The Mandalorian is finally here! Disney+ has launched, and we’re all finally able to see just how much life changed after the Empire fell. Sure, it has been discussed in books, and we’ve jumped ahead to the (temporarily) stable time of the New Republic in Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but we’ve never truly seen the fallout of the power vacuum. In Chapter 1, we get our first glimpse, and I have to say that the world looks very familiar.
Feels Like Home
In the run-up to the release of the show, loads of the press focused on how The Mandalorian feels like old Star Wars, original trilogy Star Wars. That look and feel was a stated goal of show creator Jon Favreau, and he certainly achieved his goal. All of the grit of Mos Eisley and the isolation of Hoth are felt from the opening scenes, both in location and setting. The lighting of the opening scenes is dark and natural, reminiscent of Solo: A Star Wars Story, but in a way that makes the show feel more grounded. The bright colors and ornate designs of the prequel trilogy are stripped away, and we’re back to a lived-in world on the edges of the galaxy far, far away.
As we change planets, we find The Mandalorian in another cantina meeting Greef Carga (Carl Weathers) of the Bounty Hunters Guild. This cantina feels much more like Mos Eisley, minus the catchy music. Numerous alien species are present, all minding their own business. As The Mandalorian moves on to meet his client, we see a few items that feel like references to Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, but function more as establishing points to show that this show is part of something much larger. I was particularly fond of seeing the gatekeeper droid, which I affectionately call a doorbell droid. You’ll recognize it from Jabba’s Palace but to me, it felt more like the Star Wars version of a Ring doorbell. Still, it’s a subtle reminder that we’ve seen this world before, and it hasn’t changed all that much.
Once he meets his new unnamed client, played by Werner Herzog, The Mandalorian, we’re treated to a scene with dirty, on-the-edge stormtroopers. Herzog’s character has some connection to the fallen Empire as well, though we don’t yet know what, but clearly everyone has seen better times. That the troopers retain their original trilogy design further establishes this show as part of the Star Wars of old. No more clone troopers, or sleek and upgraded First Order helmets. These troopers have seen better days, and they look like new ones aren’t coming any time soon.
A Quiet, Rounded Character
Some early reactions have painted Pedro Pascal’s Mandalorian as a limited and borderline robotic character (at least so far) but I disagree. Throughout the episode, The Mandalorian’s personality shines through, even when he’s not saying anything at all. This is evident right from the opening scene, where he lets his actions do the talking.
Our hero, known only as The Mandalorian right now, gets into a bar fight that goes bad real quick…for the other guys. Much like Obi-Wan in Mos Eisley, he makes short work of the thugs challenging him and we’re told right away that this Mandalorian is most decisively NOT a pacifist. At the same time, he lacks the cruelty usually prescribed to bounty hunters, giving his first target a choice: come quietly and live, or make a fuss and die trying.
Later, when a new player walks into a meeting with Herzog’s former Imperial, we see another example of The Mandalorian’s quick trigger tempered by restraint. He could have just as easily killed Herzog’s stormtroopers, but instead is content with the Mexican standoff and negotiating. This Mandalorian is pragmatic and lets reason win the day. We see a better example of his pragmatism when IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi) shows up to collect his target in the final act. Rather than compete, The Mandalorian displays quick thinking and teams up with his fellow Guild member for strength in numbers. It works out, leading to a thrilling final sequence.
Perhaps most of all, we see this Mandalorian is kind, with a strong sense of doing the right thing, not the best thing for him. He doesn’t haggle payments with the cab driver, and insists on paying Kuiil, the Ugnaught hunter (voiced by Nick Nolte) that guides him to his final destination. He doesn’t act above those who help him and instead shows genuine appreciation. All of this is done subtlely and masterfully by Pascal, who manages to emote a surprising amount of empathy in his modulated voice.
The Big Reveal
Ahead of the launch, the New York Times reported would be a massive Star Wars universe spoiler in the opening episode. Many assumed it would be that Boba Fett is still alive. What we got instead was completely out of left field, and a genuine surprise. I’ll avoid the spoiler, but suffice to say it was not what anyone expected or predicted and sets a surprising tone that plays even more into the empathy already shown by Pascal’s performance.
What this does is set up the show for quite the wild ride in the remaining seven episodes of season 1. Now that we know just how…different Favreau and executive producer Dave Filoni are willing to be, we know to expect the unexpected. This is a level of fun we haven’t seen from Star Wars in a long time and leaves the audience wanting more immediately.
Well Paced, Most of the Time
One of the episode’s strengths is the pacing. Knowing that this is a television show, episode director Filoni doesn’t dwell long on any given moment. His experience in directing 22-minute animated shows shines through here; however, that same experience also reveals the slightly rushed nature of Filoni’s storytelling, particularly in the back half of the episode. Part of this is character work. The Mandalorian is a man who gets things done quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, this also means he never stops moving forward with the narrative, when a little bit of extra exposition would go a long way. He goes from landing on Arvala-7 to being attacked by wild Blurrgs to learning how to ride one to arriving at his final destination in the span of five minutes of screen time. Is The Mandalorian a nature rider? Maybe. But it all happens so fast that it feels very convenient and a rush to get to the end of the episode before time runs out for the big battle sequence. While I’m sure we’ll get more backstory on Kuiil soon, it would have been nice to know just a little bit more. Filoni is used to very tight broadcast constraints and factoring in commercial breaks. He didn’t have to do that here on a streaming platform, but it still feels like he did it anyway.
8.5/10 – Great
Chapter 1 of The Mandalorian is a great first step in the larger world of live-action Star Wars television. It moves quickly and ends on one hell of a cliff-hanger, leaving the audience begging for more. Thankfully, they only have to wait a few days for the next episode.
For more thoughts on this episode, including a spoiler-filled discussion of the big reveal at the end of the episode, check out our Recap Show on YouTube!