The Mandalorian Is The Star Wars You've Been Looking For
It's a western or samurai yarn set in the rich Star Wars universe and it gets right everything that the new sequel films get wrong.
There is no doubt that the Star Wars franchise is one of the strongest on our own outer rim planet, but there have been signs that some of its luster may be fading. With potential storm clouds hanging over Disney's banner sci-fi investment, all eyes on are the franchise's first live-action Star Wars television show, The Mandalorian. In an era where the real possibility of "Star Wars fatigue" seems to be a potential symptom of a greater ailment within the House of Mouse, and in which the company has so much riding on its new streaming service, Disney+, of which The Madolorian is the 'E-ticket ride,' the stakes really couldn't be higher for the Jon Favreau-helmed space adventure series.
So, with two episodes of The Mandalorian streaming away, what's the verdict?
I can confidently say that this is the Star Wars you've been looking for.
Author's note: There are no major spoilers in this review! I wanted to talk about the show's broader strokes and bigger implications, so read ahead even if you haven't seen it yet, you won't be harmed!
Everything that the J.J. Abrams-era sequels have lacked is omnipresent in The Mandalorian. Let me rephrase that—this show wipes the floor with the new movies. It is not another 'as massive a market as possible' Star Wars adaptation. It doesn't have a rushed, over-stuffed, and often nonsensical storyline that relies more on the public's demand for anything new Star Wars than actual quality or even coherent storytelling. As a result, it can take chances. It can be remarkably violent when it needs to be. Above all else, it can take its time to bathe in a key ingredient that makes Star Wars so great—the incredibly diverse and texture-heavy environments that make up a galaxy far, far away.
And yes, the show is gorgeous. The production values are right up there with the films and in some ways seem to exceed them. Pedro Pascal playing the helmet-clad bounty hunter of remarkably few words works great too. The concept puts a lot of weight on his voice acting, which doesn't disappoint, and allows viewers to focus their attention elsewhere more frequently from scene to scene.
All this contributes to an amazing world-building opportunity, which the show is capitalizing on in spades even this early on in its run. So many Easter eggs and connections to all aspects of Star Wars canon are packed into two episodes that it is abundantly clear that the showrunners have no intent to dumb things down for the casual viewer. In fact, if anything else, this is a super fan's show and that is really exciting because, hopefully, it won't be afraid to tell a story that connects back with Star Wars past and future in creative ways as it is set in between Return Of The Jedi and The Force Awakens. That would be different than most movie franchise television adaptations, where they were more of a 'ship in a bottle,' not allowed to have major consequences on the high-grossing movie side of the portfolio.
Many reviews are declaring that The Mandalorian proves Star Wars works for television. This is entirely untrue. Star Wars has worked for television for over a decade. The Clone Wars, a cartoon that aired on the Disney Channel, is the best and most in-depth Star Wars storytelling I have seen. It was able to write vast amounts of Star Wars canon and it actually made the George Lucas's often maligned prequels far better retroactively. New characters that eclipse nearly anything J.J. Abrams has brought forward in terms of depth and likeability originated from this show.
The series was a war saga that was heavy in politics, and at times seemed out of place on a children's network for all the right reasons. Then came Rebels, which built upon The Clone Wars with a story of a bit smaller scope, and did some amazing things while still being a children's show. The live-action Mandalorian has been able to do what always needed to be done, to take a blaster to the confines of 'children's entertainment' and use the same awesome storytelling abilities for a more mature audience.
It just so happens the guy behind both of those animated series, Dave Feloni, is an executive producer on The Mandalorian and directed the first episode. The George Lucas apprentice became the 'Chosen One' to carry the Star Wars brand forward for throngs of Star Wars fans long ago, but because he was relegated to the child's cartoon medium, he seemed to get passed over for less invested and knowledgeable, but more prominent behind-the-camera talent. Now that has changed and there is no going back. Finally, Feloni has been given a mature medium to showcase his amazing talents and, as a result, I believe he will officially become the mind behind Star Wars for years to come. At least I can only hope so.
As for the nuts and bolts of the show itself, it's relatively genius. The whole bounty hunter series idea has always been a thing, but Favreau read the landscape perfectly and basically ported over the western/samurai genre directly to the Star Wars universe. It works so well that I found myself watching and thinking, 'man this really works!' The series is setting itself up already to become something of an iteration on Ogami Ittō's Lone Wolf And Cub, the iconic Japanese manga from the 1970s that turned into a series of films that defined a genre.
In more recent times, the John Wick franchise has reached new heights of success by reframing the western or samurai revenge genre for a modern era. I did a separate review that talks all about this, that you can read here. And yes, Mandalorian is John Wick with hyperdrives to some degree, but that is not a bad thing. Quite the contrary actually. Large swathes of the Star Wars universe has been built up around the bounty hunter mystique. Developing it into its own property is quite literally a long time coming. Pairing it more deeply with the western/samurai genre is logical for obvious reasons, so it's not just a convenient derivative, it just happens to be a hot genre right now.
Like John Wick, The Mandalorian is already hard at work building out the colorful underbelly subculture of bounty hunters and assassins in the Star Wars universe. Also like John Wick, the set-piece fight sequences take center stage and they are remarkably violent for Star Wars, giving the series a far more edgy and unpredictable feel.
All this comes together to do something that has seemed elusive to many Star Wars fans since The Force Awakens hit theaters, it makes the post-Return Of The Jedi world that has been built in an endless stream of books and comics, as well as the two sequel films, actually interesting. Clearly, the fall of the empire was welcome to many, but there are always winners and losers in such a grand scheme, and the vacuum of order, regardless of its intentions, is still a vacuum that invites chaos and nefarious acts. Like the wild west, the reality that the The Mandalorian inhabits, even earlier on in its first season, really does feels lawless and uncertain.
I also have a feeling that some of our old friends from Feloni's beloved cartoons will show up in live-action form. Rebel's set up this possibility rather brilliantly. One character that spans both The Clone Wars and Rebels, Ashoka Tano, could very well make a cameo, which would be a huge win for diehard fans and doing so would introduce likely the most beloved character of the animated Star Wars realm into the live-action environment. Another Mandalorian that was a key character in Rebels has a high chance of appearing, as well.
It's important to remember that The Mandalorian is really a pilot for a whole new Star Wars television ecosystem that is slated to roll out in the not so distant future. We know for sure that a Rogue One prequel starring Diego Luna as Cassian Andor is in development, as is the Obi Wan Kenobi series with Ewan McGregor, but that could just be the tip of the iceberg depending on how valuable The Mandalorian proves to be. Considering Disney will know exactly what gets watched and by who on its streaming service, the areas where more dollars will flow content-wise will be crystal clear as time goes on.
And dollars flowing into Disney's war chest is what this is all about. I have heard over and over again that Disney CEO Bob Iger's legacy rests on the success or failure of Disney+. If that is even somewhat the case, you can imagine how much focus this new platform is garnering across Disney's core business units. It could redefine a very significant portion of the company's revenue model and thus how it manages its intellectual property, which impacts everything from merchandise sales to theme park attendance downstream.
With this in mind, in some ways, Disney is along for the ride with us when it comes to The Mandalorian. So far that ride has been a thrill in all the right ways. If it sticks the landing at the end of its eight-episode run, the future of Star Wars on the small screen could eclipse that of the big screen.
I, for one, am totally fine with that.
Rogoway's review rating for The Mandalorian: 8G out of 9G
The Mandalorian is streaming now on Disney+, which is available for a free trial month. You can sign up here and start streaming.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com