‘The Mandalorian’ Episode One Review: ‘Star Wars’ Heads West, To Television
The Mandalorian looks like Star Wars, but it definitely feels like television. The debut episode of Star Wars’ first live-action TV series — available for the first time today on Disney+ — runs just 40 minutes, and features only a handful of the show’s main characters. Many of the markers of the galaxy far, far away are present, including droids, bounty hunters, and blasters. But “Chapter One” of The Mandalorian is clearly designed in a smaller scale than the big-screen movies. Where the Star Wars movies drew their main inspiration from classic science-fiction and adventure serials, The Mandalorian owes its greatest creative debts to old TV Westerns, where lawmen roamed the frontier, dispensing justice and steely one-liners.
The main character of The Mandalorian is so steely that’s the main feature of his face, or at least the helmet that covers his face during the entirety of this pilot episode. He’s played by Pedro Pascal, although with that distinctive Mandalorian covering his entire head, and with maybe 15 lines in the entire pilot, he could almost be played by anyone. Some time after the end of Return of the Jedi, the Mandalorian finishes one bounty hunting assignment and then accepts another mysterious job from a man known only as “The Client” (and played, in a fine bit of stunt casting, by the most convincingly alien human on our planet, Werner Herzog). The Mandalorian sets off to find his target, runs into some resistance, teams up with a bounty hunting droid known as IG-11, and discovers ... something he does not expect.
The Mandalorian was created and written by Iron Man and The Lion King remake director Jon Favreau, but he didn’t direct the pilot episode. That job went to Dave Filoni, a longtime fixture at Lucasfilm and the creator of the animated series Star Wars Rebels and Star Wars Resistance. Directing his first live-action series, he does a solid job filling “Chapter One” with dramatic, Star Wars-y visuals, and a handful of very entertaining supporting performances. (Waititi’s IG-11 has a small role, but he crams a lot of personality into his brief appearance.)
As for the Mandalorian himself, he swaggers through the far reaches of the galaxy, and his costume is incredibly striking: The flowing cape, the blaster rifle slung over his shoulder at just the right angle, the modular armor with pieces he can swap in and out. Still, without a single glimpse of his face — or even his eyes, which remain completely invisible behind his helmet’s blackened visor — it’s a bit tough to get very invested in this character at first. He’s just a cool dude doing cool things. The Mandalorian will surely be fleshed out over the season ahead. But when you compare the depth of this guy to the kinds of complex, layered protagonists we’ve gotten used to on cable and streaming TV, he kind of stumbles coming out of the blocks.
That surprise the Mandalorian discovers at the end of his mission falls well short of what early Mandalorian press promised was a “dramatic Star Wars-universe spoiler.” It’s a decent cliffhanger, but not exactly the kind of mindblowing shock that recontextualizes any of the Star Wars movies or shows that came before or will follow after. Nor would it make any casual fan shell out a bunch of money to watch this plot thread followed to its eventual conclusion. But The Mandalorian is reasonably stylish and interesting enough to make it a pretty solid throw-in for anyone who’s signing up for Disney+ anyway.
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