We knew that Disney Plus would launch with a big splash, and there are few bigger splashes than debuting the first-ever live-action Star Wars series. Amid some technical glitches and weird additions to other corners of the galaxy far, far away ("Maclunkey!"), the new streaming service's first major draw was well worth the wait, even if UK audiences might not agree given the extra few months' delay.
Created by filmmaker Jon Favreau (Iron Man, The Lion King) and developed by Favreau and animated Star Wars veteran Dave Filoni (The Clone Wars, Rebels), The Mandalorian is set in the years following the fall of the Galactic Empire in Return Of The Jedi. Poking around some new corners of the universe first brought to life by George Lucas, it's both reassuringly familiar in terms of some tech, creatures and settings, and yet very new, introducing a much more Western vibe than has usually been seen in the movies.
Some story details follow, but we've avoided major spoilers.
A lot of that feeling is in the main character’s brusque, neutral attitude to his work tracking targets down as a bounty hunter and its consequences. Pedro Pascal is a charismatic actor (as those who’ve watched Game Of Thrones or Narcos know) and it’s perhaps a surprise that he spends the entire premiere episode still wearing his helmet.
Yet Pascal is still able to make him compelling, even working behind layers of metal. With only the first show to judge from, you’ve got to figure that we’ll see his face at some point. But the script has already started to shade in his character. True Mandalorian or not, he’s clearly linked to the people who made the armour, and little touches such as his distrust of droids are played for both characterization and comic relief.
You saw parts of it in the trailers, but the moment where the Taika Waititi-voiced IG-11 takes on highly-equipped soldiers
in a firefight shows that Star Wars has lost nothing in its transition to the small screen. It’s a high-energy sequence that ups the stakes and shows off the well-considered effects used to bring IG-11 to life.
Around him are a more colorful bunch, even if we’ve yet to meet many of the characters who will populate the show. Fellow bounty hunter IG-11 (Taika Waititi) is entertaining, like a parking meter crossed with Mr. Spock, a multi-limbed sharp-shooting machine with the ability to pivot around and take out several enemies at one.
Werner Herzog is more of a gruff surprise – who would ever have thought to see him grace a Star Wars screen? – while Nick Nolte has fun voicing an Ugnaught who helps get the Mandalorian where he’s going in this opening episode.
One key element of the show so far is that for all its hard-bitten space cowboy feel, it isn’t afraid to have fun with the concept. The Mandalorian’s first on-screen capture is a chatty blue fish-guy played by former Saturday Night Live performer Horatio Sanz, who gives the opening scenes a Midnight Run feel. Watching our anti-hero trying to tame a bluurg, a horse-like creature that is more akin to a grouper fish mated with a dinosaur, offers a brief blast of slapstick.
Blending fan-pleasing easter eggs (is that a very Boba Fett-looking character lurking in the Mandalorian building?) with a fresh tone and a different energy from the films, 'Chapter One' signals itself confidently as the start of something exciting for both hardcore Star Wars fans and those who don’t know their Ewok from their AT-AT, but are interested enough to look this up among the sprawling catalogue that Disney’s new service has to offer.
The Mandalorian is not perfect: there are moments that don’t quite land, including the old cliché about baddies having terrible aim holding true and some tiny, awkward flashbacks to the central character’s past, while we also wonder if the deeper mythology the show is weaving around the main character will truly pay off.
Yet with a swift running time (39 minutes is remarkably short for this era of bloated streaming content), a chunky, adventurous but not derivative score from Black Panther’s Ludwig Göransson, it’s a fine addition to a canon that has had some bad luck with TV in the past.
And no, you’re not going to find the Holiday Special lurking among Disney’s servers. Even if the new show does nod to it with the main man’s staff/blaster combo, as used by Boba Fett, and a reference to Life Day. Yes, even the weirder junctions of the galaxy sometimes come in handy.