At this point, I really don’t need to explain how big of a franchise Star Wars has been for the past four decades since its enduring cultural legacy and monumental impact on practically every major form of media clearly does the job for me. However, some of you might be surprised to learn that the one facet of the media landscape that Star Wars hasn’t really delved into until recently is live-action television. Yes, for the longest time, the Star Wars franchise’s forays into television were primarily animated. This included, among others, the two spin-off series in the 80’s that were produced by the Canadian animation studio Nelvana, Droids and Ewoks, Genndy Tartakovsky’s critically-acclaimed Clone Wars series which ran from 2003 to 2005, and the various shows that have been produced by Dave Filoni such as The Clone Wars and Rebels. Now, to be clear, this doesn’t mean that there haven’t been any live-action Star Wars TV projects… it’s just that it’s been quite a while since they were made. For starters, there were a pair of made-for-television films centered around the Ewoks, Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure in 1984 and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor in 1985. But for the longest time, the Star Wars franchise’s biggest connection to live-action television was the infamous 1978 production that was the Star Wars Holiday Special, and to mirror George Lucas’ own thoughts about it… the less said about it, the better. However, in 2005, not long before the release of Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, plans for a new live-action TV series set in the Star Wars universe were announced at that year’s Star Wars Celebration. Officially titled Star Wars: Underworld in 2012, it was reported that the show would be set in-between the events of the prequel and original trilogies and, unlike the films, was going to be more of a noir-inspired show that focused on both the criminal and political conflicts occurring all over a galaxy far, far away.
There were, reportedly, around 100 episodes planned with at least half of them having nearly completed scripts (according to prequel trilogy producer Rick McCallum, they were in the ‘second draft’ stage). However, the series soon found itself hitting a brick wall when it became clear that it would be way too expensive of a show to be produced for either network or cable television. And while it was reportedly still in the works following Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012, Underworld ultimately never saw the light of day. The only noteworthy elements that came out of it were plotlines that influenced the franchise’s future anthology films, Rogue One and Solo. However, this did not stop Lucasfilm from making another attempt at developing the first official live-action Star Wars TV series, which finally came to be in the form of The Mandalorian, arguably the biggest project to headline the launch day content of Disney’s new streaming service, Disney+. The show is primarily the brainchild of Jon Favreau, AKA the man responsible for kick-starting the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the original Iron Man and other hits such as the modern holiday classic Elf and the live-action remake of Disney’s The Jungle Book. As the title suggests, the show largely focuses on the titular group of warriors within the Star Wars universe who often work as bounty hunters. Mandalorian culture was first introduced in Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back through the character of Boba Fett who, while not technically an official Mandalorian, has consistently been one of the franchise’s most popular characters despite his admittedly limited role in the original trilogy. But now there’s a new Mandalorian bounty hunter on the scene thanks to a show that not only does a wonderful job of expanding upon the considerably massive Star Wars universe, but also delivers on everything else that fans have come to expect from the biggest franchise in cinematic history.
The Mandalorian takes place about five years after the events of Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. While it’s still plenty of years before the remnants of the Galactic Empire reunite to form the First Order, the galaxy is still rife with plenty of lawless individuals. It is in this environment that Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal), a member of the Mandalorian tribe who is solely referred to by others as ‘The Mandalorian’, goes about his business as one of the galaxy’s most revered bounty hunters. After delivering his latest bounties to his primary associate on the planet Nevarro, Bounty Hunters’ Guild leader Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), Karga directs The Mandalorian to his newest client, a mysterious, unnamed man (Werner Herzog) who’s revealed to be a former member of the Empire. Said client promises the Mandalorian a large amount of Beskar steel, the material used to craft Mandalorian armor, in exchange for the capture and return of his target, and while he isn’t given much information about the target apart from its age and last known location, the Mandalorian promptly embarks on his new assignment. But while he does manage to successfully find the target, he is surprised to discover that it is a young green-skinned alien with large ears. And while the Mandalorian does obey the Bounty Hunter code by delivering the target back to the Client without any questions asked, he soon begins to form a bond with ‘The Child’ and ultimately decides to protect it when he begins to grow concerned about what the Client plans to do with it, especially once he learns that it possesses some mysterious abilities. Naturally, though, this promptly makes them two of the biggest targets in the galaxy as they are forced to go on the run from anyone who’s daring enough to try and hunt them down.
To properly discuss this show, I’m going to have to mention something that is guaranteed to rile up the Star Wars fandom… subverting expectations. It’s a concept that has almost single-handedly fueled the flames of the franchise’s annoyingly vocal group of haters following the release of The Last Jedi, AKA another Star Wars release that made headlines for going against the fandom’s expectations. At the same time, though, it has also arguably become the internet’s new standard for how all future Star Wars projects are to be judged given the largely polarizing reaction towards The Rise of Skywalker. And yet, while none of this has ever had a significant impact on my thoughts towards the franchise’s recent outings, The Mandalorian is, indeed, another case where those involved genuinely managed to take us by surprise. In other words, I have the feeling that, going into this show, a lot of folks were primarily expecting it to be something along the lines of a gritty western given the fact that it would be focusing on one of the Star Wars galaxy’s many bounty hunters. And while that is very much an accurate description of the show in terms of both its plot and overall atmosphere, the reveal at the end of Chapter 1 regarding ‘The Child’, who is shown to be from the same race as Yoda, adds a unique additional layer to what this series is ultimately about. Instead of just being a story of an emotionally distant bounty hunter traversing the galaxy and hunting down his targets, it’s also about that same bounty hunter learning to take on the responsibility of being a father figure for the far more innocent being that he was originally sent to capture. Sure enough, this is what gives this show the kind of emotional depth that has thoroughly bolstered the franchise’s best cinematic outings while still giving Jon Favreau and his crew plenty of great opportunities to showcase a different side of the Star Wars universe in a creatively satisfying manner.
Said story comes together phenomenally in this eight-episode season. That said, though, I am aware that there has been some criticism about the show’s pacing which, from what I can gather, often revolves around the fact that these episodes are usually about half an hour long at best. And yet, as cool as it would’ve been to have longer episodes that would have given us more time with these characters, I also feel that these shorter episodes allow for a much tighter overarching plot, which helps the show avoid any stretches where its proceedings start to drag. Sure, there are a few episodes around the halfway point that deviate a bit from the main plot, but as much as one could very well describe these as ‘filler’ episodes, they still manage to be just as engaging as the episodes where the Mandalorian contends with those who are hunting ‘The Child’. In fact, one of the best things that I can say about this show is that each of these episodes gives off a terrific episodic feel, which is an approach that has always worked wonderfully for Star Wars (almost all the films are referred to as ‘Episodes’, after all…). Of course, much of this is thanks to what Favreau has described as a “Dirty Dozen/Magnificent Seven type” crew of directors which consists of Dave Filoni, Rick Famuyiwa, Deborah Chow, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Taika Waititi. All five of them do a wonderful job of capturing that classic Star Wars feel in their respective episodes whether it’s thanks to the strong comedic banter between characters or the top-notch action sequences. The show also happens to boast some of the sharpest visuals from any Star Wars production to date. Much of this is due to how it was shot, with most sequences being filmed in front of a massive video wall that utilized fully rendered backgrounds courtesy of Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. It’s a technique that was clearly inspired by Favreau’s work on both The Jungle Book and The Lion King, and while this does mean that a lot of the show’s visuals are CG-based, the visual effects work here is so seamless that you’d legitimately never notice.
The show also follows in the footsteps of the franchise’s best outings by featuring a top-notch ensemble cast, although it is worth noting that, technically, Pedro Pascal is the only ‘main’ star since he’s the only one apart from ‘The Child’ (who, like Yoda before him, is a puppet) to appear in all eight episodes. And since the Mandalorian is always in full Mandalorian armor, sometimes it’s Pascal’s stunt doubles (Brendan Wayne and Lateef Crowder) in the suit instead of him. Nevertheless, Pascal (and, by extension, Wayne and Crowder) does a phenomenal job in the role as he perfectly conveys the character’s world-weary nature while simultaneously excelling at the physical demands that stem from a character who never shows his face but still manages to relay so much simply through his actions. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the character that has clearly been the series’ breakout star, The Child, affectionately referred to by fans as ‘Baby Yoda’ for obvious reasons. Just like how Yoda was portrayed in the original trilogy (and The Last Jedi), The Child is brought to life by puppetry with only minimal CGI used… which can partially be attributed to the fact that co-star Werner Herzog straight-up called Favreau and his team ‘cowards’ for even considering going the full CGI route. Naturally, this is one of the many reasons why The Child instantly becomes an utterly adorable character and undeniable scene-stealer. As for everyone else in the cast, they very much make the most out of their roles even if they only appear in a few episodes. It all begins with the series’ female lead, Gina Carano as Cara Dune, a former Rebel shock trooper who’s later revealed to be from Princess Leia’s ill-fated home planet of Alderaan. Cara doesn’t appear until Chapter 4 and only appears in 3 episodes overall, but that doesn’t stop Carano from being another fine addition to the franchise’s ever-growing line of terrific female heroines as her MMA background is a perfect match for a character who is immediately established as a no-nonsense, badass warrior.
Much of what I just noted with Carano also applies to the other main characters in this show. Established veterans such as Carl Weathers and Nick Nolte (the latter of whom provides the voice of Kuiil (who’s portrayed physically by stuntwoman Misty Rosas), an Ugnaught moisture farmer who becomes one of the Mandalorian’s most loyal allies) are great as always in their respective roles. The same can be said for other standout supporting players such as Emily Swallow as the Mandalorian tribe’s wise Armorer and Taika Waititi as bounty hunter droid IG-11, who immediately proves to be another great addition to the franchise’s collection of droid characters. This cast is so terrific that even characters who are only in single episodes such as Bill Burr’s hot-headed mercenary Mayfeld (a casting choice that has been widely noted as incredibly ironic given his long-standing criticisms of the franchise) and Ming-Na Wen’s cold and calculating assassin Fennec Shand prove to be just as memorable as the main protagonists. Finally, we come to the two main antagonists of the season, both of whom fully succeed at making quite an impression even with their admittedly limited screen-time. First, there’s Werner Herzog (yes, that Werner Herzog) as the Mandalorian’s enigmatic new client. He only appears in a few episodes and could ultimately be considered as being more of a ‘red herring’ villain given how the story plays out, but Herzog steals the screen in every scene that he’s in thanks to his strong screen presence. This then brings us to the other villain of the season, Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon, a former member of the Empire’s secret police. This character doesn’t even appear until the penultimate episode of the season and yet Esposito still manages to immediately set him up as one of the most imposing antagonists in franchise history, especially since it’s recently been confirmed that he’ll play a much larger role in Season 2.
As someone who’s loved all the recent Star Wars films (yes, even The Rise of Skywalker), it probably isn’t that surprising that I really loved Season 1 of The Mandalorian. However, before we go any further, I just want to elaborate a bit on what I mean by that. You see, as much as I love this show, that doesn’t automatically mean that I think that it’s the ‘best’ Star Wars project that has come out since Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012. Now to be clear, I’m not trying to discourage anyone who legitimately thinks that it is because, in the show’s defense, it truly is a sharply produced series that is quite arguably worthy of that honor. It’s just that, from experience, I find that this argument often tends to stem from all those wholly obnoxious Last Jedi haters who use it as part of their unwavering efforts to rag on the recent trilogy. It’s even gotten to the point where they’ve been touting Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni as the ones who will allegedly ‘save’ Star Wars even though I know damn well that they’ll just start hating on them if the two of them ever did something that they don’t like because… well, that’s just what they always do. So instead, I’m just going to focus on why The Mandalorian is simply yet another rousing success for the Star Wars franchise. Thanks to the strong creative guidance of Jon Favreau and the phenomenal work from his directorial crew, The Mandalorian is a highly compelling, for lack of a better term, ‘episodic saga’ that manages to deliver a genuinely unique spin on the classic Western genre of storytelling that it’s very much inspired by. Its breathtaking visuals rival those of the recent Star Wars films and it also boasts one of the franchise’s best ensemble casts, and because of all this, it definitively sets the stage for what is sure to be an exciting new era for the Star Wars franchise.
SEASON 1 RATING: 5/5!
But this isn’t the end of our retrospective on Season 1 of The Mandalorian. Be sure to check back in tomorrow as we’ll be ranking all eight episodes of the show’s inaugural season. Until then, be sure to follow us on Twitter @TheDisInsider and other various social media networks to stay 100% up-to-date on everything Disney.