We’ve all been there in an RPG. The main quest is tantalisingly positioned on the pause menu, but you haven’t made any progress in hours. The world still needs to be saved, the princess is still in another castle… and you’re busy pottering about the game world, doing side missions, upgrading your armour, and getting sidetracked by random encounters. On top of that, you have a dozen fetch quests to check off.
The Mandalorian, it seems, is embracing that wonderful, drifting feeling. In doing so, the Star Wars series is heeding the lessons learned from some of our favourite video games to become one of the best shows on television, despite its strange structure.
While the murmurs are few and far between, some fans have pointed towards The Mandalorian’s aimless wandering as a show that’s quite literally going nowhere fast. Mando has a mission: to return The Child to his own kind. Over a dozen episodes in, that’s not even close to happening. Mando’s now set to find Ahsoka Tano on Corvus – from there, who knows?
But, as anyone who has sunk hundreds of hours into The Witcher 3 or Mass Effect will know, the vast majority of the fun comes in the journey, not the destination – and the friends (and foes) you make along the way. Mandalorian executive producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni may not be huge gamers – as far as we know – but our favourite pastime’s fingerprints are all over this season in terms of the approach to story and setting.
By my count in The Mandalorian season 2, Din Djarin has levelled up in a Knights of the Old Republic-inspired boss battle against the Krayt Dragon on Tatooine (and gained some new gear in the process), taken part in a perilous escort mission with the Frog Lady in tow, and partied up with a few trusted partners to take down a local Empire stronghold. Remember the ‘red area’ in the holo-map during “The Siege?” That may as well have been pulled straight out of a Ubisoft game’s open-world fog-clearing playbook.
Not only have all these adventures shown how much variety the Disney Plus series can throw at us to avoid things getting stale – much like any good video game – it’s proven how flexible it can be too.
The Mandalorian has been a gunslinging Western in the style of Red Dead Redemption, mixed in with a little bit of Monster Hunter. Its second episode was reminiscent of the icy, claustrophobic feel of a Lost Planet, and later escapades have even aped the biggest first-person shooters – and put most of Star Wars: Battlefront’s missions to shame.
While Star Wars has often been good but not great in the video game sphere – Rogue Squadron, Fallen Order, and the Super Star Wars series rank as high watermarks – they’ve never thrown everything together quite like The Mandalorian has. Equally adept at GTA-style action chases and wordless Baby Yoda scenes that could’ve been pulled from a Lego game, Mando can do it all. Star Wars is a deep, multi-faceted universe – and we’re finally getting a proper glimpse at it thanks to the stop-start video game-like structure.
Brilliantly, that same logic also puts the brakes on the show and gives the world-building some much-needed time to breathe. Of course Mando has to fix his ship before he continues ferrying Baby Yoda to wherever he has to go next. Plus, he won’t know where to go next without sounding out the locals at a nearby inn or tavern, will he? Had there been no detours on Trask and Tatooine, the show wouldn’t have had time to give the spotlight to Bo-Katan or Cobb Vanth, which would have robbed the series of its best moments. More so than last year, Mando is revelling in going off the beaten path.
After all, just think of your favourite moment from your favourite game. Chances are, it’s not the final boss you’re reminiscing about. It’s always the oddballs and odd jobs you encounter along the way that shine brightest. That’s a philosophy, however intentional, that Mando is trying to preach.
Of course, The Mandalorian is not quite a neat one-to-one analogue of video games. The show, for example, never deals with Mando forking out for new cosmetics or blaming his wayward blaster fire on latency issues. But, look a little closer, and you’ll be surprised at just how well The Mandalorian sinks its teeth into the advantages of the quick, bite-sized portions of each episode feeling like its own video game level. By marrying it effortlessly with the Star Wars universe, it offers the best of both worlds.
The main quest still has to be polished off, sure, but Mando’s breezy, go-anywhere attitude has unlocked a fair few achievements along the way – and we can’t wait to see his endgame.