Disney+ is finally here (well, at least in the US), and along with it comes the premiere of its most anticipated new series: Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian. Set soon after 1983’s Return of the Jedi, the series introduces a new bounty hunter in the vein of the ruthless Boba and Jango Fett, though from the first episode it’s clear that this Mandalorian may not be as cold-blooded as his predecessors. This character introduction, in combination with elements old and new, creates an uneven but engaging first episode.
One of the most interesting elements in the Star Wars universe has always been its creature designs, and The Mandalorian pays tribute to this legacy with a colourful array of new races, on display from the opening scene. A chatty, desperate alien, created with practical creature effects, provides an entertaining foil for the cold silence of our title character (Pedro Pascal). Writer Jon Favreau’s comedic style is on full display here, though this time the banter is one-sided, with the mark’s clawing attempts at conversation met with cool indifference from his captor.
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In fact, the episode’s most chilling scene occurs when the aforementioned captive discovers a gallery of bounties frozen in carbonite on The Mandalorian’s ship. Even the most casual of Star Wars fans will recognise the iconic look Han Solo once sported so many years ago, and having multiple captives stored in the hull of his ship this way shows us this bounty hunter is the real deal. And, of course, there’s no better way to silence a noisy shipmate than to freeze them speechless.
This bounty hunter doesn’t trade in theatrics; he knows how to do his job, and he’s good at it. A slow, measured walk matches his soft, calm tone, so when he does quickly draw weapons in the episode, the immediate contrast and precise aim demonstrate that he (unlike digitally remastered Han Solo) is willing to shoot first.
These early scenes do a good job of setting up our protagonist as a calculating professional, but the computer-generated effects show some of the constraints of a story told on television, especially in the spaceship department. While these new vehicles feel familiar in terms of design, their slightly unrealistic rendering onscreen can distract somewhat from full integration into the action.
As you’d expect from an opening episode, there’s some time spent on exposition, particularly on other characters describing how good the silent Mandalorian is at his job.
Beyond this, not much is given by way of backstory; but in one brief sequence, a series of flashbacks hint at a traumatic childhood for our hero, so perhaps these events may see more screen time in future episodes. For now, it’s enough to know that one major event separated our protagonist from his family and possibly started him down his current path – where there’s a sympathetic backstory, there’s room for future growth, and it’s possible we’ll see this character become something more original than another all-too-common anti-hero as the series progresses.
This episode isn’t short of familiar tropes, with a hobbling, elderly mentor the Mandalorian finds halfway through the episode seeming a bit too on-the-nose as a Yoda stand-in. Wisdom doled out in short phrases, a shabby hut, and a “do this seemingly pointless thing” first task made me long for the emotional growth a young Skywalker once experienced during his own training session. Still, his last interaction before leaving his guide is a moment of real personality, so while the scene as a whole may not land, that one moment might make it all worth it (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it here).
A fun shootout scene appears toward the end of the episode, with double-handed blasters, teamwork and all. Along with displays of skill from both the Mandalorian and his newfound (though short-lived) droid companion, we finally get some personality from our stoic lead.
The final scene provides more questions than answers, as the bounty hunter’s latest mark appears all too familiar (though it simply can’t be its lookalike, based on the timeline), and his gentle, protective reaction to it stands in stark contrast to the calculated coolness we’ve seen so far. Although this first episode has its struggles, these cliffhanger questions and the sense of nostalgia laced throughout may well have you coming back for more.
Alex Haslam is a US-based tech and culture journalist
The Mandalorian is streaming on Disney+ in the United States, Canada and the Netherlands. It will come to the UK and other territories on March 31st 2020