You know how I know The Mandalorian is good? Because despite Disney+‘s best efforts to hide it from critics, launch it at 3/6am ET on a random Tuesday, and do pretty much everything in their power to de-hype the premiere for the pros out there who had to cover it, it’s still a rockin’ good time in a galaxy far, far away. Some spoilers follow, but if you want a recap of the premiere episode or a place to ask questions after watching it, check out these links.
As for my review, Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni are off to a great start with the first-ever live-action Star Wars series. The Mandalorian goes back to a grittier time, both in Star Wars lore and chronology as well as in a more practical effects aspect. You can really feel the many set pieces that are on display in the premiere, from an ice-crusted planet inhabited by ne’er-do-wells (who frequent a dive bar), to a more urban locale resembling Tatooine that’s populated by ne’er-do-wells (who frequent a dive bar), to a mountainous desert setting that also features ne’er-do-wells, though they opt to guard a highly prized bounty target when not chilling at a dive bar. And that’s where The Mandalorian goes from a tale worth telling to a story befitting Star Wars‘ vast mythology.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First up, Pedro Pascal. This guy is The Mandalorian, even if we never see his pretty face (an oversight on the creative team’s behalf, if I do say so myself … Will he actually be an alien species we aren’t expecting? I don’t think so.) He’s got swagger, charisma, the skills to survive and succeed in the bounty-hunting profession but also the heart to make sure his allies are taken care of (either through coin or a well-placed blaster shot, if need be); it’s also clear that he puts himself in harm’s way to ensure that innocents are protected. We get plenty of action sequences to show how proficient The Mandalorian is at his job, but, perhaps surprisingly, an equal amount of time is spent in quieter moments where our antihero deploys diplomacy or non-violence rather than laser blasts, flamethrowing, or wrist-fired harpoons. He’s a well-rounded character with a tragic past, and that’s someone we can all rally behind.
But while the Mandalorian’s lore is doled out just enough to keep things interesting and mysterious, the supporting cast is a little more frustratingly obscured early on in the series. Characters are never really introduced by name and even the credits only remark on them as The Client or the Armorer. So whether these names are intentionally kept secret until they’re revealed in an aha moment later on (probably) or they’re just placeholders because their names or histories aren’t important (less probably, but still possible), the effect is that the characters in the world surrounding the Mandalorian feel tacked-on or unfinished.
Take Werner Herzog‘s Client. He sufficiently mysterious, a little bit menacing, and very manipulative; there’s a lot more going on here that we’ll hopefully find out about. Carl Weathers‘ Greef Carga, who’s never named, only shows up as the Mandalorian’s bounty hunter guild contact here; we’ll see much more of him in future episodes, but he’s almost a throwaway character in this first episode. The same goes for Nick Nolte‘s Ugnaught, who just shows up to save the Mandalorian, teach him how to ride a Blurrg, and show him the alien encampment before riding off into the sunset; just a cool role for the three-time Oscar-nominee, or something more? We’ll have to stay tuned to find out. Taika Waititi‘s bounty droid IG-11 gets a scene-stealing introduction, however, he’s quickly dispatched. Since he’s a droid, we’re hoping he survived the blast delivered by his temporary ally-turned-foe. (Oh and we’ll have to wait until future episodes to see the first appearances by Gina Carano and Giancarlo Esposito.)
Stunt casting aside, Favreau and FIloni have positively packed this world with Star Wars lore and Easter eggs; there’s something around every corner. And guiding us through those twists and turns is a banger of a score by Ludwig Göransson who blends cantina-level ditties with a Western gun-slinging feel and that classic Star Wars sound. More please.
What The Mandalorian does exceptionally well is give us a well-tempered bounty hunter with a heart, an antihero who will happily dispatch dozens of armed alien guards and is quick to execute an ally when the situation demands it, but won’t mindlessly kill a baby alien just because the bounty demands it. Now, whether the Mandalorian will return this member of Yoda’s species to his client or whether he’ll see his past as a refugee and Foundling in this little 50-year-old bundle of joy remains to be seen. But the complexity introduced by Pascal’s performance, Favreau’s writing, and Filoni’s direction is enough to keep us engaged. Let’s just hope the rest of the world firms up around him. In Filoni and Favreau we trust.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good