Listen, the short and Cheaty McCheatypants answer to this question is simple: Baby Yoda is TOTES ADORBS.
Yet the real answer goes a lot deeper than that, and there are lessons here in terms of story and structure. As somebody who grew up watching the original trilogy and hating the prequels, it gives me joy to see THE MANDALORIAN doing everything the opposite of the silly prequels.
Warning: this post is full of spoilers. I mean, completely packed with them, like chocolate chips in a gooey cookie.
Reason No. 1: Sparse, Memorable Dialogue versus The Worst Dialogue in the History of Cinema
The Mandalorian doesn’t talk much, and The Child (Baby Yoda) doesn’t talk at all. And mostly, they don’t need to, with a lot of storytelling done through visuals.
But when there is dialogue, it’s interesting and memorable. Two simple phrases are already being spread around IRL: “I have spoken” and “This is the way.”
In the three sequels, the dialogue is wooden, long and terrible. Nobody in the office is riffing off “I hate sand” unless they’re making fun of the sequels.
Reason No. 2: Gritty and Real versus CGI Fakeness
You can’t immediately tell what’s CGI and what’s a practical effect in THE MANDALORIAN, and they’re clearly leaning hard on practical effects and settings that are real, gritty and dirty.
Mando’s cape is torn. He’s always getting muddy, dusty or shot up.
In the sequels, everything is CGI’d to death. It feels too clean, too perfect, too fake.
Reason No. 3: Atmosphere versus Spectacle
Sure, there are giant battles and amazing special effects in the sequels. George Lucas put all his special effects people to serious work.
THE MANDALORIAN is about atmosphere, mood and characters that you care about–which makes the action smaller in scale and far more important to the audience.
Reason No. 4: Natural Humor versus Forced Dad Jokes
I love how there’s a lot of physical humor in the new series, along with unexpected surprises like the Jawas, who are a real problem after scrapping Mando’s ship but also a great bit of comic relief. You need that when Mando is basically the Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood) in all those spaghetti westerns.
The humor reminds me a lot of what we saw in the first few Indiana Jones movies, and in the original trilogy.
In the sequels, what passed for humor were essentially flat lines of dialogue–dad jokes–and the physical humor we got were things like Jar-Jar Binks being incredibly clumsy. No. Just no.
Reason No. 4: Making Us Care and Want More versus Telling Us Too Much and Expecting Us to Care
Exposition is ammunition. We hear just enough about Mando through dialogue from other characters and from his actions.
That taste, and the mystery about him, makes us want to know more.
In the sequels, we got lectures about senate politics and midi-chloridians. It was not pretty.
Reason No. 5: Real Surprises versus We Know Exactly What Will Happen
There are constant surprises in THE MANDALORIAN, but each payoff has setups that make sense.
In the sequels, we knew where the story would wind up, even when the setups weren’t really there, and there weren’t a ton of surprises on the way there. Nobody really suffered or changed except Anakin and Padme; all the other characters were flat. Obi-Wan and the Emporer didn’t really change from the first movie to the last. Neither did anybody else.
Mando is really an anti-hero. He does his job as a bounty hunter brutally and efficiently, including capturing The Child, and his decision to go back and save CUTE BABY YODA from the stormtroopers is not quick or easy. In fact, how they do it is rather neat, and done completely through visuals when he makes that decision. Beautiful.
Other characters also make surprising choices that do make sense, like the Jawas agreeing to trade The Egg for all of Mando’s ship parts. A less skilled writer would have had Mando hunt down the Jawas in their sandcrawler and shoot his way to those parts.
The acid test for me is, “Would I watch this again?”
If you want to get completely serious, expand on that scale with, “How much would you have to PAY ME to watch this again” compared to “How much would I willingly PAY to see this again, whether it’s in a theater or on a magic smartphone?”
I’ve already watched all three episodes again. Did not get tired of them at all, and would happily watch all three again tomorrow. They’re fun and interesting.
The three sequels? You’d have to pay me to watch even one of them again.
Well done, Jon F., Deborah Chow, Pedro Pascal, Nick Nolte (what?!!), Carl Weathers (yes!) and everybody else involved in this show. You’ve restored my faith in Star Wars.