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There’s a common complaint about Disney+’s The Mandalorian that only seems to become louder with every episode released: that the show’s pacing is a mistake that works against it with regards to winning over audiences. But is that really the case?
On the face of it, the series seems purposefully, even painfully, slow. It’s taken three episodes to get to a place in the narrative that seemed obvious from the cliffhanger at the end of the first installment, with the eponymous anti-hero finally deciding that, indeed, he’ll give up his life as was to protect the child that was his bounty. There have been memes to this effect for more than a week, just to underscore how expected a development this was, which makes the fact that it took three episodes to reach this point seem all the more disappointing; when Twitter beats you to your emotional turning point, that’s not a good thing.
In practice, though, the problem may be the format of the series, rather than the progression of the story to date. After all, although we’re three episodes into The Mandalorian, the fact that the installments are surprisingly short — ranging between 32 and 39 minutes in length — means that only 108 minutes has actually elapsed, with the actual narrative real estate significantly less, given that the end credits for each episode alone run over four minutes in length. Add in recaps and credits, and the actual amount of narrative runtime is closer to 92 or 93 minutes — equivalent to a network drama pilot, if that pilot was a double episode.
Suddenly the show doesn’t seem quite so slow anymore, does it?
Admittedly, the pacing of The Mandalorian argues against the notion of a traditional broadcast drama pilot; the second episode of the show is, for all intents and purposes, an episode removed from the narrative that drives the first and third episodes — a fun romp that had a lot of enjoyable moments (and a lot of Baby Yoda), but something that could have easily been excised from the series with the exception of the climatic fight with the beast that prompted the child into action.
Indeed, three episodes in, The Mandalorian seems intentionally obtuse with regards to the expectations of its audience in terms of speed. Even as the current Star Wars film trilogy adapts the original movie aesthetic for a modern audience — with, notably, the languid pace of the first pic being one of the few things not reproduced this time around — The Mandalorian slows things down even more and finds yet more side missions and distractions to follow, as if trying to weed out the fair-weather fans and discover just who really wants to keep watching.
Perversely, it’s one of the most compelling things about the show so far, and one of the few signs from the Disney era that Star Wars is willing to take a creative risk that bucks conventional wisdom — or even common sense — when a creator asks.
For now, The Mandalorian taking its time feels like a win, but if we get to the end of the first season and nothing else has happened other than his flying around and audibly frowning inside his helmet while Baby Yoda gets more and more adorable, I reserve the right to change my mind entirely.
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