My girlfriend and I caved and got Disney Plus. For a week, through its free trial. After the initial novelty of being able to see all the Star Wars films in the same spot, as well as all the classic Disney Channel shows wore off, I watched “The Mandalorian” and a few episodes of “The World According to Jeff Goldblum,” and then we cancelled the trial. For us, access to Disney’s library and two good original TV shows just wasn’t worth the price of $6.99 a month, especially because, between the two of us, we have Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.
But I quite liked “The Mandalorian,” though I admit I have to see how its second season will go before I outright call it a great show. It follows the titular Mandalorian post “Return of the Jedi,” following a formula very similar to Netflix’s “The Witcher” as the show’s early episodes mostly follow the titular Mandalorian on bounty hunting jobs, and there is a beautiful simplicity to those episodes. Every show nowadays needs big, overblown plots that feel like they need to shock and surprise you, even at the expense of continuity and basic logic (the Star Wars sequel trilogy is especially guilty of this), so it was nice to get a show just about some guy trying to make a living in the Star Wars universe, even if it was only for the first few episodes until he stumbles upon the Child (commonly referred to as Baby Yoda on the internet), which slowly but surely takes over the focus of the show.
Pedro Pascal rocks as Mando, even though we only see his face once (it’s a Mandalorian’s creed to never willingly show their faces). His performance reminds me heavily of Karl Urban’s portrayal of Judge Dredd in 2012’s “Dredd,” in which Urban similarly doesn’t show his face, but the audience understands every emotion he feels through his body language and the tone of his voice. Pascal puts in a subtle performance for a subtle show.
The best thing “The Mandalorian” has going for it is its style, which takes after old serialized Westerns, and its restraint. While we get to see some cool live action blaster and space ship fights, there is no over bloated finale that sees the need to flood the screen with 1,000 starships, complete with a flipping camera to show us nonsensical and vomit-inducing angles of a grand battle made entirely on a computer through CGI. “The Mandalorian” uses practical effects as much as it can, and limits its actions to the restraints of what a real person would be able to conceivably do, which grounds it in ways that hasn’t been done since the original Star Wars trilogy. The show has a campy, scrappy realism in the way that it was shot that has more in common with the first Star Wars film that any film that came after that benefited from a real budget.
My only issue with the show is that its structure limits it into being a little too simple, as the show is comprised of 8 episodes that are approximately a half hour each. That translates into about 4 hours of TV, which to be fair, is still longer than most movies get to tell their tales. But when you compare it to the hour-long, 8 episode format Netflix popularized, you can’t but help to feel that we don’t know Mando nearly as well as we do the protagonists of other shows published on streaming platforms these days. Indeed, because of how its length limited the show, “The Mandalorian”‘s finale felt more like a mid-season break than a conclusive ending to its first season, and everything that season set up.
Is “The Mandlorian” great? I wouldn’t say it’s there yet. It’s certainly good, but it needs to evolve past its first season and grow. There’s also the matter of how the Star Wars sequel trilogy’s inconsistent quality unintentionally boosted this show, as it shines by comparison simply for telling a small story competently that only focuses on a few characters. It’s not an over bloated nightmare with extraneous characters who do nothing of importance, and it doesn’t make hamfisted creative decisions that divided general audiences for the sake of cheap shock value. Had the sequel trilogy been good, perhaps “The Mandalorian” would have received much less attention. For some, it’s the future of Star Wars, and its creators, Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, are looked upon as the saviors of the franchise.
I’m crossing my fingers for Season 2, knowing full well that there is a lot of room for Disney to mess it up. Unfortunately, “The Mandalorian” is carrying Disney Plus on its back now, and I can only wonder what the show could have been if it was allowed to go to Netflix with show creators Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni given full control. I would imagine Netflix would give them less restraint, the budget might be a tad bit larger, and we’d be looking at 8 hour-long episodes, released all at once. I must admit, I see what Disney is trying to do with this show by making people used to weekly episode releases, but I’m not a fan of it, and I think it will open the door to streaming shows being cancelled mid season, and more people feeling less inclined to stick with new shows.
That aside, “The Mandalorian” is still a fine show. Its best episode takes place almost entirely in a hallway set (Chapter 6: The Prisoner), which is very telling about the creative talent involved in this show. In a trilogy known for groundbreaking special effects, “The Mandalorian” realizes that the best stories we tell are character-driven, and with a great cast that already includes Deadpool’s Gina Carano and Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito, I have great confidence that season 2 will include even more great character acting paired with a smart narrative that takes Star Wars to new places, so long as sequel trilogy directors J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson don’t get their filthy hands on it.
“The Mandalorian” Season 1 gets an 8/10