Words: Paul Bradshaw
There’s a lot riding on The Mandalorian. The first live action Star Wars TV show since the dodgy Ewok specials of the ’80s; the flagship title of Disney’s new streaming service; and one of the most expensive TV shows ever made – the series is also our first glimpse at what Star Wars will look like after The Rise Of Skywalker has been and gone. More importantly, it’s also a chance to make bounty hunters cool again.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Mandalorians are a tribe of proud warriors from the planet Mandalore – always keeping their helmets on, rarely speaking and happy to hire out their blasters to the highest bidder. Looking like meaner, shinier Stormtroopers, packing wrist-mounted flamethrowers, retractable grappling hooks and nifty jet packs, they’re basically the Buzz Lightyear of the Star Wars universe – the toy everyone wants to play with.
The generation that grew up with the original trilogy had Boba Fett – a character who became a fan favourite despite only getting five lines and one of the dumbest deaths in the movies. Later came Jango (Boba’s dad in the prequels), Sabine (the female explosives specialist in animated series Star Wars Rebels) and a whole tribe of flying, flaming Mandos in various spin-offs, games, books and comics. Now then, we have “the Mandalorian” an unnamed badass who may or may not be related to any of the others. Is he going to eventually turn out to be a resurrected Boba? Sabine’s brother? Jango’s long lost uncle? It doesn’t matter. Because one episode in, this Mandalorian is already better than the rest.
Right from the start, The Mandalorian feels like Star Wars. There’s no John Williams score, and no familiar faces from the films, but showrunner Jon Favreau (Iron Man, The Lion King) and director Dave Filoni (The Clone Wars, Rebels) nail the look, tone and texture of George Lucas’ battered sci-fi worlds. The camerawork has a dusty grain to it, all the edges seem nicely worn down, and everything looks slightly handmade (in a good way). For better or worse, the show feels like it could have been made right after 1983’s Return Of The Jedi, which is exactly when The Mandalorian is set.
The Empire has just fallen, the First Order hasn’t formed yet and the galaxy is in a state of turmoil. We open on a seedy-looking saloon and the titular Mandalorian makes his entrance like Clint Eastwood in space. Swap the helmets for Stetsons, the blasters for revolvers and the weird CG ice planet for Mexico, and you could basically be watching The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. Pedro Pascal (Narcos) is our new hero (although we don’t get to see his face in the first episode so it could be anyone under there) and he quickly wins us over by silently saving a blue fish man from a gang of thugs, dragging him off in handcuffs, and freezing him in a block of carbonite. The Mandalorian is a bounty hunter, and ‘fish man’ is his first catch of the day.
The trouble is, things are pretty tight since Luke Skywalker blew up the Empire. Money isn’t worth much anymore, there are Death Star dropouts everywhere, and bounty hunting doesn’t pay like it used to. Luckily for the Mandalorian, there are still a few people willing to pay for the tough jobs and he meets with “The Client” (legendary German director Werner Herzog, in one of the most weirdly perfect casting decisions ever) to take on a dangerous gig that’s obviously going to go really, really wrong.
Briefly teaming up with a droid (Taika Waititi, in a role that really should have been bigger), the Mandalorian steals the show’s first big action set-piece with a giant machine gun and finds the worst kept secret on the Internet. It turns out his target is ‘Baby Yoda’ – the cutest thing in Star Wars and best meme of 2019 – which obviously melts his cold, dark bounty hunter heart, setting up the rest of the series to be some kind of action-packed sci-fi babysitter show.
At just over half an hour long, Filoni packs a lot into the first episode. The story (and the dialogue) is kept to a minimum, but it already feels like we’ve spent a long time with The Mandalorian. Shamelessly swashbuckling and oddly old-fashioned for a series that has so much to gain from winning over newer, younger viewers, episode one is an absolute treat for Star Wars fans who have been waiting years for this. Sparse enough to feel bigger than it is, slick without looking over-polished, and introducing a moody, mumbly antihero that is somehow already worth caring about, The Mandalorian is off to a great start. Now it just has to keep it up for another seven episodes…
‘The Mandalorian’ episode one arrives on Disney+ in the UK in March 2020