The Mandalorian: Chapter 1 Review
Back in 2005, George Lucas floated the idea that Star Wars would be coming to TV as a live-action series. Production on Revenge of the Sith was wrapping up and during his Star Wars Celebration III appearance, George talked about a TV series being part of the future of Star Wars. Over the next years, that idea became Star Wars: Underworld but never actually saw the light of day. Despite having over 50 scripts written, Lucas said that it would have cost too much to produce so the project was shelved by 2010.
Over the last decade, TV production has changed. TV show productions rival movies in terms of budget and quality. With the Disney purchase of LucasFilm and looking to make a splash for the launch of their Disney+ streaming service, Star Wars was chosen as the flagship franchise to lead Disney into the online age. And that brings us to The Mandalorian, a story of a Mandalorian bounty hunter who takes on a lucrative but dangerous job….
Spoiler Warning: This review may contain some spoilers for The Mandalorian and other Star Wars TV series, movies and novels.
The first thing to note about The Mandalorian is that our titular hero, yet unnamed, is not a featured character from any other media. Similarly, we don’t meet any familiar characters from elsewhere in Star Wars (unless they’re bit characters in comics or novels). What we get is a story from a galaxy much larger than the heroes the Republic or the Rebellion or the Resistance. In that way, The Mandalorian seems similar to the planned Underworld series which was supposed to focus primarily on minor characters from the old Expanded Universe or other new characters with minimal appearances from major characters from the movies.
While it’s not directly tied to the movies, The Mandalorian does certainly look and feel like classic Star Wars. The show starts in a dangerous bar on a planet with that seems to have only one climatic feature (that being frozen on the surface). We see the return of classic aliens that seem to be forgotten about in the movies including a quarren, trandosian devaronian and ugnaught. Kowakian monkey-lizards make a cameo that’s no laughing matter. There’s even a callback to the Holiday Special. And, of course, someone loses some body parts.
From a design standpoint, most locations visited have the classic dirty and lived-in feel that was typical of the original trilogy. There is little in the way of polished metals and bright lights. Even the small group of stormtroopers that appear had dirty armour as opposed to the pristine white armour that would be expected by the Empire.
One of the standout elements of the show is that it has a classic western / gunslinger vibe to it. Sure, George liked to think of Star Wars as a space western but it grew into a space opera over the years. The visuals certainly invoke an Old West and old Western movies feel to the galaxy. The hand-drawn-style images in the end credits invokes a classic movie aesthetic. As for the man himself, The Mandalorian prefers to keep to himself and let his actions do his talking. If you look at the first and last scenes, he certainly seems to have a moral code that he adheres to.
I was slightly surprised that he was talking in this first episode but I was quite surprised how vulnerable he seemed this early in the show. Mando managed to look like an unstoppable bad-ass in some scenes and like he was in over his head in others. It’s very much the opposite of most Star Wars heroes who are seldom touched. Even if The Mandalorian survives, some of his close calls are closer than most of what our heroes usually get into apart from some Skywalker family dismemberment and Chewie taking a blaster bolt in The Force Awakens. It’s a way of humanizing a character who can seem like the opposite because he never shows his face.
From an action standpoint, we got some scenes that felt typical of Star Wars but with a gunslinger / bounty hunter twist. There was a bar fight but mostly hand-to-hand combat. The final shootout includes a move by The Mando that felt right out of the Clone Wars animated series. I could see Anakin pulling off a similar move.
And the very final scene was wonderfully shot. The surprise reveal of the bounty target and the way it was shot will be one of the iconic images of this show and we were only 35 minutes into it. If there’s anything that could be a cliffhanger to get people to tune in for the next episode (not that Star Wars fans would need the encouragement), it would have been that reveal.
One big drawback that people may have with this episode is that it was only 39 minutes long from the Disney logo at the start to the end of the credits. That would be short for a network television show. Given the freedom of a streaming service, Jon Favreau could have written an episode that was as long as he wanted. While the episode never felt rushed, it did move at a brisk pace. Even the quiet moments were fleshing out the characters or the plot so it never felt like it was lagging but it also never felt like you had a break.
An example of that would be the scene in the Mandalorian enclave that The Mando visits to get beskar steel forged for his armour. It’s a nice taste of Mandalorian culture and of The Mandalorian’s backstory woven together. I feel the culture and the backstory could have worked as separate vignettes but it was a bit too over the top when put together. It’s not a bad scene (scenes?) as is but given the importance of both the culture and backstory to understanding the character, I felt like the bouncing back and forth was too much editing to keep track of the important information. It was more spectacle than story.
Overall, it’s a good episode but it’s also important to note that it’s an introductory episode. The premiere has to introduce a whole cast of new characters, a new time period in this version of canon and the Star Wars spin on a classic profession. The real measure of the show will be how the story, world and characters develop over the next seven episodes.
Other random points of note:
- This episode was directed by Dave Filoni who is in charge of LucasFilm Animation. He’s the mind behind the Clone Wars, Rebels and Resistance animated series (also all available on Disney+). This is his first live-action effort and it didn’t turn out too bad. He had a lot of work to do in only 39 minutes (well, probably closer to 36 without credits) and did a pretty damn good job for a rookie.
- I won’t spoil the other big names attached to this series but there are quite a few prominent actors who haven’t appeared yet. I’m glad they kept the story primarily focused on The Mando without spamming supporting characters at us to the point we struggle to remember who everyone is. How many people said that about Game of Thrones. You’ve got eight episodes so you may as well let things breathe.
- I have spoken.
While the series premiere of The Mandalorian was on a Tuesday, the next episode is on this Friday. Despite only being an eight-episode season, Disney found a way to make a bizarre schedule with two episodes in the series’ first week and moving the episode premiering during The Rise of Skywalker release week to Wednesday so we can all see it before the movie. Well, “all” meaning Canada, America and the Netherlands. As of next week, that will include Australia and New Zealand. Everyone else wanting to see The Mandalorian as will be sailing the high seas.