TL;DR – This is a really interesting show in around its characters and setting, however, the overarching plot just does not quite seem to land yet.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
With a new Star Wars film only weeks away, you would think that it would be all everyone is talking about but no, for if you go on the internet the one thing that is dominating pop-culture at the moment is ‘Baby Yoda’. It is almost all-absorbing at the moment and it is telling that Star Wars still has that cultural reach. Well, when some friends asked if I wanted to watch the ‘Baby Yoda’ show, well how could I refuse and it was a fascinating dive.
So to set the scene, in the years following the destruction of the second Death Star in The Return of the Jedi, the Empire has mostly collapsed but the New Republic is yet to really take control. This leaves large parts of the galaxy outside of the core in a state of flux. In that confusion, there are some systems that still work and one of them are the bounty hunters guild because irrespective of who is in power people still ditch out on their bail. This is where we met the titular Mandalorian or Mando (Pedro Pascal) to his well not really friends but more workplace proximity associates. One day he is offered a special bounty by his main contact Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) to work off-books for A Client (Werner Herzog) to find something special, only to discover that the bounty is a child. Now from here, we will be looking at the season as a whole so there will be [SPOILERS] ahead.
I have to say that I was not quite sure what I was going to see when I sat down to watch, would it just be a series of references to Star Wars films etc smashed together, would it chart its own course? Well, it is both, but then it is also greater than the sum of its own parts. The whole show is littered with references to the films of the past and future, with eye globe doorbells, freezing people in carbonite, and indeed the very character of the Mandalorian is harkening back to the ever-popular Boba Fett. However, the show never uses that as a crutch, exploring new and interesting locations and expanding on the universe in interesting ways.
Tonally, the big influence for this series is less the big space opera/ pulp fiction origins of the original Star Wars and more the interconnected work of Samurai and Western films. There are of course hints of Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name with Mando, with that gruff no-nonsense exterior, hiding something a bit more complex behind all that brooding. In Chapter 4: Sanctuary we get a pretty pitch-perfect homage to The Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai but with a Star Wars twist. While I was expecting some of those references, the big influence that caught me a bit off-guard was the ever-present touchstone of Lone Wolf and Cub. Honestly, I think it will be a great legacy of the show if it gets a whole new generation to explore some of the touchstones of these genres.
One area I think the show needs to get all the credit is in its production which is simply breath-taking at times. All of the planets feel like real places grounded with a history that you see in the set design. The planet of Nevarro has that feel of an outpost town, where there are all the feature comforts if you can pay for them, but that you could also be shot at any moment. Or the farms of Sorgan, that have the feeling of a planet that the rest of the galaxy just ignores for better or worse. It is these small details on every planet that makes you engrossed with the world. Another way they hook you in is with the music that we get from famed composer Ludwig Göransson. He has created a score that both feels like it fits into the world of Star Wars, but then is also the furthest that we have gotten away from the sound of John Williams. The visual look of the show is also outstanding with work put into showing contracts of shiny and dull, of dark and light, of colour and darkness.
Where I think this show works the best is in its characters and at the heart of that is our lead and the only main character. It is a very interesting choice to take what is one of the most handsome actors working in the business today Pedro Pascal and then have him under a helmet for the entire run time of the show. Instead of this holding the show back, it instead allows Pedro to strip back the character to the bare essentials that make every movement and line of dialogue have weight. It is also good to see a character that is not infallible, indeed in Chapter 2: The Child he gets his arse kicked by some Jawas, and at other times he is saved by other characters coming to his aid. This all combines to create a character that is compelling at all times and one that you want to know more about their past.
Then, of course, there is the character that has gotten the whole internet into a frenzy, ‘Baby Yoda’ or ‘The Child’ or ‘Bright Eyes’. Having all of my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Imgur feeds inundated for weeks with ‘Baby Yoda’ I was expecting for it to not have the impact that it would have had, but this was not the case. From the first moment he appears on the screen and reaches out his hand to Mando in a reverse Sistine Chapel ceiling I was hooked. He is such a beautiful addition to the cast with some of the best comedic timing I have seen, with the moment when Mando and Cara Dune (Gina Carano) were fighting and look up to see him there watching while drinking his soup, that got such a good guttural laugh out of me. It is also a good example as to why using puppets is still a good option in film making because it gives actors something real to act with and when the puppet model is as good as this one is it gives you some great lighting opportunities. I was enraptured by ‘Baby Yoda’ and it is that hook that makes you keep coming back to see. Also, I should also give a shout out to IG-11 (Taika Waititi) in Chapter 1 who was also a delight.
While there are so many factors working for the show, one thing that I took away from watching the first half of the season is that while the characters and setting is all on point, the overarching plot feels like it is just not landing yet. So while it is great to have these fantastic character moments like watching Werner Herzog walk onscreen and instantly become one of the most fascinating things in Star Wars. That joy is tempered with a feeling at times that the plot is a car stuck in the mud spinning its tyres. In many respects, it feels like how I play video games, by ignoring the main plot and taking every side quest that I come across. But this has the effect of making some of the moments in the show just not hit as well as they could. Now, this might be something that all comes out in the wash with the second half of the season, but I’m not sure. However, on the plus side, all the episodes so far are about half an hour, so even when they don’t hit as well as they could, they don’t outstay their welcome.
In the end, do we recommend the first season of The Mandalorian? Yes, yes I would. Now while some facets of the show, like the overarching plot, are not landing as well as they could. Every other part of the show is just a pure delight. It is a breath of fresh air is a genre that can get really stuffy and is simply a joy to watch at times.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Mandalorian
Directed by – Dave Filoni, Rick Famuyiwa, Deborah Chow & Bryce Dallas Howard
Written by – Jon Favreau
Created by – Jon Favreau
Based On – Star Wars by George Lucas
Production/Distribution Companies – Lucasfilm, Golem Creations & Disney+
Starring – Pedro Pascal with Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog, Omid Abtahi, Nick Nolte, Taika Waititi, Gina Carano, Emily Swallow, Horatio Sanz & Julia Jones
Episodes Covered – Chapter 1, Chapter 2: The Child, Chapter 3: The Sin & Chapter 4: Sanctuary