For about twenty years, I’ve been of the mind that Star Wars is more interesting when there aren’t many Jedi around. In the original trilogy, Force users were a rare breed, and to me that made them all the more special. I like seeing a character’s face contort when they realize they’re being controlled by a mind trick or when a weapon gets levitated across a room. And while the current Star Wars sequel trilogy (concluding next month with J.J. Abrams’s Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker) is all but certain to end with the resurgence of the Jedi– or something like them– the new Disney+ series The Mandalorian is set in a far bleaker, and thus more intriguing, period of galactic history.
It’s a handful of years after the Battle of Endor and the destruction of the second Death Star. It’s also post-Jakku, as it’s established early on in this show that the Empire is no more. And our title character The Mandalorian (played through a shiny beskar helmet by Game of Thrones actor Pedro Pascal) is of course this universe’s Man with No Name, bringing Star Wars back to its Western roots and giving us an antihero with a heart of gold in the form of a cutthroat bounty hunter who also serves the greater good of his people.
I don’t want to spoil too much in this review, so I’m only going to give the most basic of plot details before getting across my opinion. After one episode, this is the story of a guy who’s trying to do right by himself and by his heritage. In the opening act, we see The Mandalorian skilfully claim a bounty (Saturday Night Live’s Horatio Sanz) who proves to be almost more irritating than he’s worth before he can be delivered to guild leader Greef Carga (Carl Weathers of Predator fame). Seeking a bigger payout, our protagonist is then sent to meet with an unnamed Imperial sympathizer (legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog) who tasks him with another mission.
From that point on, things get a little more unpredictable, though we do see moments hinted at in the trailers released at Star Wars Celebration, D23 Expo, and during Monday Night Football. We’re introduced to the stoic Ugnaught character Kuiil (voiced by Affliction Oscar nominee Nick Nolte) and the scene-stealing IG-11 assassin droid brought to hypnotically mechanized life by Industrial Light and Magic’s storied effects department and the multitalented Kiwi man-of-the-moment Taika Waititi. There are a few twists and turns, countless in-jokes and deep-cut references to other Star Wars media, and a sizeable reveal at the end of the episode that manages to pose even more questions than it answers.
As a lifelong fan and a particularly big enthusiast for the bounty hunters of A Galaxy Far, Far Away, I have to say that The Mandalorian is something of a Star Wars wet dream. There’s gritty action, back-alley dealings, grimy lived-in environments, cameo appearances by at least one of my favorite stand-up comedians (so far), a handful of puppets mixed in with the obligatory CGI-created creature effects, and the official canonization of more than one element from The Star Wars Holiday Special. We get to see cool-looking spaceships, threatening creatures, knock-down drag-out blaster battles, and breathtaking landscapes scattered throughout. But more importantly– aside from maybe one or two shots where I could see the computer-generated seams, The Mandalorian feels real in the way that I’ve always insisted Star Wars should.
I love that this show is populated by recognizable alien species from throughout Star Wars lore, something that I’ve felt has been missing from Episodes VII and VIII. There are Rodians and Trandoshans hanging out in a cantina, a Kubaz renting out Landspeeder rides, and even Blurrgs from Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. One of my favorite moments sees a Kowakian Monkey-Lizard watching his poor departed friend roasting on a spit in a bustling marketplace. Like I said above, it’s a lived-in world that was established in other Star Wars stories, but The Mandalorian also benefits from having its own story to tell. It’s not just another installment in a “chosen one” epic about a young underdog striving against an oppressive regime. There’s no Empire to topple here, though remnants of that administration remain a lingering threat. This is a lawless time with a number of different factions scrambling for control, and one can feel the Mandalorian trying his hardest to make the best of that situation.
“Chapter 1” of The Mandalorian ends on a note that will leave fans chomping at the bit to see more, and fortunately they won’t have to wait long: the second episode goes up on Disney+ this Friday. But for the next few days, we’ll have this immediately satisfying offering to mull over (and probably cycle through on constant repeat), deciphering its myriad Easter Eggs, contemplating its broader implications, and simply enjoying the atmosphere generated by series creator Jon Favreau (Iron Man), director Dave Filoni (Star Wars Rebels), and of course Star Wars progenitor George Lucas, whose influential fingerprints are undeniably all over this thrilling, planet-hopping adventure.
The first episode of The Mandalorian is now available on Disney+.