The Mandalorian drops us into the galaxy's Outer Rim five years after the second Death Star blew up in Return of the Jedi (the New Republic has begun to restore order, but on these outskirts, a frontier lawlessness remains) and begins to show us what Star Wars might look like when freed of all the Skywalker baggage. Which is to say: Here's something that looks and feels every bit like the original Star Wars trilogy as a piece of aesthetic cinema, and can tie into those many connections, but can also break free and tell its own story without having to bridge old and new audiences like the sequel trilogy.
At the center of it is, well, the Mandalorian (frequently referred to as "Mando"), a bounty hunter who operates under the strict Mandalorian code of "the Way," and is out here in his ship, the Razor Crest, scraping together a living by freezing his bounties in carbonite and bringing them back to collect payment from his bounty guild agent, Greef Karga (Carl Weathers). (For the time being, the Mandalorian is a Man With No Name, which only adds to the Sergio Leone spaghetti western vibe.) Karga refers Mando to a new client who has a very urgent and off-the-record job. This client, played with a memorably icy verve by Werner Herzog (!), assures us this new mysterious bounty is a Big Deal, but that no questions should be asked. So off we go.
This initial outing of The Mandalorian is not notable for its originality. Indeed, it's downright conventional in its story beats and adherence to cinema archetypes, right down to the storming of the impregnable fortress and the big western-templated shootout at the end.
What is notable is the lived-in feel of the universe and the episode's amazing efficiency. This clocks in at a surprisingly svelte 39 minutes (including credits), and yet the story is able to squeeze in not only the opening introductory adventure and then the central mission and action scenes, but also some detours that add scope and breadth with just a few minutes of screen time. We see a Mandalorian enclave in the bowels of the city, where we witness Mando getting a new piece of armor forged from his payment of beskar steel.
And then we get a whole other mini-episode when Mando arrives on his destination planet and is guided by Kuiil (voiced with the endless gravel of Nick Nolte, whose catchphrase "I have spoken" is something I now frequently use on my kids), who teaches him how to ride a blurrg, giving us a mini-montage within the mini-episode. These excursions give a nice episodic flow to the plot that expands the world.
The music by Ludwig Göransson is an effective mix of percussive electro-industrial-metal and more traditional orchestrations that merge the samurai and gunslinger genres. The bold and deliberate departure from past Star Wars scores helps keep us from constantly thinking about John Williams. It's really pretty great, and I love the theme song.
The bounty at the end, despite being 50 years old, is a tiny child of the same species as Yoda, whose cuteness set the internet on fire. What will our lone gunslinger with a code do when he's to deliver a defenseless child to men whose motives are clearly ominous?
Next episode: Chapter 2: The Child
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