‘The Mandalorian’ Is an Extended ‘Star Wars’ Movie Chopped Into TV Episodes
Disney Plus finally arrives this week, and with it comes the first live-action “Star Wars” TV series. But it’s somewhat of a misnomer to call “The Mandalorian” a television show, as the first hour of Disney’s new streaming program is almost solely made up of set pieces and info dumps that set up a larger cinematic narrative; it almost feels like a reverse-engineering of their Marvel Universe format: an extended movie you can watch from the comfort of your living room, chopped up into episodes, as opposed to a string of film installments that eventually form a season long story arc.
Viewers who have developed severe binging habits will probably want to wait until the full series drops. Watching “The Mandalorian’s” premiere episode in a vacuum is severely disappointing as standalone entertainment; it functions little like a pilot and feels more akin to a flavorful tease for something Disney knows certain subscribers will want more from, ending with a cliffhanger that’s bound to hook just about anyone invested in the franchise, which doesn’t justify the bloated leisure of the approach and feels like a bit of a low blow.
Disney is clearly coming out of the moisture barn guns blazing, flexing their classic Lucasfilm franchise with a fat stack of Imperial credits (the season reported cost around $120 million to make), Jon Favreau, the man who launched their superhero franchise, serving as the showrunner. The first episode was also directed by seasoned “Star Wars” veteran, David Filoni (creator of the underrated “Star Wars: Rebels” and a key writer on “The Clone Wars” second TV iteration). “The Mandalorian” is as visually polished and has all the worldly detail of the franchise’s finest accomplishments, but the first hour is essentially the most expensive trailer ever made in the form of a jaw dropping, action prologue.
Right off the bat, Disney wants to assure original trilogy fans — who turned the franchise’s original Mandalorian bounty hunter, Boba Fett, into a cult favorite — that gritty gunplay will take precedence over space opera tropes and Joseph Campbell themes. The tone of the series seems to primarily take its influence from less operatic “Star Wars” properties, such as the influential video game franchise “Knights of the Old Republic.” The everyday struggles of galactic citizens over-shadows the sweeping romanticism of George Lucas’ “Flash Gordon” inspired vision, so don’t expect to hear your favorite John Williams suites. Like “Rogue One,” the series’ firmly grounds its approach, running from all possible comparisons to the maligned and mythical prequel trilogy that featured hammy monologues about sand.
Picking up after the events of “Return of the Jedi,” we are introduced to our titular Mandalorian warrior (Pedro Pascal) entering a shady cantina full of scum and villains on an icy planet. Intimidating the establishment merely with the presence of his helmet and armor, the mercenary shows off his brutal skill in battle and offers his bounty his choice of being taken in, dead or alive. Fans who held the theory that the series was secretly about Boba Fett should realize that this is most definitely a different stone-hearted character, but we never see his face; legend has it, a Mandalorian never takes his or her helmet off.
When he goes to collect his bounty, the head of the hunter’s guild, Greef Carga (Carl Weathers) offers the Mandalorian outdated Imperial credits. The mercenary turns them down and makes him provide a different kind of payment, as the Empire is no more. Later, however, The Mandalorian takes a secret meeting with a mysterious client in Imperial garb, flanked by Stormtroopers (played by Werner Herzog), who instructs the paid contract killer to take out a specific, mysterious asset. Are viewers witnessing the rise of the First Order? Time will tell.
The first hour is full of callbacks to specific Star Wars moments and the screen is crowded with alien species that reference many moments of the original trilogy, much of which comes off as empty pandering. “The Mandalorian” seems tailor made for a certain kind of fan, boxing in its imaginative potential. It feels like too many guidelines were given and was designed as nostalgia, but nostalgia with an edge. Part of that goes back to the history of the Mandalorians, essentially “Star Wars” version of a warrior race like the Spartans, who’s prominence slowly grew out of the passionate lore. The first episode is virtually a celebration of fan power itself; after all these years, something is finally centered around the image of Boba Fett’s iconic helmet. If fans of the Lucas’ world hadn’t singled the bounty hunter’s design out, after appearing in the animated Christmas special, Disney’s new show simply would not exist.
As the prequel trilogy revealed, echo imagery is only one layer of storytelling, and can’t make up for a thin skeleton. “The Mandalorian” looks and sounds like the “Star Wars” movie old-school fans have long been waiting for (apart from the chime-heavy score) but is missing the most important aspect of the franchise: fun and adventure. Favreau’s show feels like a broody western that’s forgotten about all the mythological influences that sparked Lucas’ imagination in the first place (there is one cool space hippo, though).
The format itself might be an inherent issue; “Star Wars” movies used to be a global event; Disney has completely commodified Lucasfilm’s creative energy after “Solo” revealed the films do have a box office ceiling. So, the pivot to television is a logical step. Disney+ is testing the waters of where “Star Wars” goes from here. “The Mandalorian” is the largest scale cinematic narrative Lucasfilm has yet to attempt, but it also feels like franchise’s biggest and most blatant advertisement, slowly releasing chapters made for the big screen canvas, but convenient for your home viewing. Hopefully, the vision is more inspired going forward, and moves past a referential atmosphere of nostalgic homages.
“The Mandalorian” begins streaming Nov. 12 on Disney+ with new episodes released every three days.