Since “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” wrapped up the original trilogy in 1983, the Star Wars films have drastically varied in quality. While both the prequel and sequel trilogy divided fans and critics alike, a different storytelling medium has managed to consistently captivate Star Wars fans: television. On the small screen, Star Wars has entertained fans with the widely beloved series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” Even its successor “Star Wars: Rebels” has garnered fans appreciation, albeit not as much. However, Star Wars has yet to create a live-action television series, that is, until the Disney+ exclusive series, “The Mandalorian.”
“The Mandalorian” takes place shortly after the events of “Return of the Jedi” in the aftermath of the Empire’s defeat. The titular Mandalorian (a creed of elite warriors) is a bounty hunter trying to make a living in the lawless outer rim until one bounty changes everything. Rather than deliver an alien infant to an Imperial remnant warlord, the Mandalorian instead chooses to turn against his guild and defend the child at all costs. His decision forces him to live on the run from ruthless bounty hunters hell bent on acquiring the quarry and eliminating the Mandalorian. Along the way, he and the infant encounter a wide array of colorful characters and engage in a series of fascinating adventures in hopes of avoiding the crosshairs of any nearby hunter.
The overarching plot of this series is rather straightforward but beautifully executed. When the Mandalorian chooses to protect a helpless child rather than turn it over to an Imperial client he must spend each episode trying to stay alive and keep the child safe. The show starts off strong but strays a bit in the middle of the season. Despite always being present, largely due to the child’s adorable presence, some episodes start to lose sight of the main narrative and begin to feel like filler missions of the week. Though by no means does that mean they become uninteresting or dull, but it does distract viewers from the main story and can make episodes seem pointless. However, by the final two episodes the show picks up its pace to deliver some of the best Star Wars content in years that brings the focus back to the overarching story.
Each episode is well paced and feels like a western set in the Star Wars universe. The worlds the Mandolorian visits feel lawless and are filled with a wide variety of scum and villainy. The nascent New Republic hasn’t yet managed to completely eliminate Imperial holdouts as warlords struggle over territory. From the first episode the world feels authentic and lived in, urging viewers to continue watching to experience it in full. This is a testament to the brilliant writing and showrunning of series creator Jon Favreau (director of “Iron Man” and “Jungle Book”) and the all star lineup of directors he and series co-writer and producer Dave Filoni cultivated. Through their creative leadership, Favreau and Filoni ensured that each episode fits within the Star Wars universe and their love for the franchise is evident in every frame of the show. Careful writing and expert directing build a fascinating world to explore but is made all the more real with the gorgeous practical effects utilized throughout.
The series is beautifully shot as every scene of the show is lovingly reminiscent of the original trilogy. Unlike recent entries into the franchise, “The Mandalorian” does not rely heavily on special effects but instead utilizes carefully crafted practical effects that makes every environment in the show feel far more authentic and personal. Rather than over relying on computer generated characters, the majority of aliens on-screen are produced through remarkable prosthetics and make up. Furthermore, the scenery is largely practical as well and even the Razor Crest, the Mandalorian’s ship, is often filmed using a miniature. The use of practical effects adds to the overall rustic feel of a galaxy trying to maintain order after the empire’s defeat and respectfully harkens back to the way in which the original films were made.
“The Mandalorian” is filled with a remarkable cast but is held together by Pedro Pascal’s titular Mandalorian bounty hunter. Playing a man without a name who refuses to remove his own helmet, Pascal’s Mandalorian is a man of few words that lets his skills with a blaster speak for him. Despite being hidden beneath a mask and limited in dialogue, Pascal still manages to captivate audiences with expert body language that perfectly conveys emotion and intention. In truth, Pascal’s Mandalorian is the only constant in the series as he and an infant alien creature are the only two characters to appear in every episode. That said, the Mandalorian comes into contact with several fun and interesting characters throughout the season’s run. Some standouts include the administrative leader of the bounty hunter’s guild Greef Karga (Carl Weathers),the powerful former rebel shocktrooper Cara Dune (Gina Carano), and the straightforward ugnaught vapor farmer and mechanic Kuiil (Nick Nolte). These are but a few of the stellar cast of supporting characters that litter the series eight episodes. Though not every character lands with audiences, the vast majority manage to steal a few scenes and add to the expert worldbuilding in the series.
Star Wars’ first ever live-action series is a huge success. A top notch creative team in collaboration with great performances, an exceptional eye for detail and a clear love for the source material makes for an amazing addition to the franchise. Despite occasionally venturing a little too far from the show’s central narrative, each episode provides viewers with a fun excursion into the Star Wars universe that won’t disappoint fans or newcomers alike. Never did the show feel too complicated or entrenched in the Star Wars lore to be inaccessible to casual fans. However, plenty of references and call backs to past Star Wars properties are there for the die hard fans to enjoy.
Verdict: Star Wars’ first live-action series, “The Mandalorian,” is a huge success that offers plenty for lifelong fans and newcomers to the series to find and enjoy. Visually beautiful and expertly made, “The Mandalorian” shows that the future of Star Wars is bright on television.