****BANTHA-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!!!****
The new streaming service Disney Plus (Disney+) has launched, and it’s let loose with a brand new, live-action Star Wars series that evokes the subtle world-building and strong visual narrative of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Behind its exotic aliens, laser blasters and starships, “The Mandalorian” is spiritually an old-fashioned western… as much as the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns of the mid to late 1960s. Change the locales, names and a few other details, and the story told in the 40 minute pilot (“Chapter One”) could’ve easily been set in the Old West. The Mandalorian himself (called by his species, not his as-yet-unknown name) is played to mysterious stranger perfection by Pedro Pascal.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…
“Chapter One” opens on a harsh, icy planet with the bounty hunter only known as ‘the Mandalorian’ (the same species as the Star Wars movies’ “Boba Fett”) seeking his latest quarry.
The bounty hunter follows a tracking fob device to a disreputable saloon right out of Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”, where he tangles with a few surly locals and nabs his prey; a blue-gilled alien known as Mythrol (Horatio Sanz), whom he easily takes into his custody after the obligatory bar fight. This opening sequence establishes a typical ‘day in the life’ of an interstellar bounty hunter a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
Taking his slippery quarry back to his starship, the Mandalorian blasts off just in the nick of time, as a large oceanic creature breaks the surface ice and nearly bites the landing gear off of his ship (just as it swallowed an unfortunate landspeeder, piloted by comedian Brian Posehn). Once in space, the crafty Mythrol, still in cuffs, slips off below decks using the old “I have to use the bathroom” excuse.
Once below decks, the still-cuffed Mythrol finds a weapons cache. We see the wheels of Mythrol’s mind abuzz with escape plans… just as the Mandalorian walks up and sticks him into his onboard carbon-freezing chamber (the same process Boba Fett used to claim the bounty on Han Solo in “The Empire Strikes Back”). Mythrol joins the Mandalorian’s collection of mute, hovering carbonite slabs containing other recent quarries. The starship prepares to land at its destination.
Upon landing, a crew off-loads Mando’s carbonized bounties as the Mandalorian meets with Greef Karga (former “Rocky”/“Predator” costar Carl Weathers), the man who doles out assignments to members of the local Bounty Hunter’s Guild. Karga tries to go cheap on the Mandalorian, offering him relatively low-worth Imperial credits (this series is set post-“Return of the Jedi”, after the fall of the Empire). It’s implied that the times after the Empire’s reign are somewhat lawless, like Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Realizing he can’t bluff Mando, Karga coughs up the extra dough in other payment forms, including a bit of recently reclaimed Mandalorian silver, which Mando later has melted down into a new piece of body armor, with the surplus going to Mandalorian orphans. Every piece of armor on Mando’s suit apparently has cultural significance (a fact we gleaned from “Mandalorian” co-creator Dave Filoni’s superlative Star Wars animated series, “Rebels”).
Karga also offers the Mandalorian another assignment; a wealthy Client (played by eccentric filmmaker Werner Herzog) who surrounds himself with former Imperial stormtroopers as muscle, makes a very lucrative offer.
The Mandalorian is to find and apprehend a particular subject; alive if possible, but dead would be acceptable to the Client as well. That last “pragmatic” addendum upsets the Client’s nervous bespectacled colleague, Dr. Pershing (Omid Abtahi), whose objection to killing the subject is more or less ignored. The Mandalorian takes the assignment with no reservations.
Landing on the desert world of his quarry, the Mandalorian is immediately ambushed by a pair of wild blurrgs, but is aided and rescued from their digestive tracts by a wily, whiskered old creature named Kuill (voiced by Nick Nolte).
After being rescued, the Mandalorian is taken under Kuill’s wing, and is taught to ride a wild blurrg (which he tames). Kuill is sort of a cross between Yoda and an Old West prospector or Native American guide, whose folksy wisdom and surprisingly generous spirit is masked by a slightly crusty and self-important exterior; he ends each exchange with “I have spoken.” This is a character I sincerely hope to see more of later on in this series.
Clandestinely stalking a heavily fortified stronghold, the Mandalorian spots a ‘bounty hunter droid’ named IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi) already on the scene; apparently the Guild sent more than one bounty hunter on the scene. Once establishing that they’re after the same target, the Mandalorian suggests teaming up and splitting the bounty; a suggestion the lethal but logical droid finds acceptable. After snagging a powerful laser gun platform right out from their attackers, the two bounty hunters eliminate the guards and make their way into the stronghold…
The two open a hovering container, and find…
*****MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD!!****
… a 50 year old infant creature of the same green-skinned, large-eared species as Yoda (!). IG levels his blaster at the helpless infant, stating that his orders were to terminate the subject. The Mandalorian then impulsively shoots and kills the robot, remembering that Dr. Pershing seemed to desperately want this ‘youngling’ alive.
The Men Behind the Masked Man.
Played by Pedro Pascal with a worldly but not invulnerable aura, the Mandalorian, much like Karl Urban’s “Dredd” from 2012, is a surprisingly layered character… despite our never seeing his face. For an actor not to be seen might be considered a handicap to some, but Pascal uses it as an opportunity to keep his character both enigmatic and a bit unpredictable. Pascal plays the entire role in body language with minimalist dialogue; it’s a masterful exercise in near-mime performance, like something in Doug Jones’ repertoire. Some of Pascal’s other credits include a role in HBO’s “Game Of Thrones” and in Netflix’s “Narcos.”
“Mandalorian” writer and co-creator Jon Favreau has some experience directing men in iron armored suits, having directed “Iron Man” (2008) and its sequel “Iron Man 2” (2010). His other directing credits also include 1996’s cult indie-flick “Swingers” and more recently the pilot to another sci-fi series, “The Orville” (2017). Favreau is also an accomplished actor as well, playing the lead in “Swingers”, chauffeur/bodyguard “Happy” in the Marvel universe movies, and the titular character in 2014’s epic food porn film, “Chef.”
Director Dave Filoni has a long history with the Star Wars franchise, beginning with his writing/producing work in “The Clone Wars” animated series, continuing with “Rebels,” and most recently with “The Resistance.” Filoni’s “Rebels” is my personal favorite of his canon, as it smartly steers away from the mysticism of “The Clone Wars” and recalls many of the original elements that made me fall in love with “Star Wars” as a kid. It also added many new elements to the series, including a climax that introduced time travel to the Star Wars universe. Filoni’s involvement with “The Mandalorian” is a very good thing. Here’s hoping Filoni gets to work in a similar capacity on future “Star Wars” feature films someday.
Guest Star Warriors.
Just as “Chapter One” featured supporting roles featuring star Nick Nolte, (“48 HRS” “Lorenzo’s Oil”), filmmaker Werner Herzog (“Nosferatu”) and comedian Brian Posehn (“Big Bang Theory”), previews of future episodes promise a continuing variety of interesting guest stars as well.
Two new cast members in episodes to come are Mixed Martial Artist/action star Gina Carano (“Deadpool” “Fast and Furious 6”) as “Cara Dune.” We also see former “Breaking Bad” costar Giancarlo Esposito (“Gus Fring”) as disgraced former Imperial officer “Moff Gideon.”
Much as the earlier Star Wars movies established a cinematic universe with its meticulous set dressings, props, costumes and extras, “The Mandalorian” is awash in details that evoke the entirety of that far away galaxy…
In “Chapter One”, we see landspeeders, carbonite slabs, doorway entry droids, former Imperial stormtroopers, Jawas, droids, and even caged, roasting members of the same species as Jabba the Hutt’s pet, Salacious Crumb. And, of course, an infantile member of the same species as Yoda. The visual details and easter eggs in the first 40 minute pilot alone could fill a feature-length Star Wars film.
Future episodes promise appearances by an Imperial scout walker, stormtrooper helmets on spikes, and other such details. While some might decry these flourishes as nothing more than obligatory bits of fan service, but I disagree; they are part of the overall tapestry of the greater Star Wars universe. Just as one would expect to see spurs, six-shooters and horses in a cowboy movie, fans of Star Wars can expect to see blasters, droids and aliens. It’s no more fan service than seeing elves, wizards or dragons in a fantasy film. The Star Wars universe is a rich but very specific milieu; a few degrees one way and it mutates into “Star Trek”… a few degrees another and it becomes Joss Whedon’s “Firefly.” The audiovisual language of Star Wars is almost as formal and ritualized as kabuki.
Strike Up The Cantina Band.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the intriguing musical score by Ludwig Goransson (“Creed” “Black Panther”), which is alternately evocative of film composers Ennio Morricone (“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” “Exorcist II: The Heretic”) and Bill Conti (the Mandalorian’s end title track sounds a bit like “Rocky’s Reward” from Conti’s original “Rocky” soundtrack). In fact, there is a musical refrain that plays when the Mandalorian walks into the ice world’s saloon that sounds like a woodwinds version of composer Morricone’s famed “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” motif.
Goransson’s soundtrack is a very curious mix; arguably derivative, but with a mixing of drums and woodwinds that give it a fresh, quasi-African feel. I’ve always felt that Star Wars wasn’t quite Star Wars without that feel-good symphonic aura of John Williams music, but “The Mandalorian” has proven me wrong.
There is also the subject of the original Mandalorian; the Star Wars’ trilogy’s “Boba Fett”, a much-ballyhooed bounty hunter who delivered Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt. The character was first introduced in a cartoon short on the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special” (1978), later to receive a small but pivotal role in “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), only to be unceremoniously bumped off early on in “The Return of the Jedi” (1983). Boba Fett (played by Jeremy Bulloch; voiced by Jason Wingreen, later by Tameura Morrison) was ultimately a minor character with an aura of mystery and a great costume who failed to deliver the goods.
Maybe I’m still smarting 40 years after sending off several Kenner Star Wars toy proofs of purchase to get my ‘early bird’ Boba Fett action figure as a kid, thinking he’d be a huge part of future Star Wars movies only to see him die like a Star Trek redshirt in the Pit of Sarlaac four years later. Yes, I know the character somehow lived on in the extended universe books, but those were largely non-canonical hushpuppies to appease pissed-off fans. Boba Fett would later appear in the prequel trilogy too, but as an unmasked little kid (Daniel Logan). Great. First we see Darth Vader as a child, now Boba Fett… Star Wars Muppet Babies. The promise of the Boba Fett character always seemed unfulfilled.
With “The Mandalorian”, we finally get a sense of who Boba Fett should’ve been all along; an ass-kicking, name-taking bounty hunter who intrigues as much as he entertains. Disney’s new series may finally deliver on the 40-year promise of this character.
Sum Of The Bounty.
“The Mandalorian” is primarily for Star Wars fans, and that’s perfectly okay; not every TV show or movie can be 100% accessible to every member of every audience. A non-Star Wars fan might wonder what’s all the fuss is behind this space-age western chock full of obscure references, while fans will soak in a lovingly-realized, rich universe of details. One thing both groups might enjoy is the accessible, old-fashioned ‘man with no name’ western story at its high-tech core. At the end of its 40 minute running time, Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian” is off to a very promising start. Feature film production values, colorful guest casting, and an intriguing (fully masked) performance by lead actor Pedro Pascal make for some strong series’ anchors. This bounty hunter may truly earn his reward.
Images: IMDB, Twitter.