Disney+ UK TV review: The Mandalorian
Nathanael Smith | On 15, Mar 2020Reading time: 5 mins
This spoiler-free review is based on the whole of The Mandalorian’s first season. Episode 1 and 2 of The Mandalorian are available on Disney+ at launch, with Episode 3 arriving on Friday 27th March.
By now, you’ve probably seen shots from The Mandalorian. The Star Wars series, which is one of the big launch titles for Disney’s new streaming platform, Disney+ (launching 24th March) has already been out for several months in the US. One character, dubbed “Baby Yoda”, has entered the Memeverse in a big way, instantly becoming a pop culture icon and entering the public consciousness here in the UK long before we have actually watched the show. The online ubiquity of this adorable little guy (of the same unnamed species as our good green Jedi friend) might make you think that The Mandalorian is just a cutesy entry into the Star Wars canon, more concerned with fan service than adding something new to the mythos. Don’t make that mistake: The Mandalorian is, in places, cute, but it’s also the best thing to happen to Star Wars since Luke found out who his father was.
While early images seemed to suggest that The Mandalorian would be about Boba Fett, it quickly emerged that this was not the case. Instead, the show follows an unnamed bounty hunter, of the mysterious Mandalorian order, taking small jobs for payment in Beskar, the highly valuable and seemingly indestructible metal that forms his armour.
Aficionados of the Star Wars universe will relish the world building that is achieved effortlessly by Jon Favreau and his team. There’s no heavy-handed exposition; The Mandalorian simply exists in a world where the story continues outside of the frame and the viewer joins him in that world. We get drip-fed information about the galaxy as it exists in between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Questions such as “What happened to the Empire?” aren’t answered so much as explored. Over-explaining things can make a far away galaxy feel a lot smaller – just ask the writers of Solo: A Star Wars Story. The Mandalorian’s more curious perspective actively expands the Star Wars canon, bringing something fresh even in familiar settings.
There’s a thrilling clarity to everything about the show. Its tone, narrative direction and pace never waver; it knows exactly what it wants to be. The result is a quick season of eight episodes, each varying in length according to need, which efficiently and effectively tells its story of a bounty hunter with a conscience. It owes a lot to Firefly in the way it melds Western tropes with a space opera, but a Disney budget makes this world feel much more real. As with all of Star Wars at its best, there’s a rough, tactile quality to the production design; these worlds feel lived in and used.
Each episode exists as a standalone story, often taking a classic set-up – protecting a town from bandits, a heist that goes wrong – and blending it with the wider arc of a bounty hunter on the run. The simple planet-hopping structure allows for a wide variety of characters and settings to move in and out of the Mandalorian’s world. While the overall show is a “lone wolf” kind of tale, there’s a rich array of supporting characters that will work their way into your hearts. Nick Nolte as an isolated farmer, Carl Weathers as an agent for bounty hunters and Gina Carano as an uneasy ally are among the most memorable, but everyone makes an instant impact and are far more memorable than some of the new characters in Rise of Skywalker (except for Babu Frik, of course). The only weak points are when the show leans into the Star Wars tendency of connecting together the extended universe lore, although they’re carried off with gravitas.
At the centre of it all is the Mandalorian himself, always wearing his mask and seemingly impassive in even the most fraught situations. An old bit of film theory, known as the Kuleshov Effect, suggests that editing is what elicits emotions in film; you could place the same picture of a face next to two different scenes and the audience would read different reactions on the face depending on what had been shown before. The iconic mask creates a particularly inscrutable Kuleshov Effect, inviting the viewer to guess what the bounty hunter is thinking. It’s a testament to Pedro Pascal’s committed, physical performance that we glimpse an emotional side to this killing machine. He’s the anchor to the whole series and he carries it beautifully.
A dazzling array of directors behind the scenes also bring fresh voices to the Star Wars universe. Rick Famuyiwa, who made the pacy indie breakout Dope, Deborah Chow, who has worked on some of the best TV series of the past few years, and Taika Waititi all work seamlessly together to create fast-paced, thrilling and genuinely artistic TV. They’re ably backed up by a pounding score from Black Panther’s Ludwig Goransson, who honours both the Western and sci-fi elements of the world. The rousing theme tune defies you not to get goosebumps every time you set out on a new adventure with the bounty hunter.
All of this goes to say that The Mandalorian succeeds in a way that Rogue One, Rise of Skywalker and others haven’t: it’s a blast of pure, unfiltered fun. Oh, and Baby Yoda really is the best.
The Mandalorian is available on Disney+, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription or a £59.99 yearly subscription. New episodes arrive weekly on Fridays.