The Mandalorian (Season 1) Review
by E. McDonnell
***** 5 Stars
Directors: Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau
Starring: Pedro Pascal, Carl Weathers, Gina Carano, Nick Nolte & Taika Waititi
Plot: In the Lawless aftermath of the Galactic Empire, an armoured bounty hunter known only as the Mandalorian is tasked with tracking down a mysterious bounty…
Disney + has officially launched in Britain, finally bringing with it the largely anticipated and first live action series from the galaxy far, far away universe, The Mandalorian. But the question is, was it worth the wait?
The Mandalorian is the biggest original TV series on the Disney+ launch roster, which means it has to live up to a lot of hype, and that is without it also being a Star Wars series with a budget of around 15 million dollars per episode, although all this money and the connection to one of the largest franchises in the world does not guarantee a successful series. But thankfully, for all those Star Wars fanboys & girls out there, there is nothing to worry about.
The story takes place in the Star Wars universe, in the time between the last of the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi, and the first of the sequels, The Force Awakens. This is a period never explored before on-screen in Star Wars. Set in the ruins of the old empire, in the outer reaches of the galaxy which is tense and lawless with never seen before characters, all makes for a very entertaining and fresh perspective on this universe.
We follow the titular bounty hunter through the series, who, like Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back, is hidden behind a helmet that reveals nothing of his face, an enigma that makes this character so interesting, although, this does restrict lead actor Pedro Pascal to very limited dialogue and movement. However, due to the fast pacing of the story and amount of different characters that come and go, this restricted acting doesn’t limit any of the story telling. Pascal seems to thrive as the badass that is the Mandalorian; he is an expert in his craft but is also clinical and purposeful, with a weary wit. He gives off vibes of a Ronin Samurai or a sheriff from an old Western but he is not untouchable; one surprising element is how much Mando seems to take a true beating each time he takes a bounty, and this seems to give the whole series a sense of realism. This realism is threaded throughout the small corner of a galaxy far far away, through the production design, which is one of the most visually stunning of any series, as well as character and alien designs, the ships, the planet settings and the colour palettes which are all gritty and full of verisimilitude.
The cast and crew assembled for the series show that The Mandalorian is not afraid to take a gamble, perhaps like the character himself. Disney has assembled a star cast of ‘artists’ to help bring this world to life such as creator Jon Favreau and his directing team of Dave Filoni, Tika Waititi, Rick Famuyiwa, Deborah Chow, Bryce Dallas Howard and also George Lucas who co-produced the series with Favreau. This gives the series an exciting blend of different voices which fits the idea of the show offering a new world set in the universe of Star Wars. This pays off with The Mandalorian as the creative minds behind the series, create a passionate, fresh and exciting new world without getting too caught up in trying to be subversive on purpose, such as with the very divisive sequel, The Last Jedi, which had put a negative light on the successful franchise. It makes clear from the get go, with a visceral and surprising gritty bar fight, that this is a ‘new’ story; a darker, grittier take on that was the original vision of the universe, without becoming broody and depressing. The series pays homage to a franchise that at times has recently become very cheesy and downright silly, with a focus on visual effects rather than story. Another reason that this series and spin off films like Rogue One have worked better than the new editions of the Skywalker saga, such as The Last Jedi for example, is because there are no preconceptions of the story and no established and beloved characters (other than a few nice little cameos) for fans to be left disappointed by.
The Spin-offs focus on the background characters of the galaxy rather than the established and well-known ones. This is not the ‘often-parodied’ Star Wars world of the force and lightsabers; it is more familiar to those who know and love these films, exploring the dark underbelly of a more diverse range of characters with seemingly endless possibilities that many mainstream fans ignore but others are fascinated by. The different characters dipping in and out of the series, both aiding and fighting the Mandalorian, make for an exciting and endless galaxy to explore. Cameos from well-known actors and characters from earlier films and episodes, as well as aliens, planets and ships are especially exciting for fans and keep you fully engaged, if all the action wasn’t enough, trying to look out for everything and re-watch it to try and see what you missed.
If there are any downsides it is that there is little dialogue and at times very ‘on the nose’ references back to the original films such as “I’m your only hope” but that’s all part of the fun!
The series is brought to life through Favreau’s ground-breaking technology taking inspiration from the other Star Wars films, with a mix of practical effects and sets and SFX, coming up with something simple but profoundly satisfying. The production value and special effects are the most realistic and visually stunning effects I think I have ever seen in both TV and film. This is important as it keeps the attention on what is happening on the story rather than on dodgy CGI, where a lot of other big budget productions fail.
Overall, this is a series that is what Star Wars is to so many fans, with a focus on the often forgotten details down to the amazingly created creatures, ships, planets and gadgets with cameos and homages that show knowledge of the franchise and loyalty to fans. The show is also appealing to new fans with properly established characters with clear motives and morals, showing heart, real emotion and humour without it becoming silly (not to mention the surprising twists throughout, including one that has sort of been spoiled all over social media- thanks America). This is the Star Wars story we have all been waiting for, an amazingly thoughtful series that highlights that everyone involved cares and loves Star Wars as much as the fans do, with the production value of an 8-part movie.
This is the ideal TV spin-off, that pays homage back to the franchise that created it and its loyal fans, but also telling its own new and unique story without trying to change too much at the detriment of fans, or the opposite, worrying whether the die-hard fans will like it. Disney has finally captured the essence of what Star Wars truly is and I can’t wait for what is next to come from a galaxy far, far away…
The Mandalorian is currently available on Disney Plus and was rated PG by the BBFC.