The Mandalorian: Series One in Review
The Mandalorian is an odd show.
It’s atypical of modern serialised entertainment in that the bulk of the first series follows an adventure-of-the-week format. It’s full of deep cuts into the Star Wars lore that may be written off as “fan-service” by the shrill voices of the commentariat but actually serves as legitimate world-building. Erstwhile breakout character Baby Yoda brings the “cute” back to Star Wars in a way that blends seamlessly with the high-stakes action.
All good stuff. It’s not perfect (as we’ll get to further down) but with the first series complete it’s safe to say that The Mandalorian is the best new Star Wars media since Rogue One.
The concept of the series is simple. Six years after Return of the Jedi a Mandalorian bounty hunter is assigned to bring in a child of Yoda’s species for the Imperial remnant. After the child saves his life using the Force, the Mandalorian takes him on the run, with the pair making an array of new friends and enemies on the way. Yet they can’t outrun the inevitable – all roads lead back to a confrontation with the Imperials…
Written like that you can see why this show would have gotten a green light – sounds pretty cool, no? Cutting straight to the chase, The Mandalorian lives up to what you might expect.
For the most part…
Bring You in Cold
Yet it still took me longer than a lot of people to get on board.
“Chapter One”, the first episode, is a mixed bag. For the first half, the tone is inconsistent and meandering, but once the action of the final act starts it feels like the story finds its purpose. The introduction of the Child – AKA Baby Yoda – was a neat surprise, and it’s easy to see how it caused the pop-culture stir that ensued.
Despite the strong end to Chapter One, the second episode, “The Child”, kept me on the fence. The Trandoshan fight was entertaining if a bit pointless, and I still wasn’t sure what the show was trying to do. It wasn’t until the Jawa chase started that I realised the story was going way off from where I expected it to go – and that it was also tremendous fun.
With that, I realised that The Mandalorian isn’t about the lore or the politics of the galaxy that I’ve come to love so well. It’s about the scoundrels, the lowlifes and the zany side-quest side stories that filled a hundred Dark Horse comic books.
The Mandalorian is the non-canon Expanded Universe realised in live action.
Despite the appeal of this idea, the execution still needed work, as episode three, “The Sin”, demonstrated. The first half delves into the Bounty Hunter’s Guild, which is interesting, but also feels like low-budget sci-fi TV. Watching this was the first time I had felt genuinely embarrassed watching Star Wars since the 2008 Clone Wars movie.
The second half improves things drastically. The Mandalorian’s rescue of the child from the Imperial facility is intense and action-packed, and his escape from town, thanks to the intervention of his clan, more than makes up for the clunkiness of their introduction.
This is the Way
So, a rocky start. Luckily chapter four, “Sanctuary”, marked the turning point of the series for me.
A compressed remake of The Seven Samurai, this episode engages in more world-building, adds depth to the Mandalorian himself and introduces a series favourite, former Republic Shocktrooper Cara Dune. I loved this episode from start to finish as it delivered the type of Star Wars I want to see – human, character-driven, action-packed and thrilling. If you only watch one episode from the series I would suggest you make it this one.
It’s a shame then that it’s followed up with “The Gunslinger”. Chapter five is sadly the weakest of the series, and that’s due mostly to the awful guest performances. Yet despite the terrible acting this episode still manages to pull off some nice touches – the return to Mos Eisley shows us Chalmun’s Spaceport Cantina (under new ownership) and a handful of pit droids. It’s also great to see a little more of Tusken Raider culture; again adding depth to the world we’ve seen. The episode demonstrates sharply how Dave Filoni is an essential member of the Star Wars team thanks to his creativity and love and respect for the lore – but he’s not director material yet.
From here the series picks up again and doesn’t stop. “The Prisoner” is the last standalone episode of the series and it’s a return to form, as the Mandalorian catches up with his less-than-savoury past and proves himself to be the absolute baddest of asses. The action is intense, the acting is… OK, and the world-building is on point. It’s a solid episode with high highs and X-Wings, which makes it a winner in my book.
The series closes with a two-part story made up of “The Reckoning” and “Redemption”. Older characters come back into the fray to make it feel like a true culmination of the Mandalorian’s adventures over the series, while the stakes are raised substantially with the introduction of new Imperial, Moff Gideon. The two-parter is at times heart wrenching, at others funny and awe-inspiring (that was not the type of R2 unit I expected on the riverboat), and completely entertaining.
It all means that The Mandalorian series one ends in the best possible way.
To Nurse and Protect
By the end of Redemption I was sad for the death of IG-11, but not because I had grown particularly attached to the character – it was because it marked the end of Kuiil’s legacy on the show. I liked most of the supporting cast but Kuiil stood out for his nobility and I was glad to see the Mandalorian honour him with a grave. That was a necessary tribute.
Still, my follow up thought was that producer Jon Favreau and crew had managed to create these characters and make me care about them in a relatively short amount of time. On this basis, I have every faith that they can create new characters of equal worth for season two.
And on that note, with season two to look forward to we’ve also now seen proof that Lucasfilm knows what they’re doing with the TV shows. This can’t help but give us confidence that the upcoming Cassian Andor, Kenobi and rumoured Doctor Aphra shows will hit similar heights of competence.
Kenobi itself is an especially exciting idea as the entire series will be directed by Deborah Chow, and the biggest criticism I could level at The Mandalorian is the inconsistency between each director’s episodes. That said, Chow directed both lacklustre episode The Sin and the brilliant The Reckoning, so that inconsistency could still be a factor.
In summary, The Mandalorian is a mixed bag of a series that seems smoother when considered in retrospect. What I love about it is that it truly understands something that’s been lost in a lot of Disney media so far – Star Wars is weird. Absolutely bonkers. It’s just that we’ve all gotten so used to the weirdness that we already know that it’s harder to recognise as a core element of the series.
This, you could argue, is where the ultra-conservative Sequel Trilogy falls down.
George Lucas is an off-the-wall creative powerhouse and Favreau leans into that aspect hard. His work here does nothing to dissuade my opinion that he would have been the right man to tackle the Sequel Trilogy, but then that’s another story altogether.
A final complimentary note. The score, composed by Ludwig Göransson, is pure intergalactic Western and a perfect blend of expansive adventure and 70’s TV show cheese. I’ve listened to it near-repeatedly since November and appreciate having a new Star Wars sound to listen to (because, as Spotify reminded me at the end of the year, I listen to way too much John Williams).
Speaking of new Star Wars sounds – this retro new wave version of the main theme by YSSY is my favourite of the many cover versions available on YouTube. Enjoy it below!
So, what’s my overall opinion on The Mandalorian series one?
It’s a solid B for execution, but for originality, world-building, intent, atmosphere and just being Star Wars, The Mandalorian gets an A. As mentioned above it feels like the circa-1996 Expanded Universe writ large in live-action. This is the Star Wars that my friends and I imagined as kids, and it’s so welcome to see.
On the evidence of The Mandalorian I can draw only one conclusion about Favreau et al taking the baton from Lucas and shepherding Star Wars into a TV-based future:
This is surely the way.