The Star Trek: Picard finale succeeded where The Mandalorian failed

Two big sci-fi shows had their finale this week. And while the ending of “Picard” was a series finale and “The Mandalorian” was just for this season, today offers revealing lessons in IP storytelling.

(Spoiler alert! Below are detailed breakdowns of both series finales.)

For the past few years, “Star Wars” has definitely had the upper hand over “Star Trek” in the streaming wars. But times are changing: viewership numbers are still on the side of “Star Wars,” but in terms of quality, there’s no question that “Star Trek” has now overtaken its rival space franchise.

With the exception of “Andor,” Disney+’s take on the galaxy far, far away has gotten increasingly limp — from the candy-colored silliness of “The Book of Boba Fett” to the storytelling of “Obi-Nothing to Nothing.” Wan Kenobi,” to the amazingly incoherent Season 3 of “The Mandalorian.” I’ve written before about the creative vacuum that was seasons 1 and 2 of “Picard,” but by any standards, season 4 of “Star Trek: Discovery,” season one of “Strange New Worlds,” and “Strange New Worlds” from its last season. Picard” are superior to anything Lucasfilm produces that doesn’t feature Diego Luna.

In the past week, the discrepancy has been particularly noticeable. Season 3 of “The Mandalorian” ended on as corny a note as you could imagine, with no signs of evolution or character development forgotten — an ending that could have been the season 1 finale, or the series finale at all, not really. business. While “Picard” proved a bit of a cheat, with the series finale “The Last Generation” clearly setting up future stories, it delved deeply into the emotions, finding ways to give meaning to old symbols and thoughtfully reflecting. about what the past means instead of just wanting to repeat it. “Mandalorian” repeats and “Picard” represents evolution.

“Picard” Season 3 invested old symbols with new meaning

A certain moment in the finale of “The Mandalorian” seemed symbolic of the whole thing: The Dark Sword, a weapon full of meaning to the Mandalorian people, as their leader must wield it, and its accumulated significance during “The Clone Wars.” and the animated series “Rebels,” before making the jump to live-action, were suddenly destroyed. Moff crumpled into Gideon’s fist like another toy. Far more unsettling than the moment in “The Last Jedi” when Luke slung his father’s lightsaber over his shoulder that brought so many fans to tears, this devastating act firmly said that “The Mandalorian” to care about is ephemeral. and can be changed. Like that moment earlier in the season when Pedro Pascal’s Din Djarin just handed over to Katee Sackhoff’s Bo-Katan even though it’s supposed to be won in combat.

“Star Trek” is not immune to these flaws either. The 1994 film “Star Trek Generations” had a similar moment when Picard is holding a treasured artifact given to him by a beloved mentor (as established in the episode “The Chase”) and accidentally drops it among the wreckage. the Enterprise-D. That mentor was legendary actor Norman Lloyd, no less! And this thing that had been given meaning suddenly didn’t. The Darksword gets basically the same treatment as “The Mandalorian”.

The Darksword is destroyed

The Darksword is destroyed

On the other hand, “Picard” Season 3 shows that LeVar Burton’s Geordi LaForge actually recovered the Enterprise-D’s saucer portion from the crash in the previous movie and spent 20 years restoring the ship to its former glory. The fact that it was older and disconnected from Starfleet’s new ‘Fleet Formation’ ship-linking system meant that it was not assimilated by the Borg. It was a bit of a rip-off of how the titular ship in Ronald D. Moore’s “Battlestar Galactica” series survived because it wasn’t part of an Internet-like network, but it’s still a powerful metaphor for how you can look to the past to find solutions for the present.

Similarly, “Picard” Season 3 spent an entire season building the USS Titan as a venerable ship. Rechristening the new USS Enterprise NCC-1701-G was another example of taking something old…and making it better. Basically the approach of this entire final season.

Season 3 of “Picard” showed real character development

How is Mando different at the end of season 3 than at the end of season 1? On the other hand, the “Next Gen” characters brought back to Picard have developed remarkably. Gates McFadden’s Beverly Crusher can now be one hell of a tactical officer on the Enterprise. Jonathan Frakes’ Riker and Marina Sirtis’ Troija draw strength from their relationship rather than the ‘will they? they will not?” It was continued on ‘Next Gen’ for seven years. Brent Spiner Data is finally a ‘real boy’, a flesh-and-blood human (more or less) with his consciousness inside him – he’s experienced death, now he has to face aging. Michael Dorn’s Worf is now a fighter for pacifism. Geordi is the father of two grown daughters and is far from the shaky guy he once was when it came to relationships.

And for Picard himself, it’s most interesting to examine how Patrick Stewart’s acting style has evolved since “Next Gen,” where he can be a stern authoritarian figure telling Data, when he played the android Sherlock Holmes, to “get the hell out of here. tube.” With “First Contact,” Picard basically became a bald Hollywood badass, rocking a Bruce Willis-style takedown of the Borg queen in creepy fashion. Well, he’s a lovable old softie, worn down by time, his cute avatar. If “Picard” has a Baby Yoda, it’s Picard himself.

“Picard” Season 3 also developed the meaning of the biggest “Trek” villains, the Borg

“Picard” season 3 also gave the Borg a completely new meaning. When they were introduced in the late 80s, they represented the ultimate enemy in Gene Roddenberry’s much-vaunted mantra of “infinite variety in infinite combinations.” The cybernetic bad guys represented a homogeneity that subsumes everything unique into a monolithic whole. They represent a world where everyone can communicate, yes, but everyone only speaks one language and there is no diversity at all. This makes them the ultimate “Star Trek” villains.

But Season 3 reintroduces the surviving Borg, last seen in the finale of “Star Trek: Voyager” in 2001, when Janeway kills most of them, and we see that it’s mostly just the disfigured Queen (voiced ghostly by Alice again ). Krige) and a few scattered drones. He himself consumed most of his collective to keep himself alive. The only way to grow is to “take over someone else’s army” and find a way to automatically assimilate everyone in Starfleet who is 25 years old or younger. (25 is the age when our brain shuts down.)

Jonathan Frakes as Will Riker and Michael Dorn as Worf "The last generation" Episode 310 Star Trek: Picard on Paramount+.  Photo: Trae Patton/Paramount+.  ©2021 Viacom, International Inc. All rights reserved.

Riker and Worf aboard a particularly spooky Borg cube


The Borg is thus a very 21st century metaphor for the conformity that young people are encouraged to contribute to on social media: look a certain way, act a certain way, have fun a certain way, be #blessed. FOMO is the ultimate driver towards a collective mindset. Picard tells his son Jack (Ed Speelers), who has been assimilated into the Borg, that he understands that he’s “hungry for connection while keeping people away so they never see the real thing.” The Borg are all connected. They are never alone. But because they are only one voice among many, and only perform one version of themselves, they are also essentially anonymous.

To “The Mandalorian’s” credit, it also seems to be trying to evolve our perception of the Empire, turning it into someone like Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon, obsessed only with survival. And to do this, he takes the best qualities of his enemies (the Beskar armor from the Mandalorians, the Force from the Jedi) and puts them all into a new clone body into which he downloads himself. Basically, he wants to assimilate his enemies rather than destroy them. However, all this was conveyed without any particular emotional resonance.

“Picard” Season 3 created a real sense of atmosphere and stakes

From the moment the sitar plays Jerry Goldsmith’s Borg theme from “First Contact” to open the finale episode, you know if it wasn’t already obvious that extreme attention to detail is coming. Voiceover by Walter Koenig Anton Chekhov’s son, who is apparently the current Federation President, helps to hearken back to an even earlier generation to add strength to what may be lost with Earth in the attack.

Fantastic imagery abounds in this final episode, “The Last Generation”. A giant Borg cube sits in Jupiter’s swirling red spot, poking out like a rocket landing in the eye of the moon in “A Trip to the Moon.” The acting, too: Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut’s robotic, direct way of saying she’s assimilated. All this creates a powerful effect, a story told through images and gestures, full of special effects. “Next Gen” couldn’t have dreamed of using it in its original version, but it is built on the most basic elements of visual storytelling.

Brent Spiner as Data and LeVar Burton as Geordi La Forge "The last generation" Episode 310 Star Trek: Picard on Paramount+.  Photo: Trae Patton/Paramount+.  ©2021 Viacom, International Inc. All rights reserved.

Data and Geordi on the Enterprise-Dn


In contrast, Mandalore is so underdeveloped as the location of “The Mandalorian” that the title character chooses not to even live there after reclaiming it for his people. Her story was skimped on in every way imaginable, right down to the bizarre decision to never mention the character of Princess Satine Kryze, sister of Bo-Katan, who starred in the animated show The Mandalorian.

“Picard” Season 3 also recognizes that this story has an element with “toys”

And he’s having fun with it. The very idea of ​​the Borg forging an alliance out of the Dominion (the villains of “Deep Space Nine”) is something a 12-year-old in 1998 would have dreamed of. Not to mention, the Assimilated Starfleet attack on the Spacedock is very similar to the battles against the Spacedock in the mid-90s video game “Birth of the Federation”. Or that the Borg command entire fleets of assimilated Starfleet ships, as they can in “Star Trek: Armada.” The references and images here feel deep and organic, born of a shared imagination of what made ’90s “Trek” unforgettable.

On the other hand, the masked warrior vs. masked warrior showdown in the finale of “The Mandalorian” felt like “Community” mocking “Blade” as endless metal-on-metal clatter. “Star Wars” shouldn’t be so loud. And somehow, despite all the noise, “Picard” still had excellent space battles — in an area where “Trek” was usually worse than “Star Wars.”

In summary:

In every way that matters, “Picard” had the edge over “The Mandalorian” this season. And in the age-old “Star Trek” versus “Star Wars” debate, both franchises live long, but only one is currently thriving.

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