In many ways, the first episode of The Mandalorian is something Star Wars fans have been waiting for since legendary bounty hunter Boba Fett made his cinematic debut in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. Once restricted to the novels and comics of the “expanded universe,” The Mandalorian brings to life things that were once only suggested by Fett’s dented and scarred armor and the spur-like metallic clinking of his gait. Taking place five years after the events of The Return of the Jedi and after the fall of the Galactic Empire, the series follows a somewhat solitary bounty hunter known simply as “The Mandalorian,” as he attempts to make a living in the rough and lawless Outer Rim, far from the authority of the New Republic.
The first episode of the series is pure, delicious, galactic pulp, filled to the brim with bounties, betrayals, blaster fights, and terrifying space creatures for our nearly silent hero to overcome. Favreau’s script does employ many classic Western tropes that will be old hat to some viewers (and brand new to others), but the freshness of seeing these tropes played out in a galaxy far, far away (as we always expected they were in our imaginations) is the real treat in the end. The cinematography by Greig Fraser is nothing short of stunning, delivering such powerfully beautiful visuals that, throughout the episode, the director repeatedly lingers on in completely dialogue-free moments, confident to let the pictures and music alone communicate the story. Speaking of music, not enough can be said about the score by Ludwig Göransson (Black Panther, Venom). The music throughout the pilot episode is truly spectacular, maintaining a Star Wars core while also finding its own clear, unique, and iconic identity. The ominous and ancient-sounding metallic beats do as much to define the viewer’s peek into Mandalorian code and culture as do the amazing visuals that accompany them.
One thing is certain: The Mandalorian is a game changer. Like Game of Thrones before it, The Mandalorian is ushering in a new age of home entertainment, where the cinematic quality of a feature film is being embraced by the television medium in order to deliver serialized stories that feel bigger and more epic than anything we've seen before on the small screen. Choosing this gritty, powerful, and atmospheric gem as their flagship series to lead the launch of their streaming service was obviously a strategic move by the House of Mouse, but it’s not only the inciting shot of the latest battle in the streaming wars (as Yoda would say, "Begun the streaming wars have"), but also heralds what viewers be experiencing in the coming years. The Mandalorian will be followed up by several Star Wars streaming series, including one focusing on Ewan McGregor's Jedi Knight-in-hiding Obi-Wan Kenobi and another featuring Diego Luna's Rebel Agent Cassian Andor from Rogue One, as well as a multitude of Marvel Studios titles that will further expand the stories of movie characters audiences love (such as Loki, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, and Winter Soldier) and ones they'll just be getting introduced to (like She-Hulk and Moonknight). Recently, Marvel Studios' president made it clear that these streaming series will change and affect the characters we know going forward, and audiences will need to follow the streaming series in order to fully grasp what is going on in the MCU films going forward. If one reads between the lines, this is just further evidence of what's to come and how committed Disney (and Star Wars and Marvel Studios, by association) are to this new future. While Disney clearly is looking to go toe to toe with Netflix in the streaming arena, all signs point to an advancement in on-screen narrative serialized storytelling as we know it. Disney is prepared to deliver multiple live-action series to audiences that will not only be at the quality level of a big-budget feature, but will literally feature the characters and actors audiences know from those films - not only to drive viewership with their star power, but to offer further, deeper explorations of those characters. And, as far as we know at this point, Disney believes those further stories and deeper explorations are worth the potential confusion and/or adjustments that may occur when asking audiences to follow continuity from one medium to another. It's not like it's never been done before at a smaller scale, but we've frankly never seen anything like what’s coming.
Furthermore, the fact that The Mandalorian - as the first series out of the gate - and doesn't lean heavily on any known characters (outside of the iconic imagery of Boba Fett's armor) indicates a desire and intent to craft new and original content, even when it comes to the massive franchises under the the Disney+ umbrella. And the impressive and talented cast of the series shows that creators of merit are willing to jump on board.
As the series' titular character, Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones, Narcos) delivers a fantastic performance, especially for someone covered in armored from head to toe. He manages to impressively imbue a subtle, emotive, and nuanced characterization into the masked visage of the bounty hunter, even when the camera is doing nothing but focusing of the reflective visor in his helmet’s face plate. The rest of the cast is top notch, with Werner Herzog (Invincible, Grizzly Man) adding particular weight and flavor as a creeptastic Imperial (or Imperial sympathizer) who wishes for things to be “the way they were” and gets under even the Mandalorian’s skin. Additionally, Carl Weathers (Predator, Rocky) fits into the Star Wars mythos like he was always there and we just now realized this. Taika Watiti’s (What We Do in Tte Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok) IG-11 will leave fans squealing for more, and Nick Nolte (Cape Fear, Hotel Rwanda) will forever change your thoughts on what it’s like to hang out with an Ugnaught. (No debates on that. I have spoken.)
The episode ends with a franchise-shaking spoiler/revelation that is sure to cause both a lot of excitement and a lot of disdain (Count me as part of the excited bunch.) in the fanbase, as all bold choices with a beloved property do. Much remains to be seen as to how this revelation changes the galaxy we thought we knew, but one thing is clear: One way or another, nothing will be the same from here on out.
- The Mandalorian culture feels ancient and mysterious, while also fitting like a perfect puzzle piece into the Star Wars universe fans are familiar with. While it’s clear that The Mandalorian is revealing a new chapter in the history of the Mandalorian people, interested viewers can check out the presence of the Mandalorians and their culture in both The Clone Wars and Rebels animated series (conveniently available on Disney+ and highly recommended by this reviewer).
- If the scraps of the Empire sent the Mandalorian after that special target, who sent the IG-11 droid? And why was the droid’s mission a "kill only” bounty?
- The concept artwork that appears behind the closing credits is an amazing addition.
- Some will decry fan service when it comes to the inclusion of elements like "Life Day" and the Mandalorian's updated form of the legendary Boba Fett's carbon-freezing technique for storing precious cargo, but many fans will dig it, too.
- Star Wars fans are going to want The Mandalorian soundtrack, guaranteed.
Final Verdict: The Mandalorian is an absolute blast, and, for some, will be the best Star Wars has offered so far.
Star Wars will easily own the next two months. When it comes to The Mandalorian, if the first episode is representative of what to expect from the next seven episodes, fans are in for a real treat and, between this series and The Rise of Skywalker, the Star Wars universe of 2020 will be expanded and different in many ways from the one we currently know now in late 2019.
Directed by: Dave Filoni
Written by: Jon Favreau