Title: The Mandalorian (season 1) Creator: Jon Favreau (producer), Dave Filoni (executive producer) Stars: Perdo Pascal, Carl Weathers, Gina Carano, Werner Herzog, Giancarlo Esposito, Taika Waititi, Nick Nolte
Season 1 and 2 of The Mandalorian can be seen on Disney+. Season 3 premiers next year.
The door to the small cantina opens, and the silhouette of a masked bounty hunter stands in the entrance. Gangsters and murderers, the scum and villainy of the galaxy, stop what they’re doing.
The room falls quiet as everyone is looking at the newcomer. He confidently walks over to the bar as some of the braver criminals stand up. It doesn’t take long before a fight is on, and as quickly as it began, it is over. The bounty hunter has his mark, and two bandits lie dead on the floor.
It is a scene that could have been lifted straight out of a western film. But this is The Mandalorian, the first live-action series set in the Star Wars universe. It was the highlight of the launch of the Disney+ streaming service, and for a good reason.
After the Empire’s Fall
The Mandalorian is set five years after the Rebel Alliance won the galactic civil war against the Empire. Despite the end of the war and the formation of the New Republic, crime and lawlessness are still rampant in the Outer Rim. It is here we meet the mysterious Mandalorian bounty hunter. After accepting a most unusual mission on behalf of an agent of the defeated Empire, the bounty hunter becomes the guardian of a small, green creature with powerful abilities that many parties would kill to possess.
The Mandalorian features a strong cast who seems to have been made for the Star Wars universe. Chilean actor Pedro Pascal, who we have seen in series such as Game of Thrones and Narcos, plays the Mandalorian bounty hunter himself. I was about to write something along the lines of him being instantly recognizable, but being clad from head to toe in Mandalorian battle armor makes this somewhat of a challenge. However, hidden behind the steel faceplate, his cold demeanor gradually falls away as his bond with his mysterious new ward grows, revealing a more human side to the character.
Carl Weathers plays the opportunistic head of the local bounty hunter’s guild, Greef Karga, who hands out assignments to hunters going after everything from escaped noble heirs to serial killers. We also meet Gina Carano as the ex-New Republic special forces soldier Cara Dune, and film legend Werner Herzog plays the cynical Imperial agent only known as The Client.
There are some familiar voices to be heard too. Nick Nolte voices the stoic and peaceful Ugnaught moisture farmer Kuiil, who is played in costume by Misty Rosas. And Taika Waititi, who also directs one of the episodes, voices the bounty hunter droid IG-11. There are other cameos and surprises too. Hint: See if you can spot Mark Hamill!
Star Wars Western
It is not uncommon to compare the Star Wars franchise to the western genre. George Lucas took inspiration from many genres and filmmakers, including the legendary Sergio Leone’s classic films. For Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, it was only natural to build on these inspirations. And indeed, The Mandalorian has doubled down on the western influences to create what can only be called “Star Wars Western.”
And the music follows suit, as Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson throws out the classic John Williams score in favor of something that is clearly inspired by Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. There are quick draw gun duels, small dusty towns in the middle of nowhere, cantinas full of bandits and villains, and the classic western tradition of shooting crooks off rooftops. They even ride into the sunset several times.
The Child aka Baby Yoda
Right, I should put a spoiler warning around here somewhere. If you’ve managed to avoid all knowledge about our protagonist’s little ward so far, I’m impressed. They even had a giant thanksgiving parade balloon of him in New York this year. But still: spoiler alert, I guess?
Much of the story in The Mandalorian revolves around the child the bounty hunter is tasked with finding and delivering to The Client. By no means an ordinary child, this little green creature is 50 years old, maturing slowly, and displays powerful Force abilities, apparently on instinct. The child is clearly the same species as Jedi Master Yoda, resulting in the thoroughly charmed internet giving him the nickname “Baby Yoda.” His actual name comes later in season two, but we’ll get to that later.
A bond soon grows between the child and the bounty hunter, who gradually softens up and starts questioning his mission. It feels very much like the classic manga Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Godeki Kojima. And while Star Wars hasn’t always been equally lucky with its “cute and cuddly” characters, “Baby Yoda” became an internet phenomenon after the show’s premiere. Werner Herzog himself admitted that he had started crying at the sign of the very much lifelike special effects puppet.
And that’s something else that should be mentioned: “Baby Yoda,” and most special creature effects and models are practical, meaning that very little computer-generated imagery is used for main characters and creatures. Instead, animatronics, puppets and a revolutionary new technology called “The Volume” are combined to create completely believable scenes and worlds.
A New Hope?
I guess I’m what you might call a Star Wars nerd, to say the least. Star Wars was what inspired my interest in film in the first place, and while I have been a life-long fan, I’ve always had a pretty relaxed attitude to the franchise. So it saddened me to see a lot of the negativity coming from otherwise passionate fans after many of the newer films in the series, some even leading to harassment and bullying in recent years. Luckily, Star Wars fans seem to agree on one thing at least: The Mandalorian is pretty good!
On a side note: I’m exploring the different sides of the Star Wars fandom in this article.
Created by producer Jon Favreau and executive producer Dave Filoni (who was the “apprentice” of George Lucas for several years), it is clear that the series is in good hands. These guys are Star Wars fans first and foremost, having grown up with the franchise and George Lucas’s unique creativity. Favreau and Filoni clearly know what Star Wars means to so many, even when they dare to take the path less trodden with The Mandalorian. The scale is smaller and often feels more personal than usual.
For there are no galaxy-spanning destinies and epic duels between Jedi and Sith in this series, and the lines between good and evil are a lot more blurred than usual. Instead, we see the lesser defined grey zones of morality; there are few heroes here. The result is a more believable take on humanity and empathy, maybe even most for the masked and faceless protagonist himself.
As I mentioned, I have a pretty relaxed attitude towards the Star Wars franchise. Seeing the divisiveness and toxicity from parts of the Star Wars fandom after the prequels and the sequels, I feel lucky that I genuinely love all the films and most of the series released so far. But seeing how this first live-action Star Wars series turned out, I firmly believe that Favreau and Filoni are the guys who should run the show at Lucasfilm now and into the future.