This review was originally intended to be published on November 12th but was delayed due to technical difficulties. My apologies for this belated review
Since the theatrical premiere of Episode IV: A New Hope it has been readily apparent that there is a rather seedy element within the Star Wars universe. Outside of the Mos Eisley cantina, Jabba’s palace and a number of bounty hunters we did not get much of a chance to explore what goes on in the shadowy slums across the galaxy in the original trilogy and let’s face it – the underworld was practically nonexistent in the prequels. The new streaming service from The House of Mouse, Disney+, is giving us a show that sets itself apart from the standard Star Wars fare in that it actually takes a detailed look at the criminal underworld that is free from the teachings of the Force and the Midichlorian count in one’s bloodstream.
David and I are going to review the entire first season of The Mandalorian and here is my spoiler-free look at the pilot episode.
The Star Wars saga is certainly no stranger to borrowing concepts and imagery from other sources to weave its classic tale of good versus evil against a backdrop of a galaxy in turmoil. Many of the space battles in A New Hope have imagery reminiscent of old World War II dogfight footage and the concept of the Force bears a passing resemblance to some existing spiritual philosophies such as Buddhism. It should come as no surprise then that the recently launched pilot episode of The Mandalorian is very much a Western tale wrapped up in space opera trappings.
We may as well get this out of the way. There is very little plot in this particular chapter. The job of a pilot episode is to set up the premise for the series as a whole but instead of an original story we were given a checklist of tropes from old Western movies decorated with space opera trappings. A mysterious stranger with a troubled past? Check. The titular Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) fills those shoes. A conflict between a native population and newcomers? That plot element was literally explained to us by an elderly Ugnaught named Kuill (played by Nick Nolte). Shootouts and fast draws? Check and check. There are even creatures known as Blurrgs which are ridden like horses. The only trope missing was a beautiful woman who has endured unspeakable tragedy. Maybe that will be in a future episode…
It’s rare to see a production with strong performances from the actors against a weak plot but that is precisely what we have here. Pascal truly comes across as a skilled hunter with a sense of justice and there is some nice chemistry with Kuill (Nolte) and with the bounty hunter droid IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi) despite the fact that they have precious little story to work with. In fact, I think Kuill is my favorite character from the pilot episode and I may very well use his catchphrase, “I have spoken…” in conversations with other staff from The Inner Circle. Perhaps the oddest casting in my eyes was Carl Weathers, best known for playing Apollo Creed in the old Rocky movies. He plays Greef Carga and he gives the Mandalorian bounties to collect. His performance was not bad by any means but it was so odd seeing him in Star Wars that it actually broke my immersion.
If the plot of the pilot episode was the weakest aspect of this chapter then the cinematography was the high point. The show is gorgeous even though most of the environments were primarily grey or brown in color. Watch with sharp eyes and you will find all kind of little nods to the Star Wars universe from alien species like the Ugnaught all the way to graceful ships soaring across breathtaking vistas. Disney spared no expense in bringing the lush visuals of Star Wars to the television screen. One of my favorite shots is seeing a Kowakian (the scuzzy little monkey dude who sat next to Jabba the Hutt’s tail in being roasted over a fire.
Set aside your expectations for a mystical exploration of the Force… at least for now, We don’t even get the charming characters that graced A New Hope. What we do get is a deeper albeit brief look at the insidious underworld of smugglers and bounty hunters in the Star Wars universe. The pilot episode of The Mandalorian may not be heavy on story but what’s here is enough for an intriguing start to a new adventure in a galaxy far, far away.