For a Disney Plus Show, ‘The Mandalorian’ Is Getting Awfully Dark
On a recent visit to a big box store, I strolled passed the toy aisle and discovered a full-fledged alien invasion.
One entire endcap along with a lengthy stretch of shelf behind it were covered with “The Child,” the adorable Baby Yoda who stars in The Mandalorian. When the show premiered on Disney+ last fall, Baby Yoda’s role was kept secret until the debut episode, which meant Disney had no merchandise ready to capitalize on rabid fan demand. During the 2019 holiday season, licensed Child toys were as rare and as highly sought-after as Baby Yoda is in the Star Wars universe. This year, there will be no such problems come Christmastime. I counted no less than three different Baby Yoda dolls available in a variety of sizes and price points, along with a couple of smaller action figure variations.
Anyone who bought a Baby Yoda to snuggle with while watching this week’s episode of The Mandalorian, “Chapter 10 - The Passenger” was treated to maybe the scariest sequences in the entire history of Star Wars, an extensive chase scene on an icy alien world with the Mandalorian, the Child, and the title character running for their lives from an endless army of arachnoid aliens. These creatures hatched out of large eggs and followed a towering queen with an enormous maw filled with concentric circles of fangs. It was like Star Wars’ version of James Cameron’s Aliens, with the graphic violence and gloppy body horror toned down slightly.
The scene, with Mando and his allies just a few steps ahead of an encroaching horde, was as impressive a piece of prolonged terror as it was surprising for a show like The Mandalorian. Following last week’s Season 2 premiere, where Mandalorian faced off with an enormous, acid-spewing krayt dragon, there’s a growing disconnect between the broad image of the series as “The Baby Yoda Show” and the reality that this is increasingly one of the darkest Star Wars stories ever told.
Granted, while Star Wars has and always will be marketed to children, the actual movies often presented intense and mature imagery. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker gets his hand chopped off and Han Solo gets frozen in carbonite. Revenge of the Sith follows Anakin Skywalker’s inexorable descent into the Dark Side of the Force, culminating in a lightsaber battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi that sees the former hero lose both his legs and an arm. (He also gets immolated by lava for good measure.) Throughout all the Star Wars movies, there are creepy monsters, bizarre aliens, and intense action.
But The Mandalorian’s rating — TV-14 — is roughly equivalent to a PG-13, which no Star Wars film received until Revenge of the Sith in 2005. Even in the Star Wars movies released since then, I can’t think of a single piece of sustained horror filmmaking from the franchise like this spider alien sequence from “The Passenger.” (Somewhat surprisingly, it was directed by Peyton Reed, best known as the comedy filmmaker behind Bring It On and the Ant-Man franchise.) This episode wasn’t just something that’s scary for kids — this was something that was disturbing for all audiences. And it appeared on the flagship show of Disney+, a service so focused on catering to family audiences that it offers no R-rated titles, even though Disney now controls the rights to an enormous library of popular R-rated films via their acquisition of 20th Century Fox.
It’s also interesting to consider how the show uses Baby Yoda, where he’s become less of cutesy prop and more of a perpetual thorn in Mando’s side. Before Mando gets stranded in a cave full of giant spider aliens, he’s got to contend with the Child constantly trying to slurp down the eggs they are carrying in their cargo hold. The eggs belong to their passenger, a frog-like creature who is traveling to join her husband on a nearby world in order to fertilize these eggs and continue her bloodline. And Baby Yoda keeps eating them, right up until the episode’s very last scene.
The Mandalorian has always been about how hard it is to be a parent to a youngling. To some extent, this is just a continuation of that theme. Still, Baby Yoda so consistently causes trouble for Mando that he’s beginning to move from “typically troublemaking baby” to “deliberate agent of chaos.” Everyone assumes that because the original Yoda is one of the noblest creatures in the Star Wars galaxy, Baby Yoda must be as well. The more we see of the Child, the more I think that could be wrong.
The sum of all these elements makes it clear that the people making The Mandalorian and the people selling The Mandalorian are two very different groups. Which is obviously how it should be. But in this day and age, it’s not always the case. And given all those Baby Yodas hanging out in the toy aisle at your local retailer, it’s honestly a little surprising.
Gallery — The Mandalorian Posters From Around the World: