Out of all the leaps of logic and fantasy taken in Disney+’s The Mandalorian, the fact that we’re supposed to connect with a hero so mysterious and reserved that he’s never even going to take off his helmet might be the biggest ask of all. But good news! There’s a simple solution staring us all in the face: Let Mando sing! “Mando” is a fantastically jazzy name, perfect for a gutsy, cheeky musical hero. And after all, Disney+ is quite proud of the fact that its Star Wars content can be found in the same place as Ariel, Belle, and Elsa—so why not carry that to its logical conclusion?
There’s a convention in musical theater known as the “I Want” song, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: a song in which protagonists share what, exactly, they long for most in the world. Think My Fair Lady’s “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” or, closer to Disney+ home, The Little Mermaid’s “Part of Your World.” Once we know what our heroes long for, we can feel a connection to them, even if they’re flawed and difficult in other ways.
That’s the problem with The Mandalorian. For all its production value and incredible attention to building out the world of the story, we know remarkably little about the unnamed protagonist we’re supposed to be following. He’s given a brief flashback that establishes that, like Anakin, Luke, Jyn, and Rey before him, he’s a classic Star Wars protagonist with terrible childhood trauma and a missing family. He’s shown to have a moral code, when he discovers his target is an infant and decides not to harm it. But … that’s it. It’s hard to get emotionally invested in a story when its protagonist is so remote.
For now at least, The Mandalorian seems more interested in maintaining mystique than giving us a character we can connect with. He’s not even taking off his helmet, which means we don’t even get to see Pedro Pascal’s (very comely) facial expressions. This takes the reclusive, emotionally repressed hero trope to a whole new level, and I’m not sure how long it’ll hold up. Without a compelling character leading the way, it’s hard to stop feeling like The Mandalorian is an extremely detailed and well-produced wiki page, rather than a TV show.
The trick of the “I Want” song isn’t just that it lays out what the character wants in a general sense, but that it helps convey what that longing translates to in concrete terms within the world of the story. Sticking with the Disney theme for a moment, almost all of our protagonists are seeking something along the lines of understanding, adventure, and belonging. But each one has a specific want, expounded upon in ballads early in each film. Ariel wants to walk on land, hence “Part of Your World”; Belle wants someone to understand her longings for a life outside her village (“Belle (Reprise)”); Quasimodo wants to leave his tower (“Out There”); Moana wants to explore the horizon (“How Far I’ll Go”). You get the idea.
The Star Wars universe follows a similar pattern—as do most movies and TV shows, albeit without (usually) breaking into song. Early on, we get a sense of protagonists’ struggles and longings as well as their initial, concrete goals. Luke wants adventure and more out of life, so his initial “want” is about getting off Tatooine and becoming a pilot. Rey wants love and belonging, so she stubbornly wants to stay on Jakku to wait for the family who abandoned her to return. The Mandalorian wants … some oil for his armor? Who knows? We can’t relate to him the way that we can connect to those desires for exploration, family, and love, so we’re forever distanced. If you’re watching for the eye candy and the Star Wars Easter eggs, then that distance doesn’t matter, but if you’re watching for a well-rounded storytelling experience, well, it’s more than a little disappointing.
So here’s the solution: In between all the bounty hunting and brooding and gorgeously shot fight scenes, Mando needs a moment where he plops down on one of those classic Star Wars rocky outcrops or swings down the side of a spaceship and belts out a lovely little ditty about what it is he wants most out of life. “Finishing the Helmet,” about how he longs for a shiny new beskar helmet with a clan symbol, representing his longing for a family? “Waving Through a Window (Of the Razor Crest)”, about taking a trip farther out into the galaxy for his adventurous spirit? “The Jedi Wizard and I,” about retiring to a sweet little cottage where he can raise Baby Not-Yoda in peace and harmony? It would certainly set The Mandalorian apart from being just another wannabe gritty entry in the Star Wars expanded canon.
I jest, but only a little. Who knows what Mando’s “I Want” song would be? We certainly don’t—and that’s precisely the problem.