If I tell you that the first episode of The Mandalorian – the new high profile, live action Star Wars series helping to launch the Disney + channel – is simple, I trust you’ll understand that I’m complimenting it.
Set five years after the fall of the Empire, as seen in Return of the Jedi, the extremely straightforward storyline of this premiere episode follows the adventures of a Mandalorian bounty hunter (played by Pedro Pascal, though so far he remains firmly under the helmet) hired to round up or exterminate a mark. And for the first 38 minutes, that’s pretty much it.
Carl Weathers crops up, as does (in a much-ballyhooed, sublime piece of casting) existential German film director, Werner Herzog, who appears to be having a blast in his role, plus we meet (sort of) Nick Nolte and Taika Waititi (director of Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit). It’s a heckuva cast for what amounts to a little spaghetti western in space.
What you really want to know is: does it feel like Star Wars? Yes, it does, and it feels like exactly what I had hoped for, Star Wars without the Skywalkers, or Jedi, or the Force (at least so far), and what a lot of fun it is. The Mandalorian comes across as if show creator Jon Favreau and pilot director Dave Filoni are just kicking back and enjoying themselves in the Star Wars universe. They even manage to throw in a deep-cut gag taken from the infamously reviled Star Wars Holiday Special TV show from 1978.
The Mandalorian looks and sounds totally Star Wars too, with some really top notch VFX and creature FX (many of which, I’m overjoyed to say, are practical). Whoever thought we’d live to see a weekly Star Wars TV series with movie level special effects? Not this kid who saw the original movie more than twenty times at the cinema in 1977 and 1978, that’s for sure.
There’s no great human drama, so far, but we get a lot of world-building in just over half an hour (with no necessary Star Wars knowledge needed, but plenty of nods to fans), events are set neatly in place and some intriguing threads are left dangling. We’re offered just enough of what might make the title character of interest (he’s a bounty hunter with a heart of gold), but the main point here is to make us want to come back for more. And if the showrunners can ensure this level of pure enjoyment for the next seven episodes then that won’t be a problem.
Simply put, The Mandalorian is uncomplicated fun.