Star Wars: The Mandalorian: Season 1 (Disney +) — a review

MandalorianS1

One future writing project I’ve been mulling over for a while now has this working title: “King Nerd of Geek Mountain.”

A clunky title, I know. At one point, it was just “King of the Nerds,” but it turns out that this was the actual title of a reality television program that I never watched. I’m trying to winnow down a list of names to just ten people deserving of the title “King Nerd.” This would be people who have contributed in significant ways to the current Nerd Zeitgeist, and, in spite of the “king,” could be female as well.

Maybe I should rethink the title. “Sovereign Nerd,” maybe?

Jon Favreau is on the short list. I can’t imagine that he’ll be bumped from the final 10-List either. He was the man responsible for the movie Iron Man, which marked the official birth of the MCU. He even played Happy Hogan. Also, Foggy Nelson in that Ben Affleck Daredevil movie that no one wants to talk about anymore. He directed the live-action versions of Disney’s The Jungle Book and the CGI version of The Lion King. He was one of the executive producers on NBC’s short-lived series Revolution, which I think ended too soon. He also directed its pilot. He has done a lot of genre voice acting work, notably in the animated series Star Wars: Clone Wars and as the pilot Rio Durant in Solo: A Star Wars story.

Plus, he was the creator, head writer, executive producer and showrunner of this Disney + series. The Nerd-Force is strong with Favreau.

Even so, I was prepared to be disappointed by The Mandalorian.

That has been our experience with Star Wars properties, hasn’t it? In spite of the things we liked about the prequel trilogy, it was a disappointment overall. I’m not even that big a fan of Return of the Jedi, and it was a part of the original trilogy—”The Trilogy”—that many members of the nerd herd consider sacrosanct. I blame Ewoks, mostly. I liked both Rogue One and Solo, but I wasn’t over-the-moon (or moons) about them. And, The Last Jedi was a colossal let-down to me. In fact, my disappointment in that movie seems to grow, fungus-like, the further I get away from it.

I haven’t watched enough of the animated series to even form an opinion about them. Plus, I may be one of the final holdouts who hasn’t seen The Rise of Skywalker yet, although we both know I will. Probably sooner than later.

The upshot of it all is that I approached The Mandalorian cautiously, in spite of the Favreau connection.

I liked it. A lot. And not just because I went into it with low expectations. This was good television. Epic adventure storytelling in the Star Wars milieu.

Favreau returned to the same well that initially inspired George Lucas. Westerns, samurai stories, and science-fiction serials. He was able to recapture some of that original cinematic magic as well. While CGI effects are judiciously applied, much of the special effects in this show are achieved through practical means. This gives the series more of that lived-in, used-tech feel of A New Hope. This is a show that looks like it wasn’t handed an unlimited budget, which actually heightens the creativity of the filmmakers. It doesn’t have wild, over-the-top CGI-heavy action sequences just because it can be done. Almost everything in this series seems to exist to serve the story.

There is no doubt that we’re in another Golden Age of television, whether on the broadcast networks or the myriad streaming platforms that are popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. (Another fungus reference: it’s been raining a lot here in Arkansas.) In this new age, I can name more television programs that have blown me away than movies. They’re what I review most frequently here, and I’ll admit that I rarely go to the movie theater these days. There was a time when television was a cultural wasteland and the movies were my preferred source of entertainment. No more. Give me a big-screen television set and a great television series any day.

It makes sense that a live-action Star Wars series would be the most interesting installment of the franchise that I’ve seen recently. The series has a larger canvas to create upon than a typical motion picture, certainly. I wouldn’t sit through an 8-hour Star Wars movie, and I consider myself a fan. I didn’t binge-watch the show, watching it at a rate of one episode a week, over a couple of months. If I had attempted to watch it in less time, I may not have enjoyed it as much as I did. The time between episodes was as important to my enjoyment of the project as the time between each of the movies in The Trilogy was, way back when. It allowed the worldbuilding and myth-creation of the show to marinate in my subconscious, adding depth and texture where, perhaps, it may not even exist on the screen. That has always been part of the magic of Star Wars, which has always been bigger than George Lucas or any individual contributor to the franchise.

The bounty hunter, as a Star Wars trope, is a perfect case-in-point. Bounty hunters were first name-dropped by Greedo in A New Hope, when that ill-fated personage tells Han Solo, in the Mos Eisley Cantina, that Jabba has put a price on his head. Then, in The Empire Strikes Back, we’re introduced to an entire group of bounty hunters being vetted by the Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader, himself. Like all Star Wars characters destined to become action figures, these bounty hunters all had names, even if I didn’t know them when I first saw the movie.

There was 4-LOM, a LOM-series protocol droid which was essentially a C-3PO with an insectile head.

Mando4LOM

Speaking of insects, there was also Zuckuss.

MandoZuckuss

Dengar, who must have nicked himself shaving pretty severely that morning.

MandoDengar

The flight-suited Bossk, who was a playable character in the Star Wars Battlefront II video game and looks like a cousin of Star Trek’s Gorn to me.

MandoBossk

IG-88, the assassin droid.

MandoIG88

And, of course—last but not least—Boba Fett.

MandoBobaFett

Someone is going to tell me that Boba Fett actually made his first appearance, in our time not in Star Wars chronology, in A New Hope. But, that wasn’t until the Special Editions. I’m an OG Star Wars nerd. His mythology gained more backstory in the prequel trilogy, as we all know, as we found out that Boba—and all of the original Clone Troopers—were clones of Jango Fett.

In case you’re wondering: Yes, I know Boba was in the Star Wars Christmas Special. But, no one, even Lucasfilm, wants to admit that a Star Wars special featuring Bea Arthur actually exists.

I listed the entire roster of bounty hunters to illustrate a point. I knew none of those names until years after I watched The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 (four decades ago! Ain’t that a kick in the nostalgia?). But, there are no throwaway characters in the mythology created by Star Wars. You can go to the Wookieepedia and read about all of these characters, including their backstories, and appearances in other Star Wars media. I haven’t really gone that deep (although I could easily lose myself in that rabbit hole for a few hours if I don’t watch myself).

When I first watched the movie, these bounty hunters were little more than set decoration to me (and, let’s be honest, probably to George Lucas and other creators on-set at the time). The purpose of the scene was obvious. It was to introduce the Boba Fett character, who would reappear throughout the movie, piloting his ship that looked like a giant clothes iron and collecting the carbonsicle Han at the end of the movie to take to Jabba the Hutt. I thought Boba’s armor looked cool, but didn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about the character, honestly, especially after he met what I thought was his anticlimactic demise early in Return of the Jedi. I know, I know. You’re going to tell me that he didn’t really die in that Sarlacc Pit, according to extended universe lore. If Darth Maul can survive getting cut in half by a lightsaber, it’s easy to believe that no cool-looking character ever really dies in Star Wars.

Along the way I had picked up tidbits about the Boba Fett character. I knew he was wearing Mandalorian armor, because various sources told me that. I honestly don’t know where I first heard the term. And, I didn’t know if Fett was a Mandalorian, or if Mandalorian referred to a race or a planet or religion. Or if it was the brand name for the armor. All I knew was the name: Mandalorian.

Lots of Star Wars fans like to obsess over details like that. I’m often comfortable with allowing things to remain a mystery. Much of the real world is like that to me. I understand quantum physics is actually a thing, but I don’t know what it is. Maybe something to do with midichlorians. But…I must admit I was intrigued when I heard that the new Disney+ series was called The Mandalorian. I didn’t know if it would be about Boba Fett or not, but I was intrigued.

I was immediately drawn in by the first of this season’s eight episodes. The Mandalorian, whose name is eventually revealed to be Din Djarin, although his nickname seems to be “Mando,” is played by Pedro Pascal, who was Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones. While we learn that Mandalorians, who are part of a secret Knights Templar-type organization, never take off their helmets in front of others, Pascal does get to show his face towards the end of the season. His acting is on-point even with the full-faced helmet on, which is no small feat. The first episode plays like an old Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. The Mandalorian is hired by Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) to track a valuable asset which turns out to be The Child, a fifty-year old toddler of the same alien race as Yoda. The Client is Werner Herzog.

A man of action and few words, the Mandalorian actually succeeds in obtaining the asset, but decides not to give The Child over to The Client, which drives much of the action for the remainder of this short season. While the episodes are telling a heavily serialized story, there is still some room for episodic content, including side missions like a huge boss battle with something called a Mudhorn, and a space heist guest-starring Bill Burr, Clancy Brown, and Richard Ayoade (as the voice of Zero), and Mark Boone Jr. from Sons of Anarchy. Other notable guest stars include Nick Nolte and Taika Waititi, in voice acting roles as Kuiil the Ugnaught and IG-11 (an assassin droid). Also MMA fighter Gina Carano as former shocktrooper Cara Dune, and Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul standout Giancarlo Esposito as the Big Bad, Moff Gideon. Plenty other familiar faces (and voices) crop up as well.

The long-form storytelling of the season adds layers of depth to what is essentially a straightforward tale. The mythology of Star Wars continues to grow by leaps and bounds. There is a video game feel to the show that I like. The Mandalorian collects Beskar steel as payment and uses it to trick out his armor and weaponry. There are boss battles and side missions. Mando collects allies along the way and earns their loyalty through various means. The result is a satisfying story that seems to end too soon. Thankfully, a second season is in production.

This series has, so far, remained true to its roots. “Disneyfication” is a word that’s used frequently by bloggers complaining about the new Star Wars movies. I’m happy to tell you that the word doesn’t describe this show. Well, yes, Baby Yoda—as The Child is popularly known online these days—is cute in that big-eyed, Disney way, but the character is used sparingly and efficiently, so as not to become cloying.

Firewater’s Weapons-Are-Part-of-My-Religion Report Card: A

A

This show is entertaining, and evokes nostalgia while taking the Star Wars story forward into new territory. A Must-See for even the casual Star Wars fan.

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