I didn't need a new Star Wars show. The Skywalker Saga ends in December, and that felt like a good way to tie a bow on the whole Star Wars universe. Disney thought otherwise, and gives us The Mandalorian (opens in new tab), a show that will make Disney Plus (opens in new tab) a must-have service.
Editors' Note: We are keeping this review very light on spoilers in order to keep your first viewing as surprise-filled as possible.
Just who exactly is The Mandalorian?
Voiced by Pedro Pascal, The Mandalorian is a bounty hunter that is cloaking his identity under a helmet that will remind long-time fans of Boba Fett — who came from the same planet, Mandalore. But since The Mandalorian is the star of the show, he has to talk a little more than the bounty hunters we're familiar with.
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Early on, though, the show demonstrates a great amount of restraint with the amount of dialogue that The Mandalorian says, and what we learn about the person under that helmet. Small, brief flashbacks show a traumatic childhood that fits in with those of established Star Wars characters, and we leave those moments fast enough to avoid them becoming maudlin.
Part western, part Star Wars, all fun
Befittingly, this series about a bounty hunter has all the feels of a western. The Mandalorian's early work in the pilot finds him walking into a bar, dealing with miserable aliens and escaping with the target.
You could substitute in words like saloon, ruffians and drunk, and it would all still fit. What makes this series work is how the high-budget Star Wars universe feels alive — complete with dangerous monsters and wise-cracking aliens — but brought into the world of modern prestige television.
A lot of that is established by a solid cast, rounded out with two still-surprising casting decisions. Carl Weathers plays Greef Carga, the man who's issuing bounties to our protagonist, while the iconic, prestigious director Werner Herzog appears as a seemingly amoral former member of The Empire, known as The Client.
Both actors give the show a sense of gravitas, once the shock of seeing them evaporates. While both serve the plot and help move things along, bringing The Mandalorian to an interesting moment that closes out this first episode, they both have old, grizzled souls that fit both this weathered Star Wars universe and the gun-slinging mentality of this first episode.
Speaking of gunslinging, Taika Waititi turns in some solid voice acting as IG-11, a tall, thin droid with a penchant for putting laser holes in men as he collects bounties. Waititi's also not giving an obviously-him performance — the dialogue is more stern than zany — as I'll admit, I might not have known it was him had I not been preparing for this premiere.
Finding laughter in the downfall
The Mandalorian knows it has to cut its drama with laughter, and does so with solid veterans. Comedian Brian Posehn makes the most of his time on screen as a speeder pilot who has good advice for our antihero, while Horatio Sanz (unrecognizable in tons of makeup) portrays a super-chatty bounty worried about his near future.
And then we find Nick Nolte playing an alien known as an Ugnaught, who helps our protagonist on a desert planet. Or at least he does when he's dishing out dialogue that makes Yoda seem sparse. My favorite lines? "You are a bounty hunter, I will help you, I have spoken."
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The Ugnaught mainly appear to give The Mandalorian tips to know how to survive the aliens known as Blurrgs. Well-named for the unease that The Mandalorian feels upon attack, Blurrgs are large, toothy and somehow able to sneak up on you to bite. They're like a rhinoceros without a horn.
Oh, and while Lucasfilm used visual effects to bring the Blurrgs to life, they avoid the uncanny valley. That's thanks in part to their poorly aligned teeth, that nearly makes them feel relatable.
Outlook: I'm ready for episode 2
As you may or may not know, Disney Plus is rolling episodes of its original shows out on a one-at-a-time basis, the way HBO and regular TV still work, bucking Netflix's binge-it-all strategy.
I say that because I'm currently pretty eager to watch the second episode of The Mandalorian, which arrives Friday (Nov. 15). Not only does the premiere end with a surprise that left me wanting more, the show offers a world that's going to be fun to explore.
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