After what seems like an eternity it’s finally here! Some 5 months since its debut in America viewers in the UK can now finally get to see what all the fuss is about. The very first live action Star Wars television series kicks off the launch of Disney+ in impressive style. The show is set several years after the events of Return of the Jedi in which the Empire was seemingly defeated. Leaving behind the rebellion and the Jedi, The Mandalorian takes us out to the more remote regions of the galaxy. Lawlessness runs rife in the Outer Rim and bounty hunters operate freely. Amongst their ranks one man stands tall, clad in the distinctive armour and helmet of a Mandalorian warrior. When a supposedly routine bounty ends up becoming a whole lot more complicated it will take all his strength and cunning to keep one step ahead of both the Empire and his former partners.
Disney have entrusted this vitally important next step in the Star Wars franchise to the always reliable Jon Favreau, and why not? He kick started the phenomenally successful Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man and raked in billions more with his live action/CGI adaptations of Jungle Book and The Lion King. Under his guidance this first episode is directed by Dave Filoni, a name familiar to Star Wars fans as the creative mind behind the animated hit series’ Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars: Rebels and Star Wars: Resistance. This is his first foray into live action and he acquits himself admirably. With a whopping 15 million dollars reportedly being spent on every episode Disney is taking this show seriously as evidenced by the talent both behind and in front of the camera.
Game of Thrones alumnus Pedro Pascal portrays the titular bounty hunter and does so with the laconic swagger of a young Clint Eastwood. This is no mean feat when you consider he has to do so whilst completely covered by the distinctive armour and helmet. Also, much like Eastwood’s famous gunslinger, Mando is a man of few words. His actions and Pascal’s body language have to do all the talking. Luckily for him he’s assisted in this as a lot of the heavy lifting is done by the beautifully designed armour. With the same style as that of fan favourite Boba Fett it’s easy to see why the Disney producers decided the first live action Star Wars show should be all about a similar figure.
Supporting cast comes in the shape of some heavy hitters. Carl Weathers plays Greef Karga, the bounty hunter guild liaison responsible for providing Mando with his next targets. Director Werner Herzog plays The Client, an enigmatic former Imperial who has a special bounty he wants Mando to track down. Herzog’s carefully metered speech pattern is hypnotic and he has a commanding presence every time he is on screen. Nick Nolte provides the voice of Kuiil, an ugnaught that helps Mando out on his latest hunt. Rounding out the impressive list is current Hollywood golden boy Taika Waititi. The Thor: Ragnarok helmer voices IG-11, a rival bounty hunter droid who must reluctantly team up with Mando to take down a ruthless gang. Waititi imbues the droid with an abundance of personality and proves once again he is a real all-round talent.
Favreau and Filoni have made the wise decision to make The Mandalorian a smaller more intimate story. Star Wars has always been about big screen spectacle, epic stories of galaxy spanning adventures. Knowing they would be unable to replicate this sort of scale on television, instead they’ve taken a far simpler and more straightforward approach. George Lucas took his love for old adventure serials, Joseph Campbell’s ideas on myth and Akira Kurosawa movies and combined them to create his original masterpiece. He always said his idea was to create a modern mythology much like that of the cowboy stories before. Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni have taken this western theme and run with it, The Mandalorian plays exactly like a spaghetti western. I already mentioned the similarities between the main character and Eastwood’s “man with no name”. The very first shot of our hero is as he enters a bar, all that’s missing is the swinging saloon doors. Added to the ensuing bar room brawl are plenty more western tropes. Mando has to corral and learn to ride a blurgg, a lizard type creature, and the final showdown happens in a canyon where the bad guys have set up their stronghold.
One of the biggest departures from what you’d expect in a Star Wars show is the music. Keeping with the western theme Ludwig Goransson delivers a score much more in the style of Ennio Morricone than of the traditional John Williams’ fanfares. In fact the familiar refrain of William’s now legendary soundtrack is nowhere to be found. Strangely though I didn’t miss it like I thought I would. The Mandalorian is such a different beast that the pipes and sometimes growling guitars of Goransson’s score fit perfectly.
One thing that the show absolutely nails is the aesthetic and just all round feeling of Star Wars. This first episode is dripping with everything that takes you instantly to that galaxy far far away, without ever feeling like fan service. All the worlds we visit are brand new but yet somehow many to feel familiar. Spaceships and speeders have new designs but look exactly like they fit right into the original trilogy. Even the architecture with its distinctive domes and assorted wall mounted “greeblies” just feels right. I’ll freely admit it brought a massive smile to me face when Mando goes to visit The Client and walks straight into a room of classic stormtroopers. Looking filthy and a little worse for wear in these fading days of the Empire it is a delight to see them in action once again.
The designers have done some deep dives into the Lucasfilm archive to bring some old school touches to The Mandalorian. His distinctive looking rifle is the same one Boba Fett brandished in the animated segment of the much ridiculed and rarely seen Star Wars Holiday Special. The blurggs that Mando and Kuiil ride are taken straight from the made for TV Ewok movies from the mid eighties. In a little nod to their origins, the shot of the blurggs as seen through a pair of macrobinoculars is actually done with stop motion animation. Similarly a few shots of the main spaceship, the Razorcrest, are also accomplished with an actual model. Visual effects legend John Knolls hand-built a motion control rig in his garage and shot an actual model on an ILM soundstage for the first time in over a decade. It’s the little things like this that show the love that has been put into the show.
We come to the part where I have to address the little green elephant in the room. At the end of the episode Mando has tracked down his bounty. Dispatching all the guards, and his droid rival, he finally lays eyes on his prize. The only information we have been given up to this point is that the target is fifty years old. This is actually a lovely piece of misdirection. Yes the bounty may be fifty but when a species lives for hundreds of years that really isn’t very old at all. Referred to in the show as the asset, the cargo or sometimes as just the child, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months you’ll know him by his internet bestowed moniker, Baby Yoda. Obviously he’s not Baby Yoda but seeing as we don’t even yet know the name of Yoda’s species it’s as good a name as any. It’s a shame that the reveal of Baby Yoda isn’t going to come as surprise to many people. The result of a contract Disney already had in place with Sky meant that they couldn’t launch Disney+ in the UK until March. Unfortunately in this social media age that meant everyone knew about Baby Yoda whether they wanted to or not. It also made The Mandalorian one of the most pirated TV shows of all time. Regardless of this, he is incredibly cute and it’s not at all surprising to see he’s taken the pop culture world by storm.
The only real negative I can think of with The Mandalorian is its running time. If you take off the credits it only comes in at just under thirty five minutes. I was really surprised by this on my first viewing. I just assumed we’d be getting the now standard hour long episodes we’ve come to expect. It was slightly disappointing after so much hype. I suppose in a way it’s a compliment that I wanted more. Talking of the end credits, they comprise of concept artwork for the episode and are well worth watching.
So, the very first live action Star Wars show has begun and it does not disappoint. Capturing the feel of the classic movies perfectly, whilst also treading its own path, The Mandalorian has been well worth the wait. Favreau, Filoni and the whole of Lucasfilm have obviously poured a lot of love and effort into this production and they have done a superb job in kicking off this new adventure.
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