whose heart becomes warmed by the relatable, cuddly asset who makes him grow a conscience. Episode three, “The Sin,” is where we see all these narrative chickens come home to roost: the aching guilt we can see clear as day, even behind the mask, at handing The Child over to Werner Herzog‘s mercurial Client; the connection he feels to the Child as a Foundling himself, and his eventual decision to break rank with the Bounty Hunter’s Guild and free Baby Yoda from certain death. It’s a rousing hour, in no small part due to the arrival of the Mandalorian cavalry at the last second, and Greef Karga’s begrudging respect towards his former colleague. With “The Sin,” The Mandalorian felt like it’d found its identity, and set up an exciting season of adventures along the way. This is the Way, indeed.
Baby Yoda Moment: Baby Yoda loves playing with the levers on the Razor Crest, a cute little beat that also pays off mid-episode as the catalyst for Mando’s bid for redemption.
1. Chapter 8: Redemption
And it all comes down to this: Mando’s last stand against the forces of darkness, with all the allies he’s accrued over the season coming to aid him. As a payoff to the previous seven episodes, it’s hard to find fault with it; sure, it feels odd to bring in a new villain at the last minute, but Giancarlo Esposito‘s Moff Gideon, with his knowledge of Mando’s past (and, apparently, a freaking darksaber), proves an able replacement for Herzog. Even as the big climax of the season, it’s a stellar showcase for why the smaller scale of The Mandalorian works: an E-Web blaster is treated with horrifying dread, and a single TIE Fighter becomes an insurmountable foe.
But strangely, much of the episode belongs to IG-11, a one-off character we thought we’d lost but who ends up making the sacrifice play to protect the child. What’s more, he even gets Mando to get over his fear of droids, and even allows us to see Pascal’s face for one brief moment.
Just as “The Sin” helped set up the rest of season 1, “Redemption” gives us som enticing possibilities for the recently-announced second season. Now Mando and The Child are “a clan of two,” as they search the galaxy to return Baby Yoda to his rightful home. Or, failing that, he becomes a Mandalorian himself. Hopefully, we’ll see Greef again, now with Cara Dune as his enforcer; maybe Fennic Shand will show up under some new allegiances. But one thing’s for sure, Jason Sudeikis and Adam Pally‘s Yoda-slapping stormtroopers deserved every bit of their gruesome fate for disturbing our precious child.
Baby Yoda Moment: While Baby Yoda gets his big hero moment blasting the flametrooper with his Force powers, the most giffable moment of the episode is clearly Baby Yoda’s need for speed while riding with IG-11 on that speeder bike.