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Nov 22, 2019

'The Mandalorian': 'Tis the Season for the Baby 'Yoda'

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a 2016 USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called BASED ON, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies.

The Mandalorian created and written by Jon Favreau, based on characters by George Lucas. Essay based on the first two episodes. Rated PG. Note: Baby “Yoda” is a short-hand reference to the new character. It is of the same alien species as Yoda, but not actually Yoda himself, who died in Return of the Jedi. Also, episode three shows a TV-14 rating.

The live-action Disney series The Mandalorian takes place a few years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The title character wears similar armor to Boba Fett and, like the beloved rogue character, roams the outreaches of the Republic as a masked bounty hunter.

Favreau establishes the tone as a Gunsmoke western, filled with negotiations in cantinas and shootouts in the open desert. The Mandalorian (played by Pedro Pascal), then functions more as a gunslinger in this post-Empire wasteland. For all the weightiness of the Empire, the lawlessness of the show stands as reminder of the order, however brutal, that stormtroopers once meted out.

Werner Herzog assumes a memorable role as a mob boss who assigns the Mandalorian his first bounty: find the assigned target and bring it back, dead or alive. By the end of the first episode, the target reveals itself as a baby “Yoda,” peeking out from a levitating, circular orb. The Mandalorian, shown in a previous scene as one of the fastest and most skilled guns in galaxy, spares this tiny orphan by extending a finger to the baby, who responds in kind, a la God and Adam in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

Episode two (an episode premieres every Friday) shows the humanizing of the Mandalorian. Once a mercenary living entirely for himself, he must now care for this cherub in his midst. Upon returning to his spaceship, he finds the vessel picked apart by a tribe of Jawas. He disintegrates a few of them through sniper fire, to the horror of the baby “Yoda.”

His attempt to scale the Jawas’ trash vehicle proves unsuccessful. To fix his spaceship, he must work with the Jawas on their own terms, bartering a rare egg delicacy for the spare parts reconstituted from his ship.

The messaging of the series I find to be among the best of the entire Star Wars Universe. The big movies, with the exception of the Han Solo standalone film, were getting predictable with the simultaneous space battle, land battle and light-saber battle culminating scenes. All deliver the same one note message: when faced with force, respond with force (and in some cases, the Force).

(Editor's Note: For those who wonder what the third episode brings, apparently, according to this recap, it's a humdinger with a subtle -- and perhaps not entirely intentional -- pro-life message.)

With The Mandalorian, I honestly can’t say where it’s going next and can feel the moral tension of how much a better person the title character will be after protecting his tiny companion. Gunfighting is part and parcel of his profession, but it won’t be the best solution in every circumstance.

The original programming on Disney+ I find enjoyable. With the content mostly PG and, at the most, TV-14, I stream it as background in my office and never worry about a filmmaking colleague stopping by and raising an eyebrow. Notorious for claiming not to depict people with faith, even in this regard Disney progresses towards earning its “plus."

The docu-series The Hero Project follows families with precocious children making a difference in their communities. One of the current episodes shows the family clearly outspoken about their Christian beliefs. The next episode to stream documents a blind football player from Brophy Prep, a prestigious Catholic school in Phoenix.

As another season of Ordinary Time concludes and Advent approaches, I won’t get nervous if assigned to one of my parish’s “Families with Children Christmas Masses.” Star Wars remains one of the few universally known cultural references in the West. That this particular series features a baby “Yoda” reminiscent of a certain sweet Baby Jesus will serve as a ready-made opening anecdote and a reminder that new approaches to the old ways of the Force still work.

Apparently, there will also be Baby 'Yoda' merchandise (click here for a story from CNBC), just in time for holiday giving.

Image\: Walt Disney Company

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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