Entertainment Shouldn’t Feel Like Homework
No TV show or movie should require its audience to Google an important backstory.
Beware: Spoilers for The Mandalorian lie ahead.
I’m a casual Star Wars fan. I’ve seen all the movies. I’ve watched the extremely cursed, but enjoyable 1978 Holiday Special. I even sat through a 24-hour marathon to see The Rise of Skywalker, a movie I pretend does not exist, back when we used to go to movie theaters. Yet, there are still huge gaps in my knowledge, thanks to cartoons, books, and video games that I never really had the time to engage with. And I thought that I made my peace with that. I don’t really believe in fan gatekeeping, anyway. Then came the second season of The Mandalorian.
Last year, when The Mandalorian debuted, the internet became obsessed with The Child, who we all colloquially referred to as Baby Yoda. Look at him! OF COURSE, I would watch a TV show about this cutie patootie. (Throwback to when Baby Yoda brought tears to actor Werner Herzog’s eyes: “It’s heartbreakingly beautiful,” he said.) So began my journey with The Mandalorian, which I unexpectedly was hooked on. Week after week, I’d log onto Disney Plus every Friday to see our collective son babble on screen. It didn’t hurt that Din Djarin, aka the titular bounty hunter, was compelling to watch, from his battle-heavy, badass missions to him accepting that he is practically Baby Yoda’s adoptive father. During the season finale, when Mando is told he needs to find a Jedi to help Baby Yoda find the rest of his species, I grabbed my mom’s arm and said, “I can’t believe I have to wait a whole year to find out!”
Well, it’s been a year. And somehow, The Mandalorian has lost its sheen. I spend whole spans of episodes confused by not-so-new characters from the animated movies and series, like Bo-Katan and Ahsoka Tano who are Live-Actionized into the TV show. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea behind these characters and how they interact with Mando, but at the same time, the reason why I enjoyed The Mandalorian so much was that it had introduced new characters and new worlds and made me care about them. But by reintroducing plot points that are outside of the movie canon, it makes so-called casual audience members like myself feel entirely and utterly confused. I simply should not have to look up Wookieepedia (Star Wars Wikipedia) to understand what the hell is going on.
And yes, I understand this is kind of hypocritical — the show already assumes you have seen the movies. However, the first season of The Mandolarian wasn’t obsessed with constantly tying back to the movies, which was why it was so compelling. In my opinion, you don’t need to know a single thing about Star Wars to enjoy season one: it’s just a show about a man in armor protecting his extremely small green son from bad guys who want his blood for nefarious purposes. The Mandalorian didn’t try to make tired attempts to connect to the Skywalkers or Han Solo or Obi-Wan Kenobi. Sometimes, it would make easter egg references to reward dedicated fans for their attentiveness, but it didn’t bring back characters we were already familiar with. Unlike The Rise of Skywalker, which was hampered by yanking its audience into the past, The Mandalorian was future-forward. Fan service was a treat, not a requirement to enjoy the show. So for the show to start doing that now feels so…lazy.
We could sit here and argue that maybe it’s the audience who is lazy for not doing their homework. I’m sorry, but what does it say about our entertainment industry to consistently rely on old content to generate new media? To use niche parts of the canon to garner excitement is a writing crutch. At some point, something’s gotta give: your audience’s patience or the quality of your content. Hopefully it’s not both.