After having watched the first episode of The Mandalorian, a friend told me: “It felt more like watching Blade Runner than Star Wars.” Myself, I had a feeling that I just watched a high-budget fan-film. I think we were both right.
The Mandalorian perhaps does not have so much in common with Blade Runner. No more than it does with, say, The Predator (with which it has certainly one thing in common – Carl Weathers). But it comes from the same mould: a “retro” sci-fi story, if you will. At the same time, it is what it has been advertised as: sort of a Clint Eastwood Western, set in the Star Wars universe.
The Debacle of Disney Plus
Before you start asking “so is The Mandalorian worth watching?”, you should be aware of one technical issue. The question may very well turn out to be much less relevant once you realise that you cannot really watch it. The Mandalorian is the first show one can watch on Disney’s brand new channel, Disney Plus. However, so far, Disney Plus is available only in USA, Canada, and the Netherlands. So if you live outside those countries, unless you have an extra address in there and a good VPN, you can just as well pass the question about The Mandalorian as irrelevant until next spring, when multiple countries in Europe are getting the channel, too. As a side note, I think this was one of Disney’s biggest failures at least as far as The Mandalorian is concerned, because somehow I imagine many potential customers won’t be as hyped to flock into their new service to watch a four months old show.
What about the story itself, however?
Clint Eastwood Comes To The Outer Rim
I am not going to spoil the first episode’s plot because, frankly, there is not that much to spoil. I did not expect much depth from The Mandalorian, and so far, there was none. If you know nothing of the Mandalorians, it will be for you just a silent guy in a metal suit walking in the sun and occasionally shooting stuff. He mostly tries to look badass, but not always – he has his clumsy moments. I am not entirely sure whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. Perhaps rather good, because it shows him as something else than an invincible superhero.
The Mandalorian is really similar to many Clint Eastwood characters. There is one difference, however (again, at least as far as the first episode is concerned). Clint Eastwood tends to have a little more acting and dialogue. This all being said, Pedro Pascal has managed to do his best for a person who is supposed to act while having a helmet on all the time.
On critical reflection, the screenwriting has not been very convincing so far. The dialogue is shallow, and the wannabe badass moments and one-liners are a little too shy to have the proper impact. At the same time, there are a couple of comedy moments, the type of a person falling off a mount or (in an almost cartoon manner) the heroes asking “how do we open this door?” and then turning their heads towards a huge cannon in a synchronized move. On the one hand, it is good that the expressivity of these scenes is not exaggerated: I shudder to think what, say, Peter Jackson would make out of them. On the other hand, it makes them neither-this-nor-that: they do not aggressively demand our attention, but they are still disruptive because of their unrealistic nature (they almost feel like something that should be in Rebels or TCW, transported into live action. Dave Filoni’s work, perhaps?).
A High-Budget Fan-Film?
There is one reason why The Mandalorian seems like a high-budget fan-film more than anything else. If people had been complaining about unnecessary amount of references in The Force Awakens, then The Mandalorian has managed to cram about fifty into its first ten minutes. From the simple reappearance of known species like Jawas to specific droids, Kowakian monkey-lizards, but also sounds like that of a gatekeeper-droid. That is not to say that such “easter eggs” are a bad thing – I, myself, enjoyed even those in TFA. But even the fan of cameos and references that I am, I felt that this was a little too much to process.
There were a lot of really cool appearances that really please a hardcore SW fan. Starting from the IG series droid, already familiar from the trailers. I appreciated the appearance of the blurrg, a creature that made its live-action debut in Ewoks: The Battle of Endor (one of George Lucas’s 80s works that should be forgotten). And not only hardcore Mandalorian fans likely appreciated the bits of Mandalorian lore.
Mando Culture For Beginners
The Mandalorian lore is probably the one aspect that has been tailored rather for the broad audience than hardcore fans. And that was well done. The episode guides a newcomer through what a Mandalorian is by a series of points: They are these folks that look like Boba Fett (especially the helmets). They wear armour made of something called Beskar iron. They live in tribes. (A true Mando fan would probably wonder why are they called “tribes” and not “clans”. In fact, for most hardcore Mando fans, this episode was probably a slight letdown considering how little of the culture has been featured so far. But it was a good way of not overloading the average audience by everyone speaking Mando’a.)
Generally, however, The Mandalorian is clearly intended rather for Star Wars fans than the generic audience. It has everything the “big screen” Episodes could not have because it would be too confusing or too distant for most. It is not demanding too deep knowledge of SW lore, but it features so many references and cameos that only a hardcore SW fan would find most of it interesting. And actually, while I enjoy seeing IG droids or Beskar as much as any other fan, I perceive it as a weakness.
From the perspective of an “outsider”, the episode is about an unfamiliar dude. He shoots. He walks. He doesn’t do anything else. He walks through places with lots of unfamiliar aliens and droids. And none of these he interacts with have very much personality and are likely not interesting to anyone who does not jump up and point to their friends “look, a Trandoshan in the background!” or “look, that’s the same box-shaped droid as in Episode IV!”
Once again: I cannot speak for how the series is going to progress, but first episode seemed like a fan-fest more than anything else. It seemed not only to be made for fans, but also made by fans: as if Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni sat down, wrote down a list of everything they ever wanted to see in live-action form, and then invited their two hundred friends in masks to create a tableau vivant.
And that is what at least the first half of the first episode actually is. A tableau vivant from the Star Wars universe. I won’t dismiss the fact that it has probably sated the hunger of countless fans who had been waiting for several decades to see this or that species on the big screen. But it may be too little to make a meaningful contribution to the Star Wars universe.
The Visuals, The Music…
When it comes to visuals, I should make a small correction to my previous statement: I had a feeling that I just watched a high-budget fan-film, except for the times when it looked low-budget.
The Mandalorian‘s budget was, of course, not comparable to that of the big-screen films. Its locations and the richness of the scenery, including hundreds of aliens and droids, got very close to it nonetheless. On close inspection, however, the costumes sometimes looked rather shabby, and not just because of the intended “retro” look. Some of the alien masks and outfits indeed remind one rather of home-made fan-films. It is not a terrible thing, but one cannot help but think that very little effort could have produced much better results.
Something similar could be said about the music. It did not disrupt the atmosphere, in fact, it evoked the minimalistic “classical Western” vibe. The minimalism, however, means that it also did not stand out. I am hoping for at least one major, memorable theme to appear during the series – even if it was like something from “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”.
So who are the audience that should watch The Mandalorian? I daresay that first and foremost, it is those who enjoy both classic old Westerns and Star Wars. Secondly, it is Star Wars fans who have always wanted to see things that appeared in SW animated series and games in live-action form. If you do not belong to either of these groups, The Mandalorian may be more of a disappointment – or at least its first episode, so far. Make no mistake: I have personally enjoyed watching it, but there is much about it that deserves criticial view.
Therefore, if you live in the places where Disney Plus doesn’t air, you can ignore it and sleep soundly at least for the first week. And even if you have the opportunity to get Disney Plus, you don’t need to immediately run and subscribe to it in fear of missing something. So far, there has not been much to miss. Whether The Mandalorian will be worth following, we shall have to see in the future.