THE MANDALORIAN (2019) TV REVIEW

RELEASED: November 12th 2019 – December 27th 2019
DISTRIBUTED BY: Disney
SHOWRUNNER: Jon Favreau
WRITTEN BY: Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, Christopher Yost & Rick Famuyiwa
DIRECTED BY: Dave Filoni, Rick Famuyiwa, Deborah Chow, Bryce Dallas Howard & Taika Waititi
MUSIC BY:  Ludwig Göransson
STARRING:
  Pedro Pascal, Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog, Omid Abtahi, Nick Nolte, Taika Waititi, Gina Carano, Amy Sedaris, Jake Cannavale, Ming-Na Wen, Mark Boone Junior, Bill Burr, Natalia Tena, Clancy Brown, Richard Ayoade, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Emily Swallow & Giancarlo Esposito

The Mandalorian is a weird show.

The eight-episode series follows the adventures of a Mandalorian bounty hunter based on the planet of Nevarro, as a new bounty forces him to question his path in life. Now having absconded with a potential target, the Mandalorian finds himself in the crosshairs of both his fellow bounty hunters and the remnants of the Empire, who are desperate to get their ‘asset’ back.

Written predominantly by Jon Favreau, this series starts off strong. In fact, it’s my opinion the best episodes are the ones where he exudes the most creative control. His episodes: one through four, seven and eight, are the ones that feel the most cohesive. Some may argue that the show is meant to be episodic in nature, and that’s why, around the middle of the series the episodes don’t move the overarching plot forward as much, but now that the series is complete and there are only two episodes that are disconnected, I feel that argument no longer holds much weight. It’s correct in theory, but in execution, there’s now just a lull in terms of story in the third quarter of the show.

Those episodes, written by Dave Filoni, Christopher Yost and Rick Famuyiwa feel out of place. They take the feel of the first few episodes, that this was Jon Favreau playing with his Star Wars toys and putting them in situations that felt cool, and really dialling it up.

What if the Mandalorian went to Tattooine to interact with Tusken Raiders and team-up with a Han Solo wannabe?’ or ‘What if the Mandalorian met up with his old crew of badass criminals, one of whom was the crazy Twi’lek girl he used the bang?’

They both have the feeling that the things brought up in the episodes could become important at some point way down the line, but seeing as a lot of Star Wars‘ current modus operandi seems to be ‘introduce cool stuff regardless of if it makes sense and don’t bother explaining it’ it presently just feels like a waste of time, especially considering the limited number of episodes this season.

Furthermore, the characters that feature in these episodes, all capable actors, play a sort of campiness that doesn’t match up with the campiness seen at the beginning and end of the series. For instance, Carl Weathers’ Greef Karga is gloriously hammy; but his performance fits in the context of the episode. Yet, the hammy characterisation of Natalia Tena and Clancy Brown’s characters feels a bit… goofy in contrast.

Those two episodes and the performances therein aside, a few other things hold the show back from the masterpiece it could have been. Pedro Pascal as the Mandalorian at times feels wasted, in part because a lot of the time it’s not him. Whole episodes are filmed without Pascal even being on set, which is fine – the iconic performance by James Earl Jones obviously never saw him put on the Darth Vader suit – but I just feel like if you’re going to hire Pedro Pascal, the man who managed to become one of the best characters in Game of Thrones in just one season, give him a bit more to do? (It is kind of cool that John Wayne’s grandson is one of the people responsible for bringing this gunslinger to life in Star Wars‘ take on the western though).

My last issue with the series is a very minor qualm, and one that I feel will be absent from season two, due to where season one has left us; namely that this show (and Star Wars as a whole) leans towards being very safe and predictable. Certain major beats happen that telegraph the next several directions the show will take, to the point that a lot of the story and dialogue seems like it’s just been ripped from other movies and television shows. A weary fighter encounters someone who needs protecting, goes on the run, before realising they must stand and face their hunters in one final battle. We’ve seen it all before, so if you’re looking for something new and challenging… this isn’t it (instead, go watch Watchmen).

But it’s not without its positives.

As I said prior, the episodes that were written by Jon Favreau, the ones with a clear through-line, really dive into what Star Wars is. It shines a spotlight on all the day-to-day struggles the characters we don’t see in the movies have to deal with when the Jedi are blowing up Death Stars and such, and for a Star Wars fan, it’s fascinating. It helps flesh out the world we were introduced to in 1977, operating on a much smaller, comfortable scale where the fate of the galaxy isn’t always at stake. It presents situations that make sense – like the Empire still being around on a smaller scale – as opposed to just throwing things in for the sake of it – like the First Order being as powerful as it is just because.

It presents an array of characters who have the potential to effortlessly become new favourites, like Taika Waititi’s IG-11, Nick Nolte’s Kuill, Carl Weather’s Greef Karga, Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon and especially Gina Carano’s Cara Dune (a real stand-out, in my opinion). Characters who are there because the writers want to tell their stories, as opposed to characters like Jake Cannavale’s Toro Callican, who are just there because the writers want to play with toys that aren’t accessible to them. Because he’s like Han Solo! Do you get it? DO YOU?!

(although I suppose you could argue that this entire show is based on that premise, a Boba Fett show without Boba Fett – but therein might be the reason why the titular Mandalorian is less interesting than his co-stars)

For the most part, the show also looks spectacular. It looks like the classic Star Wars universe we all know and love, but given that 21st-century polish that the prequels neglected in favour of CGI.

It’s strange how much difference a finale can make. Halfway through the series, I was starting to wonder if this show was overrated. I liked it, but when it all came together in the end, I realised just how much I had enjoyed myself. It helps that in certain episodes, you can really feel the directors influence, such as Taika Waititi making his presence known in the series finale in a way that really compliments Favreau’s writing.

If this is to be the future of Star Wars, I like where we’re heading. I’d rather have more concise stories that expand the mythology (ie. cut out those two filler episodes in the middle), where great talents can add something to the mythology rather than aimless, overly nostalgic fan-fiction, and I feel like as The Mandalorian finds its footing, it may be the one to provide that (or even Disney+ as a whole).

All-in-all, I give The Mandalorian:

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