The Disney era of Star Wars is divided between films that are bad and Rogue One. Thankfully, The Mandalorian arrived to prove that the new governance of George Lucas’ worshipped franchise does have some sense of originality when total creative control is given to the filmmakers. Under the safe hands of Disney poster boy Jon Favreau, The Mandalorian is a batch of eight episodes that revolve around Pedro Pascal’s bounty hunter Din Djarin (‘Mando’) who takes a mysterious child into his care.
The first episode succeeds in ticking all the boxes a pilot should: introducing a new, lived in world with a very watchable main character whilst also providing excitement, spectacle and a suitable tone which collectively hint towards the show evolving towards bigger and better things. Directed by Dave Filoni (the mastermind between The Clone Wars show), this tightly paced 39-minute episode pays numerous homages to the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone. The first scene is pure Clint Eastwood: Mando walks into a bar and beautifully dispatches three quarries before turning his attention towards his bounty: “I can bring you in warm. Or I can bring you in cold,” he states. A new rugged anti-hero for the Star Wars universe, Pedro Pascal brings all the swagger of Boba Fett but without all that backstory baggage.
One of the stronger aspects of the episode (and the series) is how far removed it is from the films. Despite being set five years after Return of the Jedi, the story and characters are completely removed from the Skywalkers, Solos and Sith Lords that normally populate the saga. Subsequently, the writers have free reign to map new worlds, characters and conflicts away from the shadow of George Lucas’ vision. It is a totally refreshing experience, boosted by the knowledge that Disney has placed something Star Wars related in the hands of people who get Star Wars.
The pilot (cleverly called ‘The Mandalorian’) also packs a punch with its set pieces. Utilising call-backs to classic westerns such as The Big Country and The Wild Bunch, Filoni fills the episode’s final ten minutes with a rollickingly good shootout – complete with an IG assassin droid with a large minigun and aimbot on. The $100 million budget for the season is unsurprising considering the pretty spotless visual and sound work on display, and the action scenes have a real cinematic edge to them.
But what ultimately makes the first episode so impressive is that a re-watch after finishing the first season reveals that nearly every beautiful payoff in the immensely satisfying finale is planted in this opening. It is a conventional pilot in all the narrative and character senses, but when a conventional pilot also has Taika Waititi playing a suicidal droid, a visual reference to The Creation of Adam and cult German director Werner Herzog as an ex-Imperial, it’s hardly worth complaining about predictability.
The Mandalorian is streaming on Disney+. You can watch the trailer below.