IR TV Review: THE MANDALORIAN – EPISODE 8 ("Redemption") [Disney+]

The building of “The Mandalorian,” taking into effect expectation but also traversing the character beats, is an interesting quandary. The continuation of what Jon Favreau and crew are trying to create takes into account each director and certain writers capabilities within each episode. In having Taika Waititi direct the final episode of the season, there is a different balance in comparison to earlier episodes. Episode 8 is meant to resolve a lot of the questions of the season. And while it does and gives firmer focus, it does open up the door to more ideas but it gives the coming season a very specific trajectory. What works in this specific episode is the fact that it has more stakes than perhaps was there before.

Without giving too much away, it strives for a sense of meaning within what the characters want and what drives them. Giancarlo Esposito’s character in particular does this well while speaking to a connection to Mandalore lore with the use of a single item. Strategy also plays a significant part. Whether this is in the visual texture of Waititi or just the general bent of the narrative, it closes the loop with much greater agility. The audience gets to see briefly into The Mandalorian’s psyche and a bit of where he comes from. Another interesting dichotomy is that the show continues to show the connection between the film world and the impact of the animated series (specifically “Rebels”) which is directly referenced here. There are many iconic images and perhaps some humor that was a bit too dry earlier in the season that has found its groove here, helped in part by Waititi’s sensibilities. All in all, a very fitting end to the season while both managing expectations but also not overextending its possibilities or production expenditure.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: THE MANDALORIAN – EPISODE 7 ("The Reckoning") [Disney+]

The path of redemption always comes with a price. There cannot be victory without sacrifice. The question becomes what is being fought for. In “The Reckoning,” Episode 7 of “The Mandalorian”, the series has built its house of cards and, at least, for this progression of the narrative, it needs to be reconciled. Mando can only be on the run for so long. What is interesting in this episode, is not so much about sides taken but in the draw of what discerns good and evil and the gray in between. Carl Weathers as Greef, Mando’s would be employer has his own skin to think about. That is why the instinct of The Child is interestingly polarized. His actions bely a darker progression, like all those with the Force. A healing trajectory shows a different possibility.

As a form of the Imperial Guard seems to close in, a greater pressure seems to be building up. Because of actions taken by those who set these events in motion, a larger pressure seems to be building, as if The Child is a certain catalyst either for genetic manipulation or action to be taken. Mando, never one to trust, begins to take a chance on people, whether or not that might place his allies in danger. But no journey is without risks. The question with the series has been the detailing out of information but the key here is establishing a world which sometimes takes standing still. Character, unlike plot, cannot move at the speed of light but there needs to be enough crumbs to make the journey memorable. “The Mandalorian” still, at its heart, is a Western where the gunfight always builds to a pinnacle and the victor lives to fight another day.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: STAR WARS – EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER [Lucasfilm/Disney]

Following any divergence such as was “The Last Jedi” there can be a sense of reckoning. In the first “Star Wars” trilogy not overseen by one person (i.e. Lucas) there is bound to be conflict of conception. Colin Trevorrow was originally supposed to do this segmentation and obvious a wisp of his story structure remains. But as Adam Driver alluded, this path was always the correct one and the point discussed from the beginning. The film here feels right. It is the best made of this trilogy of films mating some of the basic risks that Abrams might have avoided with “Force Awakens” which felt infinitely too safe but also keying into aspects of what fans would like to see.

“The Rise Of Skywalker” is dense and moving. And yet there are holes. Now granted in most movies of this scale, there is a certain level of disbelief allowed. But this is Star Wars. The reality is director JJ Abrams had a shorter time to make this, close up as many loose ends as he could and keep the release date Disney set. He did. And to make the film as entertaining as it is with some specific moments that needed to work while integrating Leia and giving a sense of closure, this one feels more steady.

Rian Johnson’s previous film which had a couple spots which were brilliant also drifted too much into the metaphors and politics, which of course is part of it but also what bogged down many elements of the prequel trilogy. There is no exact formula with these movies that make them work no matter what. These films are a huge undertaking. “Empire Strikes Back” didn’t look effortless. There are clunky elements in that too but time is the true test. The issue here is that you see the work but the bridges made to get there don’t have time to breathe and have a lack of connection. The dichotomy of what everybody feels and how they display it is very anachronistic almost making it seemed forced. Daisy Ridley as Rey is a perfect vessel but she always seems too pained though her voyage is not meant to be easy. When you see joy in her, it is mired in sadness which is part of the structure. The intention is there but it is all about plot. Rey wants to find balance. Every act she commits is towards this. But impulse is her enemy which is the entire progression. But balance is the key word.

In keeping the main three stars together most of the time in this installment, it creates a better dynamic considering how different all of them are. This is why the original film worked between Han, Luke & Leia. Chewie had a better part then. Here even that character is used more in the vein of nostalgia but Abrams uses that as much as he can. Poe as a character is still underdeveloped. He was never supposed to be a Han Solo and yet there is never a sense that he nor Finn is a general per se. They still have the same fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants mantra but their stakes never feel fully realized. “The Last Jedi” was better at doing this and for inherent iconic image. But again didn’t move like this. No Canto Bright to bog the trajectory down.

Adam Driver, comparatively as a character, is truly the only one that comes close to full realization as Kylo Ren but again his character needs to serve the plot as well. One scene in particular really makes it sing and it was inherent that it need to happen, despite it being more of a metaphor per se. But inherently that is what Star Wars is about. Without giving away spoilers, this scene offers the perspective which makes everything acceptable. Star Wars was and is about archetypes. The path could only truly be one way. The ideal it comes back to is that this is entertainment and the film thrills. Case closed.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: THE MANDALORIAN – EPISODE 4 (“Sanctuary”) [Disney+]

The essence of “The Mandalorian” resides in being able to identify in some way shape or form with the journey he or she is on. Whether it is Neo or Luke Skywalker, a character needs something to fight for, even if it is evil in some way. The structure of this episode: “Sanctuary” takes it into a more intimate setting but gives it a sense more of the familial which might be necessary because of its structure. The episode is also directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron Howard. The episode in many ways feels like “Willow” in its aspect of romanticism but also sense of protection and defense. The episode is not overly dependent on special effects which might have been on purpose since Bryce has not directed much before per se. But what ends up happening is that the episode feels more in the arc of character structure especially what The Mandalorian has lost and gained but what he is willing to give up. The texture of the final moments plays for this with a certain character becoming almost a MacGuffin for the aspect of hope. Ultimately that aspect of trust or protection is brought into imbalance which causes the need for the plot to move forward. However the underlying texture of what path this bounty hunter/myth may be on continues to be murky as the best journeys are.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: THE MANDALORIAN (“Episode 1”) [Disney+]

The tricky aspect about exploring a universe and living within it is a sense of expectation. In making the huge Star Wars films, sometimes the texture of the smaller character work like what “A New Hope” gets lost since that was essentially an independent film. Unfortunately as much as creativity can be a spark point among writers creating a bigger structure with such as large company such as Disney can be formidable. What “The Mandalorian” understands in its first episode is that everything doesn’t need to be rushed. While the series boasts more high end effects than most series, it gets what it needs to be. In a way that “The Gunslinger” should be done, it establishes The Mandalorian as a gun toting bounty hunter of old. The setting is basically for crime: The Wild West after the fall of the Empire which while essential has eliminated a certain order, however dictatorial to the Republic.

The first episode sets up a quest without seemingly like a quest. What director David Filoni and, by extension, show runner Jon Favreau has realized is by creating smaller scenes, even if it leads into a bigger showdown it makes the points more specialized. The Mandalorian does that two times after he sets down on planet. The humor is undeniable created in a gunfight of sorts that brings to mind “Way Of The Gun” as an influence…and if Chris McQuarrie ever finds his way into the Star Wars universe… But that said the first episode works because it tempers expectations while also give you enough tidbits of the original IP to engage which is what made “Rogue One” the best Star Wars movie of the new generation but also “Clone Wars” which helped show small character based episodes while balancing with the space opera which people expect.

B+

By TIm Wassberg

IR Interview: Hal Hickel (Animation Supervisor – “K-2SO”) & Alan Tudyk (Actor – “K-2SO”) For “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” [Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment]