What is Star Wars? That’s a question that Disney has struggled with since buying Lucasfilm in 2012. The first post-Disney Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, broke domestic box office records. However, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker have proven to be unexpectedly divisive among fans. Apparently it’s very difficult to make an epic space fantasy that everyone can enjoy.
In The Mandalorian, Star Wars essentially recaptured its roots as a space Western. Even with a short eight episode season, The Mandalorian featured the best elements of Star Wars and won over a vast majority of the fanbase. It also happens to be one of the most quotable Star Wars tales in a long time. “I have spoken.”
Jon Favreau may not have directed an episode, but his fingerprints are all over this series. Favreau created the show and he wrote six out of the eight episodes. He was also adept at creating very compelling supporting characters even when Mando himself was purposefully remote for most of the season. Pedro Pascal may not have always been under Mando’s helmet during filming, but his voice gave Mando some much needed personality. Stuntmen Brendan Wayne and Lateef Crowder also deserve credit for their on set portrayals of The Mandalorian’s main character.
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Gina Carano, Carl Weathers, and Giancarlo Esposito were among the impeccably cast supporting players. But Nick Nolte deserves special recognition for his voice role as Kuiil. Until now, the Ugnaughts were just another background alien race. Nolte’s terrific performance gave Kuiil an unexpected gravitas. Similarly, Taika Waititi’s IG-11 stole the show in episodes 1 and 8. He gave fans the most interesting droid since K-2SO.
There were only a few weak links in the guest cast, primarily in the fifth and sixth episodes. Jake Cannavale was a little too successful at making amatur gunslinger, Toro Calican, into an annoyance. But Toro’s grating presence seemed more like the result of a lackluster performance than anything else. Perhaps the script was to blame for that, since episode 5 also managed to waste the presence of Ming-Na Wen as Fennec Shand.
If there’s a major flaw with The Mandalorian, it’s that the middle of the season was a bit too familiar and formulaic. Episode 4’s Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven inspired story played like a cliffnotes version of those respective films. But at least the episode gave Carano’s Cara Dune a memorable introduction. Episode 6’s reunion with Mando’s old crew also seemed like the least focused installment of the season. It felt like filler, and this was a series that shouldn’t have had any filler at all. Regardless, the weekly release schedule actually worked in The Mandalorian’s favor. Each new episode was an event. If the entire season had been dropped all at once, then The Mandalorian wouldn’t have been nearly as impactful as it was.
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Disney often gets accused of chasing money at the cost of everything else. However, Disney showed great restraint by keeping Baby Yoda a secret and forgoing merchandise until after the series premiered. That probably cost Disney a lot of lost holiday sales, but it also contributed to making Baby Yoda into a wildly popular sensation. The mix of practical puppetry and occasional CGI enhancement made Baby Yoda feel alive in a way that few Star Wars creatures can match. Baby Yoda also brought out Mando’s humanity; which in turn made the show’s star a lot easier to relate to. This series wouldn’t have worked as well without Baby Yoda’s presence.
The first three episodes and the last two installments were the high points of the season. Directors Dave Filoni, Rick Famuyiwa, and Deborah Chow all did very admirable jobs in the director’s chair. Bryce Dallas Howard’s fourth episode was serviceable, but not spectacular. However, it was one of the better standalone episodes.
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Waititi directed the season finale; which was the best episode of the eight. His feature film experience made all of the difference, and his performance as IG-11 really sealed the deal. That episode was beautifully shot with great action sequences and an underlying sense of emotion. It was also quite funny without going overboard with the humor, as Waititi did with Thor: Ragnarok. If Waititi can keep that side of himself in check, then maybe he should helm a Star Wars film in the future.
There’s a rumor that Favreau and Filoni may be up for larger roles when it comes to planning the future of the franchise. If so, that would be a wise decision. The Mandalorian is Disney’s best Star Wars effort since Rogue One. It has everything anyone could have hoped for from the first ever Star Wars TV series. Anything and everything Star Wars that comes after this show should take note. “This is the way.”
The Mandalorian season 1 is currently streaming on Disney+.
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