NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Mandalorian” are present in this review
Disney’s much-anticipated Disney+ streaming platform is finally here, at least, for Canada, the U.S. and the Netherlands. While the selection of decades’ worth of Disney movies and television shows has naturally been a big incentive for early subscribers to the streaming service as well, the highly ambitious lineup of original movies and shows that are in the pipeline for Disney+ also has a lot of people justifiably excited. Leading the charge for the platform’s original TV series content right from Disney+’s initial launch however is The Mandalorian, a live-action Star Wars spin-off series that centers around the titular character, a nameless bounty hunter from the scattered Mandalorian tribe. If you’re not sure what a Mandalorian is, think Boba/Jango Fett from the earlier Star Wars movies, and there you go. That’s a Mandalorian.
On top of being the first high-profile genre series for Disney+, The Mandalorian also marks the first successfully-launched live-action Star Wars television series in general, which will also be cause for excitement among Star Wars fans. I have to say as well that, if this first episode is any indication, The Mandalorian is amazingly well-produced for a streaming series to boot, not quite meeting the same outstanding production levels of LucasFilm’s Star Wars movies, but coming pretty damn close! The set design, costume work and CGI are all pretty fantastic for the most part, outside of some of the alien makeup not being quite as detailed as it is in the Star Wars movies most notably. All in all though, The Mandalorian looks and feels like it fits right in with the Star Wars universe, which is a very exciting testament to what’s in store for the Star Wars brand on the small screen, considering that Disney has several more live-action Star Wars shows in the works for Disney+ at this point.
On the note of expanding the Star Wars universe to new and exciting small screen territory, this first episode for The Mandalorian presents a pretty straightforward storyline, but a very intriguing one nonetheless. The titular character, played by Pedro Pascal, begins the series with a pretty exceptional establishment of his character, as he hunts a bounty to a snowy bar, shortly before roughing up some of the disagreeable patrons. After subsequently freezing the alien in carbonite, in true Mandalorian fashion, the Mandalorian then gets pointed to an especially lucrative job, being given out under the table by a nameless client, played by Werner Herzog. The job is pretty simple on paper; Recover a 50-year-old asset from a nearby planet, which is guarded by a few not-so-nice aliens. After being promised a big payout, The Mandalorian naturally heads right for this asset too, and this is where the end of this first episode, and the inciting incident of the series as a whole, eventually leads us to.
The atmosphere, character work and action are all superb in this first episode of The Mandalorian, on top of presenting a formerly unseen corner of the current Star Wars canon, namely just five years after the events of the Empire’s fall in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, and a short while before the First Order would rise to take their place for Disney’s soon-wrapping trilogy of new Star Wars movies. This is reflected in times being tough for the life of a bounty hunter, with issues like Imperial money no longer being useful, and bounty-hunting gigs being highly diminished, now that there’s no Empire around to cause trouble. There’s also a lot of cool issues being hinted at for the Mandalorian tribe as well, who remain scattered and without much of their resources, yet are forced to pick up the pieces within a galaxy that’s no longer at war. A lot of this setup is going to be a bit lost on people who aren’t already avid Star Wars fans, mind you, but even if you’ve stuck exclusively to the current run of Star Wars movies before this point, The Mandalorian is pretty easy to follow for the most part, while hinting at more interesting developments with the titular character’s tribe down the line.
Despite all of the great quality and easy praise that one could level at the first half of this debut episode for The Mandalorian though, it is also true that the second half of this debut offering is a bit less consistent. Once The Mandalorian actually makes it to the planet that the asset he’s chasing is located on, he’s stuck in an awkward comedy routine with the local creatures to start, following a moisture farmer, played by Nick Nolte, trying to encourage The Mandalorian to learn to ride the local mounts. This is clearly meant to show that The Mandalorian doesn’t want to be humourless, but at the same time, when the rest of this first episode is so dark and violent in tone (while still not violating the family-friendly foundation of Disney+), it’s a bit weird to suddenly go from that, to this weird sequence where The Mandalorian is getting thrown around by a dumb alien beast, while being berated by an eccentric Nick Nolte alien.
Fortunately though, that’s really the worst that one will notice in an otherwise very strong kick-off to what appears to be a very promising live-action Star Wars series. The episode even ends on a pretty awesome action sequence to boot, after The Mandalorian finds where his mysterious asset is being holed up, only to witness a bounty hunter droid called ‘IG-11’ (played rather humourously by Taika Waititi), hoarding the prize. After IG-11 ends up cornered however, The Mandalorian teams up with him, taking out a huge wave of aliens, complete with a mounted turret, before the duo finally make it to whatever they’re after. To the surprise and inevitable delight of Star Wars fans as well, what The Mandalorian and IG-11 are seeking is actually a baby version of Yoda’s species! Considering that Yoda was supposed to be the last of his kind, at least according to the older Star Wars movies, this is a very interesting development, hinting that this tiny creature could be either a reincarnation of Yoda, or perhaps an all-new character with Yoda’s same potential. Either way, when IG-11 tries to kill the baby, The Mandalorian shoots him first, ultimately deciding to protect the baby Yoda creature, as the episode ends.
Like I said, The Mandalorian isn’t a terribly complicated series in its debut, but that’s not really a bad thing at this stage. This is, after all, anyone’s first attempt at a live-action Star Wars television series, and as it stands, said attempt appears to have been a big success, at least from the outset. The Mandalorian’s light-hearted elements don’t currently mesh effectively with the superior action and dark tone, but that’s a kink that could be easily refined and smoothed out in future episodes. Even then, series creator and flagship writer, Jon Favreau has legitimately managed to create a small screen Star Wars experience that feels just as cool and rewarding to watch as the big screen ones in most respects, and that’s no small feat! Pedro Pascal is particularly awesome in the lead role, and supporting cast members like Werner Herzog, Nick Nolte and Taika Waititi also give the series a surprising amount of star power, without becoming distracting. It’s very exciting to see the first big genre series specifically made for Disney+ come together so well, and while the future of the Star Wars movies under Disney remains frustratingly unreliable, at least the franchise’s future seems to be assured in the television space.
- Lots of great characters, particularly Pascal's Mandalorian
- High production value almost completely emulates the Star Wars movies
- Rich, shadowy tone amid some great action
- Humour-driven elements are a weak link