Arriving courtesy of director Jon Favreau (Chef) on the newly launched Disney+ streaming platform, The Mandalorian is the first live-action television series in Star Wars’ 42-year history. Telling the story of a lone bounty hunter, the show is also the first Star Wars production not to deal with the fight against the Galactic Empire since the made-for-TV Ewok movies of the 1980s.
Watch the trailer here:
Attack of the Clones
When the Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm in 2012, it came as no surprise that the House of Mouse sought to continue the immensely profitable Star Wars series of films begun in 1977’s Episode IV: A New Hope. While Disney would take tentative steps to expand the universe with the likes of Rogue One and Solo, these films were ultimately reliant on their affiliation with the main saga’s storylines and characters.
Despite the producers having an entire universe to play around in, the majority of Star Wars ancillary material prior to this has traditionally revolved around the same characters and situations moviegoers have been following for decades. Exacerbating the situation was Disney’s decision to churn out one Star Wars film a year, a move that industry insiders and audiences alike saw as a dilution of the franchise.
A New Hope
Following the lackluster box office of Solo and the divisive reception that met 2017’s The Last Jedi, it was announced that Star Wars films would be going on hiatus after this December’s Rise of Skywalker in order to give audiences a break while the studio recalibrated the series’ big screen future. In the meantime, projects originally conceived as films (such as the forthcoming Obi-Wan) were reimagined for the small screen, while others, such as the long-awaited Boba Fett, were outright cancelled.
As a result, The Mandalorian now has the unenviable task of proving whether or not audiences will accept live-action, small-screen adventures set in that galaxy far, far away.
Set five years after the fall of the Empire (seen in 1983’s Episode VI: Return of the Jedi), The Mandalorian features Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) as an unnamed bounty hunter who makes his living undertaking missions doled out to him by his guild leader (Carl Weathers of Rocky and Predator fame). When he is offered the chance to do a job for a mysterious client (played by legendary director Werner Herzog), he accepts, motivated by the promise of a big payday.
As the mission forces our antihero to negotiate unhospitable landscapes, a surly rancher (Nick Nolte, Warrior), an assassin droid (Taika Waititi, Thor: Ragnarok), and a gang of gunmen, the Mandalorian discovers that his quarry is unlike any he has previously hunted, and what follows has the potential to alter his life forever.
Cut from the same mercenary cloth as the infamous Boba Fett and his father, Jango, Pascal’s character is as professional as he is enigmatic. A consummate operator, the character exudes icy cool on the job, aided by his high-tech armor that contains a plethora of weapons (Of course, since the character never takes off his helmet, we’ll just have to take the producer’s word for it that it is indeed Pascal under there). Unlike Tony Stark’s, however, the armor here is seemingly cobbled together from wherever he could get the parts. Based on comments made throughout the first episode, we know it’s not because he’s bad at his work, but it’s clear from his piecemeal garb and aging ship that this bounty hunter has seen better days.
When the big reveal that closes off the episode is made, we are shown just how deep his moral code goes, and what he is willing to do to enforce it. It is a fascinating bit of character building that is actually pulled off more smoothly than some of the prerequisite world building.
Outer Space Western
From the outset, Jon Favreau (famous for getting the Marvel Cinematic Universe up and running with the first two Iron Man films) developed The Mandalorian with an eye towards exploring Star Wars’ seedier, grittier side in a manner that had never really been done in the existing films. His vision of the main character as an archetypal gun for hire in the best western tradition is clear in the pilot episode’s opening minutes, as Pascal’s merc with no name walks into a frontier town, takes out thugs in a saloon brawl, and is shown to follow some sort of moral code. He even finds time to ride a horse (actually a blurrg, but the thought is there). Indeed, if not for the intergalactic vistas, it honestly isn’t hard to imagine a young Clint Eastwood under the main character’s helmet.
Even the characters he encounters (alien origins aside) along the way wouldn’t look out of place in a Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars) flick. Among these, Herzog is a standout as the mysterious client, enunciating his dialogue’s every syllable with relish, barely containing his character’s obviously malevolent intentions. Also making a mark (despite being hidden behind layers of makeup) is Nick Nolte as a begrudgingly helpful blurgg rancher, who manages to be memorable for his curt manner of talking (and, amusingly, letting people know when he’s done speaking).
Callbacks and Throwbacks
While Rogue One and Solo tried their best to tell standalone stories, those movies’ handling of fan service was about as subtle as a kick to the head (Princess Leia’s cameo in the former was particularly cringe-worthy). In The Mandalorian, there are references and throwbacks aplenty, but admirable restraint is observed in their inclusion. All throughout the pilot, we are shown numerous aliens, droids, and assorted technology that we may have seen before, but presented here in ways that never come across as precious or obnoxious. Even the more blatant references, such as a prisoner rambling about Life Day (from the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special), or the racks of carbonite-frozen prisoners in the Mandalorian’s ship, are integrated organically. Whether this is due to the writing or on-set direction, it’s most refreshing to be reminded that this is Star Wars, without it being shoved down the viewer’s throat.
Attack of the Show
Whereas it took two or three seasons before Game of Thrones’ budget was large enough to match George R. R. Martin’s imagination, director Dave Filoni (formerly of iconic cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender) makes the most of his live-action debut. Right off the bat, The Mandalorian has the feel of a major blockbuster, in all the right ways. The script by Favreau builds on decades’-worth of nostalgia, while smartly laying down the foundations for a bold new storyline. Throw in a couple of decent action scenes, and it is a solid pilot all around.
While the show may not necessarily break new ground as far as being a space western goes, it definitely goes a long way towards proving the viability of the Star Wars franchise beyond the Skywalker family. And, given the cliffhanger this one ends on, it will be interesting to see where this story goes as the remaining seven episodes are released in the coming weeks.
The Bottom Line
As studios choose their sides and/or establish their own platforms, The Mandalorian is an impressive first stab at what Disney has in mind for the future of streaming media. Ambitiously produced and handsomely mounted, Favreau and his team have created a welcome foray into long-form storytelling while delivering one hell of a declarative statement: Netflix, Amazon Prime, et al, had better get their A game on – The Force is strong with this one.
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