Seven Samurai, a film about the life-ruining generational pain of violence, has somehow found itself adapted dozens of times into stories about small squads of cool dudes kicking bandit ass in defense of wholesome peasants. The Mandalorian adds itself to this lineup with its most sentimental episode yet, a treacly forty minutes of smiling backwater space-shrimp farmers and snarling alien ruffians directed by Bryce Dallas Howard. It feels like something that wouldn’t be out of place as part of a Stargate cable TV serial, lots of woven baskets and well-made but unconvincingly spotless costumes. There’s an order of magnitude more money here, sure, but what does that matter if the work itself has no vision?
The supporting cast is one of the weakest I’ve seen on TV this year. Gina Carano is airless as former Rebel Cara Dune and Julia Jones as the farm-widow Omera exists solely to be interested in the Mandalorian and concerned about her kid. There are gee-whiz child actors, forgettable peasants, and faceless thugs. It’s bargain basement prestige TV, edgeless and saccharine, its characters more costume than person, its camera work broad. The persistent use of lens flare too frequently interjects the extremely limited technique’s corny sense of awe and immediacy into scenarios like kids chasing an alien frog while the score’s sappy strings whimper along. Howard’s direction is joyless, achieving coherent imaging — as in the shot of the AT-ST standing opposite the village — maybe twice.
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A Mandalorian Walks Into a Bar
The episode surely has no intention of setting itself up as a real contender with Seven Samurai, but its brainless adaptational misfire in engaging the famous film’s themes and structure are no less a failure for it. It reproduces scenes like peasants drilling with spears with no understanding of what the original meant and no interest in playing for real stakes. None of these intrepid villagers die, or lose their livelihoods, or have to face anything ugly in or about themselves. Neither the Mandalorian nor Cara is ever believably imperiled. It’s paint-by-numbers television, the frame of its story built around marketable elements like a faceless protagonist, a cute baby Yoda puppet, and a brawny Rebel chick.
None of these things exists for any reason but to stoke the fire of the Star Wars brand. That along the way it’s mainly boring and unpleasant to look at and listen to strips it of whatever popcorn worth it might merit, relegating it to the absolute lowest tier of marketing tie-in cinema. With talent involved — as with last week’s Deborah Chow-helmed installment — there’s entertainment, at least, but strip that away and you’re left with hold music. Office carpeting. A bare billboard. The Mandalorian feels more and more as though it’s nothing but a commercial for more Star Wars.