Created by Jon Favreau
Starring Pedro Pascal, Werner Herzog, Gina Carano, Nick Nolte, Carl Weathers
Network: Disney +
The Mandalorian is certainly comfort viewing. It’s that cold glass of blue milk after coming home from a day tending moisture vaporators. What’s so shocking about this is how it’s not been done before. The Mandalorian feels like such an obvious fit, that it should have been done decades ago, as if creator Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Chef, The Lion King) is creating the Star Wars show from his childhood that never was – instead of The Star Wars Holiday Special, or Battlestar Galactica.
Emperor Palpatine is dead, and with him the Empire has crumbled allowing for a New Republic to form. On the Outer Rim a cold and efficient bounty hunting Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) is given a lucrative job to do by one of the remnants of the dismantled Empire, but finds himself conflicted when he discovers the bounty is just a child (and a cutely toyetic one at that).
The Mandalorian is classic Star Wars, which is both the show’s greatest strength and a weakness. It cleaves close to the cinema that inspired George Lucas, perhaps slightly more pushed towards the Westerns and Samurai flicks, and less to the raygun carrying serials of the 40s. Hence it fits well into the Star Wars universe, feeling similar to A New Hope, although obviously examining the seedier aspects of that world. The production and design of the show are faultless, bringing that big screen experience into a weekly format, and so far viewers have experienced a lot that is familiar. From roasted Kowakian monkey-lizards to Jawas, there’s a lot of Easter eggs for the fans, that add texture to the world.
Yet that leaning into the inspirations also reveals some of the show’s issues. The Mandalorian often crosses the line between inspiration and derivative in its references to the works of Leone, Peckinpah, Kazuo, and Kurosawa. At times it can be so littered with these references that it barely feels like an original work. However it’s the episodic format of tale telling that is the most distracting, with only a vague stab being made at a series arc. Of course there are other questions raised by the existence of The Child, and the large bounty placed on its head, but the show instead seems to mainly focus on the aged “story of the week” format.
This can become particularly frustrating when you are give old staple archetypal stories to work with such as in Chapter 4: Sanctuary and Chapter 5: The Gunslinger. Let’s face it, Sanctuary isn’t even the first time that Star Wars has ripped off Seven Samurai‘s plot for a TV series (The Clone Wars S2, Ep17). Add to this a lack of character development in the archetypal anti-hero Mando with No Name-o, and it is questionable how The Mandalorian fares against other long form storytelling. It may be comfortable, but does it have longevity?
We have three more episodes left to see if The Mandalorian can build into something with a little more dramatic substance, to put it in good stead for its second season. As it stands now, it’s a fun space western with a lot of Star Wars fan service, but it doesn’t really hold the higher ground. Yet, come Friday, I’ll be watching it, and fanboying out.