The Mandalorian represents many “firsts,” both for Star Wars and Disney at large. It kicks off this year’s Star Wars season, preceding both a major video game and theatrical release. It marks the first piece of original content for Disney+, the company’s ambitious streaming platform. And perhaps most significantly, it signals the first full-scale, live-action Star Wars TV series with the same polish and heart of its films.
Fortunately, The Mandalorian’s first outing mostly lives up to its lofty expectations.
The series takes place not long after the events of the 1983 film Return of the Jedi, placing it between Episode VI and VII in terms of chronological placement. The Mandalorian assumes a substantial understanding of Star Wars’ universe, placing emphasis on people, planets and objects without making any real effort to explain their significance to the layman.
Although this prevents talking down to Star Wars veterans, it risks alienating audiences less familiar with the material. Given the franchise’s extensive appeal, however, series creator Jon Favreau was correct in assuming the series would attract more than enough educated viewers.
The Mandalorian sees its titular character (Pedro Pascal) accept a perilous mission to hunt down and capture an individual shrouded in mystery. Mandalorians are a race of people originating from the planet Mandalore — the most notable of which is Boba Fett from the original Star Wars trilogy — and this history and culture seems to drive every action the Mandalorian takes.
Never showing his face behind the intimidating mask, our main character comes across as cold and calculating, seldom saying more than needed and not one to easily show mercy. That cutthroat lens of the Star Wars universe is less common than its tales of heroes and valory, and adds an interesting wrinkle to the franchise’s traditional formula.
Nevertheless, Star Wars’ identity is alive and well in The Mandalorian, with references to every era (even a nod to the maligned Star Wars Christmas special!) and aliens from Star Wars past filling the streets of every town the Mandalorian visits. The show utilizes a mix of CGI and puppetry to great effect, modernizing classic creatures without losing their original charm.
Straying from tradition, however, is the score, which has a far distant tone from the typical fanfare of Star Wars. Sounding more like a dissonant military march, composer Ludwig Göransson injects the show with a much darker tone, especially during its most intense scenes. In the absence of a visible face, Göransson’s score acts as the most effective means of conveying the Mandalorian’s emotions.
The episode has an abrupt ending, which is likely a byproduct of it feeling more like a small part of a movie than an individual story. Unlike the films though, The Mandalorian is able to breathe more within its universe, not constrained to telling its story in a single sitting. That allows for more intimate glimpses into the far-far-away galaxy’s more mundane elements, which for some Star Wars fans might be its most exciting ones.
The Mandalorian’s first chapter is an explosive and exciting setup to an intriguing story that feels at home within the Star Wars universe, while still venturing to explore new elements of it. It has every bit of quality one would expect from a modern Star Wars film, with the different format allowing it to take an even deeper dive into the franchise’s many diverse worlds.
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New episodes of The Mandalorian normally release Fridays on Disney+.