The Mandalorian and his Internet Darling sidekick Baby Yoda take refuge on a backwater planet this week. We’re halfway through the season, but it’s starting to feel like we’re going at lightspeed a bit too quickly, in terms of runtime.
Every installment of The Mandalorian so far has clocked in at approximately 40 minutes, a clear departure from the hour-and-change most episodes of streaming TV are. Whether this is a function of the show’s budget or a deliberate attempt to avoid overstaying any welcome is unclear, and I don’t see the need to speculate.
Now, as a consumer of media, I consider myself to be a big proponent of Just Getting to the Point, Already. I’ve seen too many shows in the streaming era that fall victim to the dreaded need to pad things out considerably, taking 13 episodes to accomplish what could have been done in less (*cough Marvel Netflix cough*) , but if the clear intention is to build a strong, or at least credible relationship between characters in a TV show, then taking more time is necessary. To that end, for the first time, I felt like the strain of a 40-minute length began to show.
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This week’s episode of The Mandalorian is a clear homage to Akira Kurosawa’s film Seven Samurai (Come on, did you really think this show wasn’t going to do that?) in that the Mandalorian must defend a small village from a band of bloodthirsty raiders and a leftover AT-ST. To do that, he enlists the help of ex-Rebel shocktrooper Cara Dune, played here with sardonic, steely-eyed aplomb by Gina Carano, and mysterious villager Omera, played by Westworld vet Julia Jones.
Though there are some sizable action sequences in Chapter 4, the main dramatic thrust of the episode is Mando’s burgeoning relationship with both Omera and Cara Dune, and his inner conflict between the pull of a normal existence and his steadfast dedication to the Mandalorian way of life, part of which includes NEVER taking off his helmet in front of others. That, on its’ face makes for good, compelling stuff, but just when the show starts to dig deep, the gears of the overall plot must begin turning and we shift into another action scene.
This also extends to Mando’s relationship with Cara Dune, as we’re not really given much on her in terms of backstory other than the bare essentials. That is not to say that she’s unwelcome as a character; quite the opposite, in fact. I wanted more than what the episode was giving me. That’s the issue: when every character’s defining trait is “mysterious”, how can one really connect with characters when episode length dictates that we must Get to the Point as expediently as possible?
Your mileage may vary, of course. I do also recognize that this is a Star Wars show, after all. What we come here for is space western, not space The West Wing. But if you have the ability to do more in terms of character work than a two-hour movie can provide, why not do so?