Since its debut, The Mandalorian has consistently been one of the most fun and unabashedly joyous sectors of the ever-expanding Star Wars universe. A rare, much-needed space western, Jon Favreau’s Disney+ creation works on multiple levels that allows to show to be enjoyed by diehard fans and casual viewers alike (something I praised heartily after Season 2’s excellent premiere). One of the best ways it achieves that is through very episodic storytelling, which complements its weekly release schedule, revitalizing an “Adventure of the Week” genre that felt like it was on its way out of TV fashion.
Because The Mandalorian itself exists on the fringes of universal canon, it can play with elements of the main story while also being something totally its own—it’s like an extended side quest within Star Wars. However, as we go deeper into Season 2, its episodic stories are starting to feel less and less connected to the show’s own main narrative (which is returning The Child, aka Baby Yoda, to his people—whoever or whatever that may be). As such, especially regarding episodes with the shortest runtimes, it has fully become Side Quests: The TV Show.
For any non-gamers reading this, side quests are exactly what they sound like. In sprawling RPG games in particular, side quests are ways to gain experience to level up your character before returning to the main story that the game is about, and often provide special boons upon completion. Some side quests are annoying, some are sad, some are funny. At best they are short, complete adventures meant to open up the game’s world more fully, to build character relationships, and to explore stories that aren’t necessary, but do enrich your overall experience.
The Mandalorian’s side quest structure was certainly in place in Season 1, but it has doubled-down on it in Season 2. Each week, the pre-show “recap” is less about what happened the previous week (it’s almost never about what happened the previous week), and instead reminds us of a random character we met in Season 1—who then, naturally, pops back up. Sometimes we also meet new characters that tie back into other Star Wars properties, like the Boba Fett references in “The Marshal” and the connection with Rebels and Clone Wars through the character Bo-Katan in “The Heiress.” And each week, Mando makes negligible progress in his main mission: to find Baby Yoda’s home.
I get that Mando is not in a rush to deliver Baby Yoda to his home (something I highly doubt really exists or will happen), but at some point—as fun as side quests can be—you really have to make some progress on the main story. Learn from me: If you just play the main story quests in the game Dragon Age: Inquisition, it might take 30 hours to complete. If you get stuck in an area called “The Hinterlands” early on because you didn’t realize that you did not have to do all of the side quests there before progressing, you’ll beat it in more like 130 hours. The Mandalorian is starting to feel stuck in the Hinterlands.
This week, “The Siege” reintroduced us to two major players from the show’s first season, but brief reunion aside, there wasn’t much to it. Baby Yoda did some adorable things, including some light electrical engineering and using the Force to get a cookie, but for the rest of the group nothing has felt more baldly side-quest-y than “let’s blow up this old Imperial base.” It wasn’t really that interesting, funny, important to the lore, or emotionally resonant. We knew, of course, that there had to be more to it and indeed there was: viewers got a few hints about the experimentations that Moff Gideon wants with The Child (and perhaps others like him). But it wasn’t enough to feel like an entire episode devoted to that was worth it. “The Siege” was a side quest inside a side quest inside a side quest, and at that point, it really makes you shake yourself awake and think, “I really need to get back to the main story.”
Keep in mind, The Mandalorian’s main story for this season is super general and mysterious, and we’re already halfway to the finale. Past episodes have at least had their own character-driven adventures that made these stopovers feel worthwhile: the saga of the Frog Lady, the peril of the spider cave, fighting a sand dragon, Timothy Olyphant looking like a snack. “The Siege” killed a lot of Stormtroopers, saw the casual destruction of an Imperial lab and some speeder bikes, but never felt like it actually made much of a point about … anything. As much as I genuinely enjoy the show and will watch no matter what to see what The Child does next, this was the first time it very clearly felt like The Mandalorian was spinning its wheels, focusing just on getting to a single plot point and hoping that the explosions and Baby Yoda spittle would be enough to sustain us until next week.
The bottom line is simply that not all missions are created equal, and in Mandalorian terms, “The Siege” was not one of its better chapters. Still, it’s a reminder that at some point, the show does need to hit a major plot point before we start on another set of side quests.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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