Mandalorian: Featured

Yesterday, life was the same. Today? Disney+ is here, THE MANDALORIAN is its first horseman, and the old gods are all dead.

This may be hyperbolic. Possibly.

What is not is that Disney+ has the makings of one solid hit on their hands, making their first day critically successful, if not exactly technologically so.

The previous big steaming debut, Apple TV+, by contrast seemed fine from tech standpoint but far shakier in terms of original offerings. THE MORNING SHOW’s megawatt talent could not make the material more than fitfully engaging and while FOR ALL MANKIND eventually gained speed, it stumbled out of the gate.

THE MANDALORIAN, on the other hand, feels both assured as the launch of a series and a complete enough 38-ish minutes of streaming programming that no one needs to insist, “Just wait until episode 5, that’s when it gets good.”

Mandalorian: Mandy Himself
No one in THE MANDALORIAN calls Pedro Pascal’s character Mandy, but that’s not stopping us. (Courtesy of Disney+)

THE MANDALORIAN Offers A Different Kind of Tale From a Far Far Away Galaxy A Long Time Ago

One of the repeated complaints about STAR WARS, besides “Ewww, women,” and “Storm Troopers can’t have melanin,” is that there is a sameness to the stories the films have told. While animated shows have offered a larger spread of stories and the since disavowed Extended Universe books and comics deepened the universe, live action takes on the WARS have been firmly tied to the “Skywalker Saga”. Even the movies pitched as “Tales” have remained firmly in that continuity.

THE MANDALORIAN seemingly breaks that streak in its debut episode. The locales and planets are decidedly STAR WARS-esque. However, they are familiar without being carbon copies. It manages to split the difference between being distinctly of the SW universe without just being a retread of what’s come before.

While I have given the new trilogy’s first two installments good marks — and stand up that opinion — the direction of the storyline always felt locked. Space fascists cosplaying as the Empire being slowly taken apart by a group of dedicated, overmatched, but with righteousness on their side individuals. Like I said, I still quite enjoyed it, but the fun came from what they did within that existing formula.

MANDALORIAN, on the other hand, carries the promise of a looser structure with room for play. Even if the final minutes of episode 1 gives a vague shape of what’s to come, there is still an appreciated sense of the unknown.

Mandalorian: IG-11
Taiki Waititi gives voice to the all business droid IG-11 in THE MANDALORIAN. (Courtesy of Disney+)

A Baggage-less MANDALORIAN

Many STAR WARS fans will cop to loving Boba Fett. Some may even still love him. However, when pushed, nearly all must admit that he is little more than a cool look. The series implies a bad ass reputation for him. In practice, however, he proves entirely undeserving of either his appearance or his standing. Fett, if we can be honest, ends up a pretty significant let-down.

Pedro Pascal’s lead, on the other hand, allows the show to tap into Fett’s cool without the baggage of disappointment. Stoic, nearly silent, but still capable of the occasional darkly humorous aside. In keeping with the Mandalorian code, he never removes his mask. Thus, the performance depends entirely on tone of voice during his rare statements and body language. That we get so much out of him is all credit to Pascal.

The action also justifies his reputation without making him inhuman. He takes fire, an alien beast of burden messes him up a bit, he is forced into alliances of convenience to achieve goals he is not equal to on his own. He is a bounty hunter who is both very good at his job and capable of mistakes. The show smartly shows his reputation is earned but that there is still an element of unreality he has allowed to exist to elevate himself above others in the field.

Mandalorian: The Client
Werner Herzog remains as excellent as ever in THE MANDALORIAN. (Courtesy of Disney+)

A Science Fiction Western? That Just Might Work!

The Western-esque tone is a smart fit for the universe. Previously, STAR WARS occasionally played with Western tropes now and then, but rarely dove fully in. Even the heist-oriented SOLO had some of the set dressing but little by way of the feel.

While merging science fiction and western motifs and tropes is hardly unique — perhaps you have heard of FIREFLY — it is still a mashup that can prove tremendously satisfying. MANDALORIAN finds the sweet spot of merger for the genres in both setting and character.

Besides the Man with No Name-like titular character, the show dots the landscape with tropes given warmth and shape by their actors. Nick Nolte’s voice brings a world weariness and sense of fairness to the alien guide Kuill despite being a wholly CGI-creation. Taiki Waititi authors a rival bounty droid that feels solid and grounded in just a few minutes. The live performers like Werner Herzog and Carl Weathers further flesh out the world, offering intrigue in their brief moments on-screen.

Mandalorian- Lonely Road
The Mandalorian heads off down the lonely road towards destiny. (Courtesy of Disney+)

Should You Climb Aboard THE MANDALORIAN’s Pre-Empire Ship?

Even though it stands strong on its own, this first episode is but one part of a limited series. There can be no guarantee that the show that follows will live up to the promises made by this debut. However, the tone, the characters, and the plotline suggested by the episode’s conclusion all promise a strong story to follow. Those who were hoping for something more episodic will leave disappointed. This is not a show that favors smaller stories over an overarching storyline. This embraces the zeitgeist. It is a tv series in name. In action, it looks to be another four-hour movie unfolding over the course of eight episodes.

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