Short(ish) Praise for “The Mandalorian” Reactors

  • SPOILERS BELOW FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T SEEN THE SEASON TWO FINALE OF THE MANDALORIAN. THIS IS YOUR ONLY WARNING*

Like many of you, I just knew it when I saw it.

The payoff was long in coming. This was no ass-pull on the part of the writers, no deus ex machina contrivances here. The breadcrumbs had been masterfully dropped in front of our faces throughout the season. There was a masterful organic setup for what was about to happen.

Our heroes had taken the ship, but still found themselves cornered against an enemy that we had just seen to be nearly unassailable. Our protagonist barely got out with his life after defeating one of them. And there were now twenty of them banging on the door.

But when that single X-Wing fighter flew past, and the pilot refused to identify himself, I just knew.

For context, I live alone, physically isolated, in a fairly expensive apartment with just my dog. I freelance and so generally get to set my own hours. And, for the past several weeks, every Friday, following my dog’s morning walk, and before I did anything else, I would sit down and watch the newest episode of The Mandalorian before the Internet could spoil it for me.

For the last ten minutes, I was shouting at my TV like a crazy person. My heart was just pounding during those minutes, knowing was was coming, dimly aware that my confused pup was the only witness.

When the black glove holding a familiar green light saber came into view, I started hooting and clapping, and then sat riveted for the next few minutes as our hero tore through (and Force-choked) the seemingly invincible Dark Troopers as if they were paper.

And then, finally on the bridge, standing before our hero Din and his entourage, watching Luke Skywalker remove his hood and reveal his face, even though I knew it was coming, I was just dumbstruck.

To have that followed up by one of the most human moments I’ve ever seen, not only in the Star Wars canon, but really anywhere — watching Din remove his helmet so that little Grogu could touch his face one last time — I just lost it, my still-confused dog soon wondering why I was now crying into her fur.

I was also happy to see R2 show up, another upswing on the rollercoaster of emotions that was “The Rescue”, but it was only a temporary reprieve from the bittersweet reality that this was goodbye to the Child as he went off in safe hands (probably the safest hands in the galaxy…at least for the next twenty odd years).

More context: I was born in 1980, and as far back as I can remember, Star Wars was part of my life, from a colouring book I still remember from Return of the Jedi to the VHS tapes that Mom and Dad gave us to watch. As big of a nerd as I would become later— proudly part of the otakus for Star Trek, Babylon 5, Firefly, The Dark Tower, Harry Potter, Dirk Gently, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and so many others — Star Wars was the first, with me since I was 3 years old.

Luke Skywalker is therefore, in many ways, my archetype of a hero, as he was for many of us boys back then (it’s not my lane to speak for girls or any other gender, though I wholeheartedly acknowledge that they, too, get what I’m talking about). Luke was the young, impressionable kid that we young, impressionable kids followed along the original three movies as he grew into a master.

And yet, we never got to see Luke completely powered up and in his prime. The sequel trilogy — which before Friday I thought to be just okay, but having now seen what was possible in The Mandalorian, am now understanding the anger in the fandom — skipped over his prime years to his being an old man, having fallen from a grace we never got to witness.

So to sit in my living room, nine months into a global pandemic that has upended our whole lives and left me anxious about the future, and see one of my prototypical heroes return at full power to save the day in a way that was both amazing and properly set up in the story, it meant something, something deep.

Suddenly, despite the awfulness of real world around me, I feel energized, some reassurance that somehow it’ll all be okay. That may seem like much to attribute to a segment of a Disney+ show, but that’s the flavour of the feeling.

Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau, the geniuses behind The Mandalorian, did what J.J Abrams and Rian Johnson weren’t able to do, which was unite all the generations of fans in the sheer feeling of Star Wars, the magic of it. Older fans — the only demographic I feel confident speaking for here — felt like they were kids again.

But I was alone in my living room. I didn’t have anyone to share it with.

And that’s where the reaction videos come in.

That Friday, I squared away the last of my client work for the year before my two-week Christmas break and then stayed up in until the wee hours of Saturday exploring a rabbit hole of fan reaction videos.

Actually, that’s a lie. It’s Monday night as I write this, and I’m still in the rabbit hole.

Every day since, I’ve spent at least an hour or so watching other people react to the last ten minutes of the episode from the moment the X Wing appeared to the closing of the elevator, over and over again and I’m really not sure why.

Each time, I think I’m going to lose the emotion by re-watching it, that maybe exposure will lessen the impact. So far, it hasn’t. I’ve cried and gotten chills each time, amplified by the vicarious experience of the YouTubers’ experiences.

It feels just this side of a traumatic reaction where you feel drawn to go back to the place where it happened. Even though no actual harm happened, I was impacted, deeply, by what I experienced. There were a LOT of ups and downs in “The Rescue”. I’m positive that it’ll serve as a case study for screenwriting classes in years to come.

I’ve consumed tens of thousands of hours of TV-based storytelling in my forty odd years on the planet, so when I tell you that I’ve never had this experience with a finale before, there’s nothing hyperbolic in that statement. Or, rather, the hyperbole is 100% justified.

A big part of that was seeing, not just reading some written posts on Facebook or Twitter, that around the time I was losing my mind, hundreds of thousands of others were, too.

I’m sure there’s a neurological function that explains the lack of diminishment of the experience through repetition, something involving mirror neurons and empathy and the like, but this is one of those instances where reducing a phenomenon to the science behind it seems an insult to the experience.

There are so many different YouTubers that I can’t possibly name them all, and quite a few mashups of the different YouTubers. Reaction videos never quite showed up on my radar the way they have over the last few days. I didn’t even know such a thing existed, really.

I wish I’d done one for myself, in hindsight. Maybe I’ll do that for Season 3, or for the new spinoff shows when they come out in 2021.

From my standpoint as a ghostwriter and storyteller, this year has simply reinforced the importance of story to connect us. The challenges of COVID-19 are particularly poignant in that we’ve reduced real-life social contact with other fans. There haven’t been any movies. No ComicCons or Fan Expos in the traditional sense. No way to physically be in the same room with any fans unless you already had them in your social bubble (I envy the reaction videos featuring couples: it would have been nice to have been locked down with a girlfriend who was also in the fandom, losing our shit together at the finale).

The last movie I remember seeing in theatres was Avengers: Endgame. I hollered and cheered along with the crowd at the scene where Cap got to wield Mjolnir in the final battle against Thanos.

(You may be quite stunned to know I never bothered with The Rise of Skywalker in theatres. Shocking, right? I know.)

Watching movies in the cinema is the kind of experience that necessarily takes second and third place to fighting a deadly virus, I get that, I affirm that…but I do miss the that feeling of having other flesh and blood humans in a room sharing that moment with. One day, we’ll get to go to the movies again.

YouTube reaction videos fulfill that sense of connection, even if it’s not happening in the here and now.

We’re headed into the last week and a half of 2020, with very few indications that 2021 is going to markedly be better, at least in the beginning.

For now, I’m grateful to have had shared that moment and those feelings, however vicariously, however indirectly, with thousands of others around the world. In the grand scheme, it’s just a show and I know we’ve got many more important things to worry about.

But in an epoch in which we’re all supposed to be separated by distance, it was good to have something to bring us together. I won’t forget it.

Jody Aberdeen is an author, ghostwriter, story coach, and massive nerd. He lives in Dundas (a reluctant subsidiary of Hamilton), Ontario, Canada. Follow him on social media under the username jodyaberdeen (for most of them).

Enthusiast. Creative Writer. Storyteller. Ghostwriter. Coach. Food Hobbyist. Dog Person. Many More…#Hamont

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