Disney+ has joined the ranks among the top streaming apps used, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the world of Star Wars is a major reason for that. They even have their own category in the app. Now, if you are a Star Wars fan, you have no doubt have heard of Jon Favreau’s latest contribution to Disney — The Mandalorian. This is not the first time Favreau has ventured into science fiction storytelling — nor is it the first he has made a western. In fact, back in 2011, shortly after making Iron Man 2, he accomplished both while making the film Cowboys & Aliens. However, much like Zathura, it was a really cool idea with a few bumps here and there that unfortunately released to a lukewarm response. So, now, having such a recognizable IP to work with must have been a dream come true for him. And, as a fan of his work, I was excited to see what he could come up with. Here is my review of The Mandalorian.
The show follows the titular bounty hunter, who is not to be confused with either of the Fetts in the previous Star Wars films. Raised by the Mandalorian creed as a child, the plot follows his ventures into the galaxy after he is hired to capture a peculiar bounty. The bounty ends up being a youngling who appears to be of the same race as the legendary character Master Yoda — hence social media’s label “Baby Yoda”. From then on, the events that follow spark adventure, deceit, and unlikely friendships as the two venture throughout the galaxy.
One of the first things that will pop up to you about this show is the music. We’re dealing with a franchise that is known for its music. Even George Lucas has gone on record to say that without John Williams’s music, the first trilogy would have never worked. So, with Williams having officially retired from the franchise and newly Oscar-winning composer Ludwig Goransson taking on this show, the pressure was definitely on. And yet, he manages to craft such memorable themes for the show without even resorting to bringing back themes from the movies. You will hear similar instruments being used, but you will also hear some new ones — particularly electric guitars, subtle electronic drums, and an overly resonant solo flute that signals the presence of our protagonist. The music will not make you forget the original music, but it is a fantastic addition to the Star Wars music library. I still listen to it on repeat, so I consider this a major win for Ludwig. Then again, this should not surprise me, given his work on Black Panther and the Creed movies, the latter of which he also faced similar pressures from Bill Conti’s themes for Rocky.
Another plus is the action scenes. Given that we’re dealing with a western with bounty hunters, this was bound to be a plus. But some of the action sequences in this show are amazing to look at and rank among the best in the franchise. And, for a show with virtually no lightsabers — just gunslingers (or I guess, blaster-slingers), that’s an impressive feat. The adventure is apparent throughout the show, but it really picks up at the end of the season — giving us something to look forward to in Season 2.
The lore and characters of this show are also very interesting. Mando — the protagonist who is played by Pedro Pascal — is a very mysterious character. As the show progresses, we slowly learn more about his past. This is very reminiscent of Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy, which is clearly a major inspiration for the show. Pascal plays the role nicely, but the writing for him does seem a little too sparse at times. Perhaps, that is by design, but as a consequence, the audience’s connection with him is not strong enough, unless it can be bolstered by the other characters he interacts with. Thankfully, the rest of the characters fit the bill very well. Now, everybody knows how adorable “Baby Yoda” is. Without him, our stoic protagonist would simply stay stoic. The little tike manages to bring the human side out of Mando. Also, seeing cameos from Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog, Gina Carano, Taika Waititi, and even Bill Burr was quite a treat. All of the show’s characters have a cool vibe and backstory to their faces that honestly makes you want to know more about them. The coolest side character is actually a CGI Ugnaught played by Nick Nolte. Don’t let that description fool you. His character ends up being one of the most profound characters in the show, and it is great to see Nick Nolte back on the map.
Now, while we do get to see his character to satisfactory fruition, the same cannot be said for all of the other characters. Carl Weathers and Gina Carano’s characters do get noticeably more time onscreen than most, but you’re still left wanting more from them. In fact, the same can be said for all of the others. There is so much lore in this show that Favreau and his team put in here, and there are definitely many nods to the events that happened in the movies and the other shows. But, in the face of all that lore and all of those fan trinkets, certain characters seem underused. It’s hard to tell if they are being placed in there for the sake of action figures and fan books, or if some of these characters will appear back in Season 2. Given that it’s Disney, it’s hard to tell. They have had this problem in the past with their sequel trilogy. Some of those characters felt like they were awkwardly used, and when fans rioted about it, the solution usually came from a book about said character written by an author that was commissioned to write it. While that is a money proposition and some fans will fall for that bait, I’m with Jeremy Jahns on this one. I don’t have to NEED a book to be fully satisfied with a film or show I am watching. The book should act as a supplement to a viewing experience that otherwise feels complete on its own. The best example of this in Star Wars — Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy of novels. The first five pages of the first graphic novel will make you forget about the sequels — trust me on that.
Now, back to the show, the aforementioned fan service-over-substance approach bleeds somewhat into the writing. The character interactions are fantastic, but the overall plot feels disjointed at times. There is a cohesive progression of events, but there are bumps along the way. With that said, any one of the eight episodes could work as its own short film, and it definitely feels like that’s how the show was done. The episodes are split among a group of directors, with the main attraction of Dave Filoni (the main force behind Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels) directing two of them. But, I think the major reason comes from the middle of the series where writing duties temporarily go from Jon Favreau to Dave Filoni then Christopher Yost then back to Favreau. And, looking at the episode listings, without spoiling anything, that’s probably a major reason for the disjointedness. I guess it’s true to the nature of westerns, but if anybody remembers my Young Justice review, there is something special about an ongoing plot that keeps you on your toes as the show progresses. Perhaps, just like in Young Justice, this serves as a preamble for the second season.
Despite the underlying issues in the writing, the overall experience of watching The Mandalorian is an incredibly fun one. It more than lives up to the Star Wars name in terms of adventure — even if it doesn’t match the storytelling prowess of the original trilogy. Regardless, this show definitely eclipses the sequels and the prequels, and it might just do the same to the animated shows. I still have a soft spot for Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated clone wars series, but I’m old school like that. The Mandalorian is a win for Star Wars fans just as much it’s a win for Jon Favreau — and I guess, by extension, Disney.