Our The Mandalorian episode 1 review was first published in November for the US release. Republished now as Disney Plus reaches the UK.
Every streaming service needs that killer piece of content – the one that drives subscribers to their platform over all others. For Netflix, that was initially House of Cards. When Kevin Spacey’s diabolical Frank Underwood looked at the camera, you knew this was prestige television at its finest. For Amazon Prime, the must-watch show was Transparent, a critical darling that won eight Emmys.
Disney Plus is hedging its bets on The Mandalorian, the first in a new wave of Star Wars shows coming from LucasFilm. The first episode has premiered on the service, day one (the other episodes will come weekly on Fridays), and offers a tantalising glimpse of the franchise’s future.
Things start in an unfamiliar cantina. A blue, comical alien with deep-set glands is pinned down to a table by some rogues. The alien offers them credits for his life. Luckily, a bounty hunter arrives, dressed in Mandalorian armour. After they threaten him, the warrior shoots down the group, seemingly rescuing the alien. Except, this is no rescue mission – it's a collection. There’s a bounty on the blue guy’s head, and the Mandalorian wants whatever they’re paying.
The scene is murky, surprisingly violent, and sets the tone perfectly. This is going to be different to the Star Wars we know. Where the movies are lean, The Mandalorian takes its time. Not sluggishly so, but so that we can absorb this world. There are familiar references to remind us that this is the same galaxy far, far away we have adored for 40 years – there’s an R2 unit here, a Kowakian monkey-lizard there – yet there’s also a surprising amount of new lore.
Most notably, we’re introduced to the Guild of Bounty Hunters, an intergalactic union that makes sure the right bounty hunter gets their dues for the capture of an outlaw (though, as briefly mentioned, there’s also an “underworld” too). Later, a prominent scene establishes the Mandalorian’s own past and present: that he was once a foundling, and is now working with other members of his tribe – presumably the ones who took him in as a child – to provide for other unfortunate younglings. At least, that’s what we can gleam. Things still remain hazy, though there’s enough there to intrigue.
As the episode goes on, there’s more and more world-building that both establishes certainties while also asking a thousand more questions. There’s so much to this galaxy, and the stories showrunner Jon Favreau could potentially tell already feel endless.
Of course, there’s also the cinematic feel of the episode. While some of the CGI may not quite be on par with the movies, it’s interesting that Favreau has elected to include so many funky looking aliens. The show never strays into clunky Doctor Who-type territory, as the costumes all look fantastic. Especially the Mandalorian.
As you would expect, the leading man, played by Game of Thrones’ actor Pedro Pascal, is a gargantuan presence. The camera rarely strays from him as he blasts through dozens of enemies. While he doesn’t say much, when he does, the words are effortlessly cool. The Mandalorian, even when being faced by four Stormtroopers and the mysterious Client, played with panache by Werner Herzog, stays calm and collected. There are obvious comparisons to Boba Fett, yet the difference here is that we know this armour-wearing anti-villain is not a villain at all – but a hero. While ruthless against those who are actually evil, The Mandalorian has a different, caring side, one that becomes clearer at the episode's end.
The Mandalorian premiere, then, shows so much promise. These are uncharted territories in the Star Wars universe, and ones that I’m excited to explore properly in the weeks to come. Has Disney Plus already found its killer show? It certainly seems so.