Pop Culture

The Mandalorian and the Cameo Crutch

You want to see behind the shiny façade to the humanity underneath? Me too, Grogu.
You want to see behind the shiny façade to the humanity underneath? Me too, Grogu. Screengrab from The Mandalorian
Major Spoiler Ahead for The Mandalorian Season 2

Before we get into the meat of this article, let’s give a paragraph so as to not spoil the season finale of The Mandalorian in online preview texts. Did you know that Alan Dean Foster and other authors who have contributed to Star Wars over the decades are no longer receiving royalties because of Disney? The case is super complicated, but really does boil down to one of the largest companies in the world not being willing to part with a few thousand bucks to the people who more or less kept the franchise going for years when movies and television shows weren’t happening. Maybe think about buying some of his original novels, like the incredible For Love of Mother-Not, so he can get some royalties without interference from The Mouse. You can also donate to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Legal Fund to help fight for artists rights.

Okay, everyone left here ready for spoiler discussions? Excellent.

I’m not going to pretend that I did not absolutely scream and cry during “The Rescue” when a black-clad Jedi showed up and absolutely started wrecking the joint in order to save our heroes. When the hood came off and Disney’s de-aging technology gave us Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker, my heart stopped. Everything I had ever loved in my childhood was back and live and right here on screen in a way that seemed like actual magic. It was amazing. It was triumphant. It was the most well-done piece of genre television I had ever seen.

It didn’t make any damned sense.

This season of The Mandalorian has leaned heavily into the lore of the Star Wars universe with the intent to finally launch a shared series of television and film similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s not a bad thing, of course. It’s getting more Star Wars, but it’s sort of come at the expense of the writing.

When you really break it down, nothing that Luke Skywalker did in the episode makes any sense apart from massacring his way through Dark Troopers. He shows up, asks no one’s name, doesn’t even introduce himself, takes Grogu, has an emotional moment where he is clearly remembering Yoda, and then leaves.

We were all so busy coming down from the high of his appearance that I don’t think any of us analyzed how little sense his actions made. At this point, Luke is presumably still a very high-ranking member of the New Republic and the brother of the its spiritual (if not actual) leader. Sure, he would definitely come running for Grogu’s call through the Force, but when he got there he just… grabs the kid and go?

Remember, there’s an Imperial Moff in custody right there, a person who is leading the effort to resurrect the Emperor, destroy the fledgling government, and is almost certainly a wanted war criminal. Luke doesn’t even acknowledge him. Bo-Katan is also there, the deposed head of state of an entire planet that may have political and military significance as well as the point of contact for one of the few remaining Jedi. Again, Luke doesn’t seem to know or care, and weirdly neither does any other character. In fact, there’s not much indication that anyone even realizes who he is despite probably being the most famous person in the entire Galaxy.

I get it. Luke is so massive a presence in Star Wars that his appearance threatens making the entire narrative about him, but if the writing is not up to the task then why even use him? The scene was cool, don’t get me wrong, but was it something Luke Skywalker would have actually done? Maybe the Luke of The Last Jedi would, but the idealistic hero who is only a few years out from his greatest victory? It seems very unlikely.

This is increasingly a problem with these massive pop culture enterprises. Between appearances by Ahsoka Tano and name-dropping Grand Admiral Thrawn, the series seems to be catering to The Fans™. I’m always down for digging into spin-off media, but it seems like The Mandalorian is doing it for cheap pops instead of solid storytelling. Was the season really better for having Boba Fett, or would his part have been just as well done with a new character like IG-11? I think it’s telling that of all the callbacks to previous Star Wars media, the emotional core of the show is still the characters we have only just met in the last couple of years. Luke showing up was like eating a king-sized chocolate bar in one go; Migs Mayfeld blasting his old Imperial superior in his smug, fascist face was a fine meal.

Unfortunately, Disney is likely to keep using the cameo crutch. It’s an easy way to dazzle the audience. I enjoy being dazzled, but as The Mandalorian enters the wider universe it gets to be its own story less and less. As Jessica Mason over at The Mary Sue put it, it all becomes a bit too much of a capitalist launching point for a brand. The second The Mandalorian picked up the cameo crutch, it stopped being able to walk unaided.
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner