Have you heard that new joke…you know the one? No? Alright I’ll tell you, Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog and Boba Fett from Star Wars walk into a wretched hive of scum and villainy. The punchline? Everybody wins.
Not very funny but damn accurate. The Mandalorian is one of the main selling points of becoming an early adopter of Disney +, the Mouse House’s new streaming service that due to various takeovers during the past decade is hosting a plethora of high quality and instantly recognisable content. The show follows a Mandalorian Bounty Hunter, a member of a mythic group of mercenaries from the Star Wars universe, on a mission that may change his life. From the first two episodes it looks like it’s an exciting new direction for the franchise.
The idea for the series came from MCU instigator and tone setter Jon Favreau, who managed to keep Lucasfilm head honcho Kathleen Kennedy intrigued enough over a number of years that when opportunity arose to actually make it, it sailed past the green light. On evidence here it easily weaves connective tissue from the beloved original films with the much harrumphed at prequels to fashion something that feels entirely fresh whilst happily familiar at the same time.
With sparse dialogue and sudden bursts of action it seems to be finding its own voice much earlier and more convincingly than any of the new trilogy of films does, tones of John Ford and Kurosawa running through the short episode’s veins showing shared blood with Star Wars past. Continuity with what has gone before doesn’t stop there as Dave Filoni, show runner on the celebrated Clone Wars animation series writes and directs the first episode, having met Favreau years ago when he voiced a character on the show. Maybe Lucasfilm had the creative chops to make the final Skywalker trilogy right there in front of them all the time?
Just like the first Iron Man felt like a statement of intent rather than a film reaching for the stars so does the beginning of The Mandalorian, it’s Star Wars on a much smaller, intimate canvas, largely without its most iconic hallmarks, no Lightsabers, minimum Force talk. We also get an abundance of great supporting characters including Werner Herzog’s (yes you read that right) Client, Taika Waititi’s IG-11, providing charm as well as extreme fan service to what could just be another self-aware-assassin droid and Nick Nolte’s Kuiil bringing a gravitas and pathos to a character that looks like a half-melted muppet. It’s a stroke of brilliance to surround the protagonist with these charismatic oddballs as Pedro Pascal’s ‘Mando’ spends the whole time with his helmet on, his performance surviving on stoic vocal intonation and an economic, powerful body language.
All this going on yet above it rises a star that no-one saw coming, Despite his (how do they know, have they looked under his robe?) diminutive size, Baby Yoda (or The Child to give him his proper name) has bestrode popular culture since his surprise unveiling last November like a colossus. His introduction hints at bigger things ahead for the series and rather than a cute and cuddly marketing ploy he’s given some spikiness to remind us we’re not in Muppet Babies territory.
As great as this start has been let’s hope we arrive at somewhere grander by the end though. The slow burn and economically spoken hero just needing a slight kick in the right direction to step it up a gear and keep up hanging on his, very occasional, word.
Stripped back Star Wars, Sparse space opera. Intimate thrills and effortless crafting together of several generations of childhood. This is the Star Wars show you’ve been looking for.