The Mandalorian - Chapter One
Starring Pedro Pascal, Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog, Nick Nolte and Taika Waititi
Written by Jon Favreau
Directed by Dave Filioni
Streaming on Disney+
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Forget the lightsabers and Jedi mind tricks - when you move past the starships and venture into the seedy streets of a backwater planet, you’ll learn that this is The Mandalorian’s world, and we’re just living in it. Set five years after the fall of the Empire in Return of the Jedi, this expansion of the Star Wars universe is a true hit, melding epic space opera mythology with the heart of a spaghetti western. If you had any doubts over whether or not this bounty hunter would succeed in his target, fans can rest assured that The Mandalorian kicks ass, takes names, and leaves no prisoners in his wake.
Even with Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader relegated to the grave, it’s still a dangerous universe out there - but that same danger also offers opportunity for bad men like the Mandalorian to make a good living. In many ways, he feels like the logical evolution of Clint Eastwood’s inscrutable Blondie in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - but whereas Clint answered every call with a growl and a squint, the audience is left to their imagination thanks to the Mandalorian’s imposing mask. Which provides a compelling acting challenge to star Pedro Pascal - even though we never see his face, Pascal delivers a likable world-weariness to the bounty hunter’s voice, which flares into a charming scrappiness when he takes down some bad guys in an interstellar bar.
Another shrewd choice for this series is that while there are obviously other actors involved in this show, this really is the Mandalorian’s story - even with cameos from Horatio Sanz as an ill-fated bounty, Brian Posehn as an even more ill-fated speeder driver, Nick Nolte as a kindly alien rancher, or the legendary Werner Herzog lending gravitas as an anonymous bounty client, there’s a tight focus on the titular character, which I'd argue makes the show much more accessible for casual viewers who might be unfamiliar with the sprawling Star Wars mythology. It serves as a bit of a narrative feedback loop - the more time we spend with the Mandalorian, the more we come to like him, in part because he serves as the sole narrative constant while these well-developed side characters come and go through the story.
Yet as we delve deeper into the plot, showrunner Jon Favreau and director Dave Filioni bring some inspired touches to the series - watching the Mandalorian literally rebuilding himself through pieces of his ceremonial armor is a great way to illustrate the turmoil rippling underneath that impermeable mask, while a hangar filled with carbonite slabs builds up our antihero’s rep and reminds us that he’s not someone to be messed with. But like so many crime stories, The Mandalorian starts to heat up once he accepts an under-the-table deal with the shadiest of customers - customers that include fugitive Imperial Stormtroopers clad in scorch-marked suits. Without spoiling too much, there’s a fantastic twist case that will turn the entire series on its ear, and will show us what kind of mettle the Mandalorian is truly made of.
That said, if the bounty were that easy to pursue, it’d be lights out for this production - but thankfully, Favreau keeps Pascal on his toes throughout. While a scene of the Mandalorian having to tame a runaway Blurrg feels like the sole drag on the episode - it’s a little bit of gilding the lily to ensure the audience’s loyalty, showing that even this cold, hard mercenary is kind to animals - the episode ramps up with a terrific Butch-and-Sundance-style shootout, as the Mandalorian teams up with bounty hunter droid IG-11, a sharpshooting killer robot played by Taika Waititi that’s half-Dalek, half-Wacky Inflatable Tube Man. The chemistry between the Mandalorian and IG is immediately apparent from the first meet-cute (or is that meet-shoot?), and by the time the laser cannons get rolled out, it’s hard not to be fully invested in these characters’ pyrotechnics. If we don’t see more of IG-11 later on in the series, it’ll be a missed opportunity, because these two frenemies are a match made in heaven.
While the majority of the greater Star Wars saga has focused on high-flying space opera and the magic of the Skywalker family, The Mandalorian reminds us there’s still plenty of rich drama to be mined in street-level crime, even in a galaxy far, far away. Pascal, Favreau and Filoni have conjured up a fearsome protagonist with their titular bounty hunter, and perhaps even more importantly, they’ve given him a world that feels both exciting and accessible. Drawing from the best elements of both The Empire Strikes Back and Rogue One, The Mandalorian is a striking debut that is well worth the investment.