It only took a few minutes into the inaugural episode of The Mandalorian on Disney+ to realize that Star Wars can and does work on the small screen. The Mandolorian opened Tuesday on the new Disney streaming service and delivered just short of 40 minutes of something new tied to something old and dear – and I thought it worked pretty darn well.
So, if you haven’t watched The Mandalorian yet, go no further for there will be SPOILERS going on from here. And if you haven’t watched it, I suggest you do. I thought Episode 1, “Chapter 1,” was an interesting start to what promises to be an interesting dive into a realm of Star Wars we haven’t seen yet – but with plenty you’ll recognize. It’s both wonderful and promising, which I think bodes well over the long haul. Let’s hope so, at least.
If you recall, The Mandalorian is set after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order. The setting is the outer rim of the galaxy where lawlessness, toughness and self-sufficiency are the lifestyle of day-to-day life. There’s a wild west, hard scrabble sort of vibe to the show and I’ll tell you right now, Pedro Pascal does a nice job of delivering The Mandalorian with the quiet toughness, resiliency and ingenuity that harkens back to Clint Eastwood and other tough loner characters of westerns and noir past. He’s a gunslinger with some fun little add-ons.
I immediately liked this “man of few words” because like those other types of tough characters with their own code of right and wrong, the mouth may not say much, but the brain is active. And I like that. The Mandalorian has that trait and we see it on display throughout the first episode. At one point early, The Mandalorian utters a line, “I can bring you in warm or I can bring you in cold,” that screams High Plains Drifter/Dirty Harry. But it sets a tone of no-nonsense business…or does it?
Episode one delivers the tough loner in the wild west vibe right from the opening whistle. The Mandalorian walks toward a watering hole on an ice-laden planet (feels vaguely familiar) and immediately gets into a spat with some local toughs who are harassing another patron. Well, it’s not really a spat as one of the toughs does all the talking and our hero says nothing, until he does something, kicking some ass and eventually slicing one of his antagonists in half in a doorway. I loved it. It’s a great effect, but not gratuitous. Kind of violence with a Disney flair.
Turns out, the creature being harassed is the bounty. Fun little knick-knack here is the “bounty puck,” which offers a holographic image of the bounty in question. I liked that term, “bounty puck.” I look forward to using it in some fashion very soon. What we see is that The Mandalorian is highly skilled and that bleak landscapes will be the norm. He is of that time and place and wears it comfortably. It’s intriguing.
And that’s how we get started. Along the way, The Mandalorian escapes the clutches of a creature surfacing from the ice, and reminds us all that the use of carbonite as a capture and transport system is a bounty hunter staple. We know that because he has a string of them in his ship. It was a nice ode to the original Star Wars movies, which is something we see quite a bit in this one. We see creatures that we remember from the old iterations roasting on a spit, standing in a bar, walking through the streets, etc. It’s a nice reminder of the heritage of this world, but the director and producer don’t beat us over the head with it. I thought there was a good balance of new with summoning memories of the old.
We meet Greef Carga (Carl Weathers), who would appear to be the bail bondsman for the bounty hunters, though it’s clear he operates in a wide field of endeavors. Through Carga, we meet The Client (Werner Herzog) who commissions The Mandalorian to find a special cargo – The Asset, he calls it. First, a quick note to say that I’m excited as hell to see Carl Weathers pop up in this show, as well as Werner Herzog.
They are two actors whose work I’ve always enjoyed and they bring a definite spice to the proceedings even though they aren’t on the screen a long time. I suppose I feel it gives the work gravitas with a couple of quality veterans like them on board, but it’s more than that. I anticipate their unique gifts to the series and that’s a fun feeling. One interesting note in meeting with the client was the “guards’ employed. They were wearing storm trooper garb. Were they former soldiers of the Empire who escaped and now served other masters or simply other folk who appropriated old equipment lying about? I thought it was an interesting visual, one that I hope has a story we eventually get to see.
The Mandalorian accepts this special assignment and he’s off. It’s important to note that the episode is just under 40 minutes long, so things move along somewhat quickly, but I didn’t find that a distraction. Along the way we discover The Mandalorian is part of a tribe, he was a foundling, and he has occasional flashbacks to when he lost his parents and others in what appears to be a violent attack (the Empire, perhaps?). A nice little backstory moment that informs us as to his own personal code as we move through the episode, a code that he definitely displays at episode’s end.
Eventually, he lands on a desolate planet and there meets the Ugnaught Kuiil, who is voiced by Nick Nolte. First, I love that Nick Nolte shows up because his voice is 20 fathoms deep and tinged with a rugged path of life that was delightful to hear again. Kuiil actually saves The Mandalorian and then displays some Yoda-ian (remember I said this) wisdom and help in The Mandalorian’s quest. He tells our hero that others have come before him to seek The Asset and all have died.
He’ll show him where The Asset may be found and we get another little hint about The Mandalorian’s people from Kuiil who challenges him to figure out how to ride the Blurrg they’ll need to get to where they are going. Apparently, The Mandalorian’s ancestors rode great beasts, so this little animal he’s trying to get a handle on should be no problem. Pride nicely pricked, The Mandalorian eventually tames the beast and they’re off. Kuiil has a noble reason for helping The Mandalorian and accepting no pay for it – he sees The Mandalorian as one capable of ridding the planet of baddies that are a scourge for everyone. The Mandalorian bringing “balance” to this world? An interesting shadow concept.
So we bookend the first episode of The Mandalorian with a bar fight and then a fight at a compound of baddies. What makes this more intriguing is an interloper. It appears that someone else if after the asset and has sent a bounty droid to collect. The bounty droid is pretty formidable and after dispatching the first wave of bad guys in a pretty impressive fashion, strikes a deal with The Mandalorian to split the bounty. And then the fighting really gets rolling.
I don’t know why, but the fight scene from there reminded me of the final fight from “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid,” only this time our pair survives thanks to some dead-eye shooting and plenty of improvisation. It’s a fun shoot-out and one that, while we’re sure The Mandalorian will survive, still offers enough uncertainty to make you wonder. Fortunately, The Mandalorian is resourceful and gutsy, which helps save the day.
And that’s when it gets really interesting. The Mandalorian and the droid gain entrance to the compound and we find that The Asset is a baby carrier with a cargo inside – a green and fuzzy cargo. I’ll not spoil it, but take that hint and run with. Unfortunately, the bounty droid’s orders are specific, the asset must be terminated. Next thing we hear is a blaster go off — and then the droid drops to the ground, head blown off. So someone else is after The Asset. Interesting, that.
The Mandalorian will not allow a child to be killed, even this green, pointy-eared child. And with that, we see the beginnings of what should be an interesting adventure. Now that he’s seen what the asset is, and killed a “colleague” to save it, what will he do? The job pays a ton, but you get the feeling that the questions are starting to form inside him. In just under 40 minutes, I thought we got an interesting taste for who The Mandalorian might be and some lines he simply won’t cross in a tough and often heartless business.
Look, I tried to keep my excitement level under control so that I could view this show somewhat even-keeled. There’s CGI in it all over the place, but it works pretty well. The Mandalorian, under the work of actor Pedro Pascal, is an interesting work given he talks so little. Given that, Pascal does a nice job of conveying thoughts and ideas through body language and movement, something that’s pretty tricky and wonderfully nuanced. There’s humor here and as I noted, some nice odes to the past, which Star Wars fans will enjoy spotting.
I didn’t think the first episode was a piece of perfection, but I thought it did what it needed to do – set the tone and setting for what is to come while giving us a little backstory on our hero, The Mandalorian. There were wonderful snippets of intel offered in the opening show and I’m sure that hardcore Star Wars fans, with far more knowledge than I of this world, will sift through episode one and find plenty to chew on. For me, the episode got me interested in what comes next and that’s all I can ask for. So that leads me to this – wonder what comes next, because I can’t wait.
It’s a tough world The Mandalorian inhabits, but with The Asset in tow, and having already saved it once, one has to wonder where this thing is headed. I’ll be back to find out.
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