- Movie Rating -

The Mandalorian – “Chapter One”

| November 13, 2019

When Disney purchased the Star Wars properties from George Lucas in 2012 to the tune of 4.5 billion dollars, I will admit that I received the news with fear and confusion.  Absent of the mindset of having my beloved Star Wars in the hands of anyone else but The Sultan of Red Plaid himself, I wasn’t 100% sure what Disney might have in mind.  I pictured a room full of suited corporate shills who landed on the idea of buying Star Wars.  Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

After the universal gnashing over the prequels, few would disagree that putting Star Wars in the hands of anyone other than George Lucas was a good idea.  Lucas is concept guy, not a screenwriter and certainly not a man of dialogue, which is why I was glad that the folks at Disney decided to put the property in the hands of people who would treat it (mostly) with loving care.  I have every reason to think that the people behind the Disney-generation Star Wars properties grew up, much as I did, scuttling around the on the Living Room floor playing with little plastic figures of Luke, Han, Darth Vader and Hammerhead.

That would explain why the newer Lucas-less properties seem willing and able to do with Star Wars what George Lucas seemed unwilling to do – expand the saga beyond the story of the Skywalker bunch.  Star Wars is a vast universe that has yet to be explored and until now has yet to un-tether itself from direct contact with Lucas’ original trilogy.  That’s what makes the new Disney+ series “The Mandalorian” so interesting.  It reveals a vast landscape of scum and villainy, where life happens in random violent combinations and loyalty is merely a concept.

“The Mandalorian”, of course, is the highlight of Disney’s new streaming service Disney+ and that is probably a wise move.  This series is apparently the compensation for the abandoned Boba Fett movie that got axed last year when Solo proved to be a disenchantment.  The streaming service is releasing one episode every Friday through December 27th and from the first episode it’s hard to predict exactly where the series is going.

From here some spoilers . . .

The opening scenes of the premiere episode (not-so-cleverly titled “Chapter One’) provide a hint of a series that isn’t really story driven.  It’s all about mood and tone and capturing the spirit of lawlessness and randomness in the wake of the Rebellion’s victory over The Empire.  The story takes place somewhere between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens but the events of those films seem to exist here as acoustic shadows.  In the far reaches of the galaxy the dark forces of lawless indiscretion hang thick in the air.  They appear in the growing terror visited on those who try and eek out a meager living, or merely to try and survive.

Our main focus falls on a lone unnamed bounty hunter (played entirely under a mask by ‘Game of Thrones’ Pedro Pascal) whose loyalties are null and void.  He’s very good at his job.  He takes whatever yields the best payout.  Hidden behind a suit of slick-looking armor he is an imposing figure whose motives are always in question.  The opening scene seems to come right out of a John Ford picture, including the dialogue: “I can bring you in warm or I can bring you in cold.”  He says this to his intended prey who fumbles and stumbles over his words to get out of his current predicament.

I had hoped that the story would stay at this pace = clever in tone and mood but sparse on story and character, much like a western.  But then, yes, it does get into some character details and I thought the forward momentum of the opening scene kind of slipped away.  The title character gets himself mixed up in a rather cryptic assignment involving a bounty so secretive that he can only be told that the target is 50 years old.  From that we get some of the weaker aspects of this premiere episode – a back story.  There’s a moment when he discovers news about a foundling and intones sadly “I was a foundling.”  We are then accosted with some badly-constructed flashback imagery that reveals his tragic past. 

To be honest, I found the backstory unnecessary.  I was happier when the character seemed like a lone wolf who came out of nowhere to either do the moral thing or the immoral thing depending on the price.  The Mandalorian, for me, is much like Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name in that he is a blank slate, a man whose identity is unwritten so that we in the audience can put ourselves in his shoes.  I didn’t need a flashback to his childhood days.

“The Mandalorian” pulls strongly from the work of Sergio Leone, in particular The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, largely in the ways in which it creates the atmosphere of a social structure still reeling from the aftermath of a long and bitter war.  Leone’s epic was bathed in the hangover of the American Civil War and similarly “The Mandalorian” reveals that after the fireworks and the celebrations of The Galactic Civil War, the galaxy as a whole remains in turmoil.  The factions have splintered and it’s every man . . . everything for themselves.

The opening episode is not perfect but it promises great things.  I was happy that it didn’t open with a massive hyper-kinetic shootout.  That gem is saved for the center-section wherein our hero meets an IG assassin droid (voiced by Taika Waititi) whose design and movements are kind of fun.  During a firefight his head and arms and torso swivel and twist in all directions like a puzzle box, and there’s a wonderful running gag about his obsession with is own self-destruct mechanism.

That welcomed action scene felt the most Star Wars out of the episode.  The other, a long training scene toward the end, was less so.  The Mandalorian is given a riding lesson from an Ugnaught named Kuill (played by Nick Nolte) that I hope will make more sense as the series progresses.  It’s a scene of spiritual pseudo-Jedi mumbo-jumbo that feels somewhat out of place with the tone of the rest of the episode.

Of course, it’s hard to judge any series based on the premiere but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Jon Favreau waffles “The Mandalorian” between the scum-and-villainy side of Star Wars and the spiritual side.  For a 60-minute episode, that’s a lot to take in, and it creates a few bumps in the narrative structure.

I sound like I’m complaining.  It’s only because I want this to work.  After Solo, the conversation seemed to be that future Disney-generation Star Wars properties were suddenly on life-support (they weren’t) and the positive was that in pulling back unwise productions like the Boba Fett movie, we now have something whose longevity isn’t based entirely on how many millions of dollars it makes over a weekend. 

I liked this premiere episode of “The Mandalorian” well enough – there are a LOT of great moments – but as a critic and a fanI can also see portents of doom.  The final reveal of the episode was curiously . . . I don’t know.  The suggestion reminded me very much of John Ford’s 3 Godfathers and if the template of this show is to ride along those lines, I’m okay with it.  But it also suggests something that I hoped that Star Wars would never do, the identity of a particular species that I hoped would always remain hidden.  We’ll have a wait and see.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2019) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized