The Mandalorian Episode 1 Review
Generally, critics don’t base TV reviews off of one episode. The very first installment of any show tends to be the weakest, because it has to do the heavy lifting of setting the whole thing up. That’s why networks usually give potential reviewers at least three preview episodes. But The Mandalorian is no ordinary TV show. It’s the live-action Star Wars TV series we’ve been promised since before Lucasfilm sold itself to Disney. It’s also the big kick-off show for Disney+. And so as not to risk any spoilers — and to create weekly social media conversations — no one saw the episode before last night.
We’re not going to give out any major spoilers here. The Mandalorian doesn’t name its planets or even its main character. But he’s definitely not Boba Fett, though. This episode offers many hints to larger mythologies that subsequent episodes can and should expand upon.
A Promise to Keep – To an Old Friend
Perhaps most surprisingly for fans who wanted Star Wars: 1313, this really is a look at the seedier side of the Star Wars underworld with a Mandalorian bounty hunter. For any fans of the original movies, this is Force nirvana. This fits right in with the movies, and it never comes across as a lower-budget, more confined version as so many TV spinoffs do.
The Mandalorian pilot sees its own Man(dalorian) With No Name (Pedro Pascal) travel alone through wildernesses of sand, earth, and ice. He seeks fugitives, and he’ll walk through firefights to get them. But he also has a nobler side, as seen in one of the episode’s biggest surprises. He even has uncharacteristic moments of mercy. After establishing his routine, the story then leads to a bigger fish: an individual sought by Werner Herzog’s Client. Characteristically loquacious, Herzog’s character also makes his allegiances plain through a large Imperial medallion. As well as the Stormtroopers who serve as his bodyguards. The only thing the Client revealed about the target is it’s an individual approximately fifty years old. Star Wars fans who know their continuity can work that timeframe out for themselves.
Shadows of the Empire
Many of the actors and characters previously teased have yet to appear, including Gina Carano and Ming-Na Wen. Carl Weathers’ appearance is all-too brief. Taika Waititi’s IG-11 assassin droid does appear; and he has expected humor to him. But IG-11’s humor feels in-universe and not as camp as Waititi often plays things. Likewise, an early bit involving the first toilet ever seen in live-action Star Wars plays better than the Jar Jar “poodoo” from The Phantom Menace. Humor is woven throughout, but never at the expense of the danger or sense of jeopardy. It makes some sense to cast Brian Posehn as an intergalactic cabbie, because cab drivers have been known to crack wise. And Nick Nolte playing an Ugnaught caricature of Nick Nolte is more meta-humor than anything.
The episode ends on one hell of a hook; if you don’t know it and don’t want it spoiled yet, stay off social media for a while. It’s no surprise that Dave Filoni directed the episode, because it’s loaded with the kind of universe-building and Easter Eggs that he’s known for. We’ll see how subsequent directors run with those metaphorical batons. Unlike The Last Jedi, however, this feels like a mythology that will expand on all of its leads rather than shutting any down abruptly.
Patience. For the Jedi It Is Time to Eat as Well
Criticisms of the first episode so far say it doesn’t give us enough to go on yet. But impatience, at least in the Star Wars universe, is frequently a path toward doom. For those who can find it in them to enjoy each Kessel Run while it lasts, rather than insisting on 12 parsecs every time, this show’s got it where it counts, kid.
Now to rewatch it five more times.