Star Wars was never meant to be a giant pop culture phenomenon, nor was it envisioned as a prime example of the capitalist Hollywood nightmare we now live in. Yet despite the flaws and missteps of this gargantuan franchise, I’ve always believed that Star Wars is a series that justifies the existence of its expanded universe. With that in mind, I was impressed by how the premiere of The Mandalorian on Disney+ finds its own space in that world.
“Space” pun not intended.
With Star Wars trying to put out as much content as any other cinematic universe in the market, the challenge that the franchise has had to face is the difficulty of breaking out of the space fantasy genre. Even when other fare like Rogue One and Solo tried to provide different angles of genre, both still depended on direct references to the original films.
The Mandalorian, however, is strictly a Western. The original Star Wars films certainly had hints of that, but this Disney+ show, under the tutelage of Jon Favreau and The Clone Wars‘ Dave Filoni, fully immerses itself in the trappings of the genre. And it is all exemplified by the eponymous Mandalorian, a man of few words played by a helmeted-Pedro Pascal.
He is a man with no name, a bit of a wanderer, and one with an ambiguous sense of morality. What this episode serves as is a sort-of character profile of this Mandalorian; even if we never see his face, we learn that there is a lot behind the helmet.
The Mandalorian starts off by going through some of the tropes of the Western, with our protagonist bounty hunter getting into a violent tussle in a bar (a space saloon, if you will) to catch a bounty of his. This Mandalorian plays cool under dire situations, and upon being bombarded with questions from his captive, he responds with total dead silence.
But the Mandalorian is not invincible, and the premiere episode is able to ground him in between moments of badassery. For one, the Mandalorian noticeably doesn’t have a lot of swagger in his walk. And, more significantly, as the Mandalorian begins his hunt for the asset that his client (played by the enigmatic Werner Herzog) assigns him to, he is instantly overrun by some two-legged sharp tooth-creatures called Blurrgs.
Thanks to a character named Kuiil, played by an unrecognizable Nick Nolte, the Mandalorian is able to tame and ride one of the Blurrgs, but not before taking a number of falls before doing so. He is not perfect, he is not infallible, and as we see by the end of the episode, he indeed has a heart.
This series premiere successfully plants a lot of seeds, and it is able to create its own corner in the larger Star Wars universe. It reuses a lot of imagery and concepts, but it all contributes to creating a lived-in, rustic, dangerous, and gritty world for The Mandalorian. It is able to add humor via Kuiil and Taika Waititi’s lowkey hilarious bounty hunting droid, without any gags feeling out of place. And it delivers on shoot-em-up gunslinging action that we haven’t really seen in live-action Star Wars before.
It is a bit surprising that in the decades of Star Wars franchise history, this is the first time we’ve gotten a live-action television series set in the universe. Perhaps in this age of “peak television,” with premium channels and streaming services putting out episodes that look like blockbuster feature films, this was simply finally the time that such a concept could be realized. And I’d agree—The Mandalorian looks wonderful.
And with an amazing and poignant final shot, this Star Wars show is able to grab us with one of the classic tenants of serial television storytelling: the cliffhanger, which has lost its meaning in an era where everything is binge-able from day one. I will certainly keep watching from here on out.