If you’d asked me to name the thing I’d least like to see from any piece of Star Wars media, my immediate answer would have been “onscreen Jawa murder.” As it turns out it’s even less pleasant to watch than I’d imagined, though it’s The Mandalorian’s total disinterest in the murders that drive its story that really makes it hard to stomach. When the titular protagonist returns to his ship, an infant of Yoda’s nameless species in tow, he finds it junked by Jawa scavengers and promptly opens fire, reducing a few to piles of smoldering cloth with his disintegrator rifle before giving chase.
By juxtaposing the adorable alien baby with every act of violence in the episode, the show’s clearly trying to say something about all this killing, but the killing itself is so antiseptic that it’s hard to be sure what that something is. Not even the surviving Jawas have anything to say about their dead clan members when the Mandalorian comes to trade with them to get his parts back. In one scene — whether intentionally or due to a special effects failure it’s hard to say — a Jawa tossed from moving sand-crawler just plain disappears upon striking the ground. It feels like something out of a callous Call of Duty-type game, something that only cares about where the guns are pointing and which objective marker is flashing in the top left corner of the screen.
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If The Mandalorian is going to be a story about a hardened man learning to open up and care for others it needs to slow down and treat its own subject matter with a little weight. A cute puppet isn’t going to cut it. Nor is there much to chew on in the back-and-forth series of fetch quests that make up the show’s second episode. It amounts to little more than the Mandalorian very slowly powering up his ship’s engines. The only thing we learn along the way is that the Yoda creature can use the Force. If there were a face to focus on in all this maybe it would be more compelling as Flash Gordon-esque pulp, but with the Mandalorian’s emotions hidden it’s next to impossible to connect to the onscreen action.
It doesn’t help that none of the people with whom the protagonist interacts in this episode are expressive or have goals or personalities of their own. Nick Nolte’s Ugnaught moisture farmer delivers a gruffly earnest “thank you for bringing peace to my valley” before seeing the Mandalorian off. Maybe it’s meant to play as ironic, but again, our hero is faceless, his body language minimal. Similarly, when he faces down an enormous woolly rhino whose hair-covered eggs the Jawa merchants apparently covet there are numerous gestures toward physical comedy but no expression or exclamation to confirm the mood.
The show’s score offers few context clues, twanging limply through pretty much everything, and later the scene tilts toward a kind of fatalistic sentiment before taking a detour for the mystical. A faceless character can be a powerful thing — you don’t need to look any further than Darth Vader to know that — but it’s a conceit which relies on the craft of writers, directors, and cinematographers to come alive. That craft just isn’t here.