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THE MANDALORIAN Is a Visionary STAR WARS Western with a Twist
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This post contains major spoilers for the first episode of the new Disney+ TV series The Mandalorian

It doesn’t take long for The Mandalorian to establish itself as a new kind of Star Wars. It’s in the twangy music that dresses the show’s opening moments, as a gunslinging bounty hunter steps through the circular door of a space bar. He’s there to collect his prize: a Mythrol alien (played by Saturday Night Live‘s Horatio Sanz) who’s being antagonized by a pack of goons.

The scene erupts into violence as the eponymous Mandalorian, mounted in beskar armor, crunches a drink against a bad guy’s jaw, breaks his arm, and catches another in the door, severing his body in half. Outside, the wind whistles off the desolate planes of an icy planet, where this sort of thing must happen a lot. It’s a scene that’s recognizably Star Wars, with echoes to the casual violence of the cantina sequence in 1977’s A New Hope, but this is a strange, unruly time. The Empire’s run is over, but the tendrils remain. Even eras of peace have their dark corners, and that’s exactly where The Mandalorian stakes its claim.

A tag like “first live-action Star Wars TV series” has a lot to live up to, and the premiere episode of Disney+’s The Mandalorian—aptly titled “Chapter One”—mostly succeeds. It’s funny, with characters like the Mythrol adding that childlike touch, but it’s got a grittiness that will appeal to seasoned Star Wars fans, the ones who like their galactic stories peppered with outlaws and character actors. “Chapter One” has plenty of the latter, with appearances by Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog, and Nick Nolte as the voice of a weathered alien.

The Mandalorian, created by Jon FavreauDisney+

The show establishes itself, from the outset, as firmly Western, a genre Star Wars has always flirted with but never quite mimicked to this degree. It’s a treasure trove of references and allusions, even if the story feels a little lightweight through most of its run. But then the closing moments come along to ignite our imaginations and connect this world to the more magical elements of Star Wars. It’s what takes The Mandalorian from a fun time spent in space Western land, to something with a promise of greatness—or at least weirdness, and Star Wars is at its best when it’s not afraid to get a little weird.

Until that big finale (more on that in a bit), The Mandalorian tells a pretty straightforward story. We meet the nameless bounty hunter (played by Game of Thrones’ Pedro Pascal) on the aforementioned icy planet as he collects Mythrol. They make their way to the gunship Razor Crest, where the Mandalorian freezes his captive in carbonite and takes him to Carl Weathers’ Greef Carga, his bounty guild contact, who immediately sends him on another, more obscure mission. This one brings him face-to-face with Werner Herzog’s “the Client,” another nameless and mysterious figure who offers him a hunk of beskar—a rare, nearly indestructible metal that’s used to forge Mandalorian armor—in exchange for another bounty: an unnamed, hard-to-locate character that the Client wants either dead or alive.

Werner Herzog sits at a table, glaring, in The MandalorianDisney+

The Mandalorian jets off again, encounters Nick Nolte’s alien character who teaches him how to ride a pissed off creature called a “blurrg,” which leads him to a remote location where he encounters a bounty droid named IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi). Together, they infiltrate the lair and find the creature they were searching for–which is a “baby” that’s the same species as Yoda (who we know to age very slowly). But instead of killing and collecting the bounty, the Mandalorian kills IG-11 and touches fingers with the young creature. Did the sight of such a delicate, beautiful creature change his mind? Is he about to run off with this little guy, protecting him from the seedy world he occupies? The possibilities are what really rev the episode into gear. It appears that this battle-worn series will be infused with a little touch of magic, and that has us chomping at the bit for what comes next.

We shouldn’t have doubted such a fun pop of lore with a name like Dave Filoni attached to the project. Filoni, the head of Lucasfilm Animation, is executive producing The Mandalorian along with creator/showrunner Jon Favreau, and directed the first episode. Those familiar with his work on animated series like Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels will notice certain touchstones. As the “padawan” of George Lucas, Filoni is an expert in the mythical aspects of Star Wars, and has delved into them over and over. Weaving his brand of storytelling with Favreau’s epic sensibilities was a wise choice. The result is a series grounded in Western iconography but doused with Star Wars magic, a marriage of ideas that could make The Mandalorian an all-timer.

However, it’s a little early to tell just how successful that marriage will be. The script for “Chapter One” is a little slight, and there’s enough being obfuscated that it’s hard to really get a handle on the larger picture. We know almost nothing about these characters, which is typical of a pilot, but could prove detrimental if the story remains focused on the icy unknowability of a solider like our nameless lead and the hardened folk in his orbit. Still, it’s hard to deny the appeal of what’s on display in this first outing. We’ve got roasted Kowakian monkey-lizards, Werner Herzog chewing through scenery like tobacco, and a possible window in the history of Yoda’s mysterious species. If The Mandalorian can find a heart somewhere beneath that beskar breastplate, we’re in for a real treat.

Featured Image: Disney+