It's been a tough few years for the Star Wars license in general. While initially thought to be almost unbeatable at the box office, Solo proved differently, and not only that, fan sentiment seems to have changed following the controversial premiere of The Last Jedi. All is then not well, not well at all, but hope remains in A Galaxy Far, Far Away, and while it was initially thought to be coming from a break following the final Skywalker saga chapter, a move that could give the series the breathing room it deserves, it actually comes in the form of The Mandalorian, a new series that proves that fresh, interesting and entirely different stories can be told within the Star Wars narrative framework - and, more importantly, that it can feel reinvigorating at a crucial time.
The Mandalorian debuts with Disney's new streaming service, Disney+, which those in Europe will have to wait until March to get their hands on. It's a series designed to wheel in a deluge of subscribers to the service, so it's clear from the offset that Disney has spared little expense in bringing this truly unique Star Wars tale to life.
It's the brainchild of famous director Jon Favreau, who has worked with Taika Waititi, Clone Wars creator Dave Filoni, and others to create this eight-part series that stars Pedro Pascal, Werner Herzog, Gina Carano and Carl Weathers, among others.
First off, The Mandalorian has little to do with the wider Star Wars narrative. While it is set after the fall of the Galactic Empire, as featured in Return of the Jedi, there's little to no mention of any specific events in the series premiere. Furthermore, there's no Force, no Jedi, no Sith, no Midichlorians, no galactic trade embargoes. The Mandalorian settles for a much simpler setup, at least from the off-set, with a Mandalorian bounty hunter who is trying to make his way in the Outer Rim, making money for his people in the process.
Honestly, there's isn't much more to it than that, for now at least. Our antihero takes down a target, accepts the contract for another, and goes on the hunt once more, as he has countless times before. Pedro Pascal, during the 40-minute premiere, never takes his helmet off, and communicates sparingly with those he meets. Still, the episode manages to establish basic relationships between the bounty hunter and his clan, his profession, and various facets of his personality, all through limited dialogue and perfect examples of showing rather than telling.
The result is an incredibly basic story, one that is bound to grow more expansive as the episodes proceed, however, it's narratively tight nonetheless, and it's incredibly satisfying to see Star Wars hone is so specifically on a smaller story. The actors, from Werner Herzog as an ex-Empire general, Pascal as the titular Mandalorian, and Carl Weathers as a fellow bounty fixer, all deliver varied performances, and they all ground their characters more than you would expect in a universe ripe for space opera acting.
There are a few tonal inconsistencies here and there. One character in the first act seems a tad misplaced, and there's a specific scene at the middle point of the episode which introduces some slapstick comedy in a series that otherwise seems wholly dedicated to telling a gritty and brutal story. These seem alien compared to the otherwise grounded scenes, and hopefully these are ironed out as the episodes pass along.
What is consistent though is the dazzling visuals used throughout to establish The Mandalorian as a wholly unique take on the Star Wars universe. While all Disney's movies have relied on a more grimy take on the setting, Mandalorian has a language all of its own, and, frankly, it's fabulous to behold. The CG effects world-class, but there's more to it than that: colour coordination, lighting, artistic framing and design work are all stellar, and it comes together to make a bold and visually satisfying spectacle. It also sounds more gratifying than its movie counterparts thanks to composer Ludwig Göransson's evocative score, which is sparse but interesting, thanks to the use of woodwind instruments rather than classic strings.
Overall, the first 40 minutes of The Mandalorian is a great cinematic achievement that looks, sounds and plays beautifully. Favreau has delivered what seems like a wholly unique take on what Star Wars can be, and it might be just what the doctor ordered for the franchise.
We'll be back at the end of the series to let you know what we think of the whole thing. Until then, may the Force be with you.