Before we start with this overview/review of Disney+’s new and “first” Star Wars live-action series, I’d like to mention I might mention spoilers going forward. You’ve been warned.
You may have noticed first in quotes. There have been Christmas specials on TV, so that’s why. With that out of the way, The Mandalorian is the real live-action series with an actual budget behind it. I believe 10 million per episode, and it shows.
The production values are out of this world for a TV show. We’re talking as good as the Star Wars films here and way better in atmosphere and mood than anything Disney has served until now in the last Skywalker trilogy (see what I did there). The less said about these films, the better, and I fear 2019 will be remembered for The Mandalorian and not the Rise of Skywalker. I do hope I’m proven wrong next month, but somehow, I doubt it.
Back to the Mandalorian. It’s a great show visually, has epic effects (the only other show I can think of that has as good special effects would be Altered Carbon), and has great direction. The mood is reminiscent of Empire Strikes Back, and if you want to emulate something Star Wars, that’s the way to go! I predict that if we get good, new Star Wars movies going forward, the name John Favreau will be attached to them. Just like he kicked off the Marvel cinematic universe, which gave us 22 epic movies of the first three phases of the MCU with Iron Man, he is doing something with The Mandalorian that could be similar.
The episodes (numbering three at the time of this blog writing) are a tad short, between 30 and 38 minutes. But they contain no fluff, so I’m fine with that. I’d rather have shorter works of quality than longer works of dullness (I look at you The Last Jedi).
The plot is relatively simple, but it’s effective. It gets our protagonist from one place to another with all the adventures and action scenes that go with it. And that’s where the show shines, in my humble opinion, in the set pieces where we are shown our hero’s fighting skills. Humor is present too, but done the right way, without becoming silly (again, looking at you The Last Jedi with that stupid trolling in the first three minutes of the movie).
I can’t get enough of the world that Favreau & Filoni are masterfully presenting to us. In this area, make no mistake, is STAR WARS. Finally, it took over twenty years to get that feeling right once more. And I hope that the series lives on for many years.
The show’s creators are smart here; they don’t try to drown the plot with too many subplots. Instead, we’re laser-focused on the protagonist, and we have all the elements we love about this expansive universe that is Star Wars. The pilot ends with a twist, as it should be, introducing a cute character that looks like baby Yoda-like, even though he’s said to be 50 years old (but then we know Yoda’s race can live for centuries so it could mean they are infants for the first one or so). This creature is cute and will probably sell a shitload of plush toys for the upcoming holiday season.
Episode two gets us more of the past, in terms of the Jawas making a return. The Mandalorian goes against one of their giant vehicles, and the set piece is fun and nice in scope as well. There again, plenty of action and simple plot development make for a pretty good episode where we learn more about our protagonist and storyline. As expected, the Yoda-like baby has the force and seems quite strong, even though it seems to drain him when he uses it.
In episode three, The Mandalorian is bringing back his bounty—the infant—and faces the dilemma of abandoning it to the people that once belonged to the empire. And in case you haven’t seen the show but still decide to read this blog post, I will not say any more other than the way our character deals with the situation is quite obvious, but still, he does the right thing.
The acting is rather good so far; we even get some Nick Nolte goodness in a couple of episodes, and while Carl Weathers’ character could have been more complex, his acting, overall, is pretty good. I will not lie in the fact that I expected a little more from him, though.
We are reminded that Mandalorians don’t remove their helmets in exposition dialogue, and the voice actor of the protagonist, Pedro Pascal, does an excellent job in grounding this character within the well-established boundaries of the show.
We also learn a little more about the Mandalorian lore through the main female boss, who also crafts the Mandalorian’s armor and upgrades. The mood is fantastic and is like a western in space and definitely does a great job in rekindling my love for Star Wars on that front, and it does it with ease.
The music is very different from John Williams’ masterful orchestral symphonies and could be a point of contention for some. But I happen to like it okay. It gives this show an identity of its own and doesn’t try to pull your strings with older, established themes that are forever linked to other characters we’re unlikely to ever see in this slice of the Star Wars universe. It’s darker, more moody, and electronic, but overall, it works for me. I was worried at first it would do what Babylon Crusade’s music did, turn me off the show with it’s too experimental and too out there approach. But that’s not the case here.
The show has a controlled violence. By that I mean there are violent scenes and kills, but they often appear off camera or out of direct sight. This is, after all, branded Disney. But I am happy they didn’t try to candy coat everything and the overall mood is dark enough, even if I wouldn’t have minded an appearance of gory dismemberment and blood! But Favreau and Filoni have managed to give some of that without the gruesome mess, and that works while still keeping a PG-13 rating, I guess.
Characters are plenty. We have droids, we have mentors, and we have old and new, and all of that seems well defined in the Star Wars of old and helps ground this show as a natural extension of the original trilogy’s mythos. For that alone, The Mandalorian is a show that requires your attention, that is, if Disney hasn’t buried your love of this franchise fifteen feet under. Still, if you ever held love for this universe, you owe it to yourself to give The Mandalorian a try. I think you’ll like it.
I’m looking forward to more episodes, way more than I look forward to the Rise of Skywalker. The good news is that Star Wars may still live on if Disney can get the right creators (Favreau & Filoni, in this case). Let’s hope episodes 7 through 9 were mistakes from which Disney has learned. If it’s any indication, The Mandalorian gets what Star Wars truly means, and even if it’s a rather simple show plot-wise, it breathes brio and respect back into Star Wars.
Christian Kallias (Free ebooks at christiankallias.com)