‘The Mandalorian’ Episode 1 Perfects the Small-Screen ‘Sci-Fi Western’
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The original “Star Wars” saga was heavily influenced by the Western genre, and George Lucas had ideas for his movies that were way ahead of their time. All you have to do is look at how much he tinkered with “A New Hope” after CGI technology became available. “The Mandalorian” feels like this is what Lucas wanted and together, writer Jon Favreau and director Dave Filoni, have created a show that is a love letter to a more interesting side of the “Star Wars” universe. This side isn’t aimed solely at kids and doesn’t require a Skywalker family member to be present.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Favreau said, “I’m trying to evoke the aesthetics of not just the original trilogy, but the first film. Not just the first film, but the first act of the first film. What was it like on Tatooine? What was going on in that cantina? That has fascinated me since I was a child, and I love the idea of the darker, freakier side of ‘Star Wars,’ the ‘Mad Max’ aspect of ‘Star Wars.'”
From the outset, “The Mandalorian” feels right; some things feel familiar and some things feel completely new, but it all still feels like “Star Wars.” Within the first few minutes, we’ve been inside a sleazy space bar, some bad guys have been shot, and a token speeder and its driver have been attacked and eaten by a giant sea slug. It’s everything we could’ve asked for and more.
As the episode opens, we see the shadowy, lone-gunman-style silhouette of the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) walking through blustery winds and snow at night toward the distant set of lights of a backwater, frontier town on the horizon. We cut to a cantina that’s clearly a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Only the fearless and the foolhardy would enter this establishment. Inside, a humanoid bounty hunter (Jude Walko) and a Quarren are picking on a poor Mythrol (Horatio Sanz).
What will it be stranger?
The door of the cantina opens like a camera aperture, and in walks the Mandalorian. A showdown seems inevitable. Sure enough, the two intergalactic goons pick a fight, despite the best efforts of the bartender to keep the peace. As the humanoid is quickly disposed of with a knife, the tentacle-faced alien tries to flee. In a clip that we’ve seen from the trailers, the Mandalorian uses his wrist harpoon to ensnare the cowardly Quarren, who’s already halfway out the door. After the Mandalorian drags his target back into the bar, the Quarren tries to shoot the gunman, who in turn reaches for his blaster. Then comes what we didn’t see in any of the trailers: The Mandalorian shoots the controls to the door, causing it to close and cut the Quarren in half … instantly silencing everyone in the bar and giving any other would-be assailants reason to reconsider.
It’s strategically photographed, however, leaving more to the imagination than what we actually see. But it quickly sets a welcome, no-nonsense tone. This entire opening sequence is a little reminiscent of the Mos Eisley cantina scene in “A New Hope,” in which poor Ponda Baba loses his arm courtesy of Ben Kenobi’s lightsaber. And that wasn’t strategically photographed at all.
The Mythrol is so very grateful for the Mandalorian’s intervention, right up until the moment the bounty hunter places a “puck” on the table that displays the holographic “wanted poster” for the alien. Despite his best efforts, the Mythrol is unable to talk his way out of his capture, so off they go, back out into the snowy, windy weather, with the alien in cuffs.
They trudge through the snow in the direction of a lone Kubaz, sitting on a box seemingly in the middle of the featureless tundra. Using a flute, he summons a taxi speeder that appears from out of nowhere. It’s piloted by a droid, however, which, for an as-yet-unknown reason, doesn’t sit well with the Mandalorian, so he asks for another. The next is rickety old speeder, with an equally rickety old pilot, played by comedy actor and writer Brian Posehn.
The Mythrol continues to try to talk his way out of his predicament, but soon, they arrive at the bounty hunter’s ship and we’re treated to some glorious shots of the Razor Crest-class vessel that the Mandalorian uses. Before this episode aired, many — including us — believed that Razor Crest might be the name of the ship, but as he boards, the Mythrol remarks, “I like your ship. It’s a classic, right? Razor Crest, pre-Empire …” So it could, in fact, just be the type of craft. In addition, the Mandalorian doesn’t seem like the sentimental type who might give his ship a name.
A complicated profession
The Mandalorian pays the pilot, who warns the bounty hunter to stay off the ice as much as possible. And as the speeder disappears into the distance, a giant sea slug breaks through the ice and eats it, pilot et al. Turning its attention to the still-grounded Razor Crest, the sea slug launches itself at the ship, just as it takes off, and the creature’s teeth clamp around the landing gear.
Cool as a Vegan snow lizard, the Mandalorian climbs out of the pilot seat, hangs out of the ship’s side hatch and uses his signature weapon — believed to be a modified Amban phase-pulse blaster — to stun the sea slug, and off they go. The Mythrol continues to try to weasel his way out of incarceration, but the Mandalorian quickly gets tired and without hesitation shoves his bounty into a ship-sized carbon-freezing chamber.
(Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney)
The Razor Craft lands at another outpost, this one much bigger than the last and probably more comparable in size to Mos Eisley. When our antihero enters the cantina here, no one so much as bats an eyelid. The next major character we meet is Greef Carga (Carl Weathers), who seems to be the one providing the Mandalorian with his work.
We’re only a third of the way through the episode, and we already have a rough idea of how post-Empire bounty hunting works in the Outer Rim Territories. We learn that there’s even a Bounty Hunters’ Guild, a unionized workforce of sorts and a long-standing concept within the “Star Wars” expanded universe.
The Mandalorian produces the tracking fobs from all his captured targets, and Carga tries to pay in Imperial credits, insisting that some places do still take them, even with the Empire defeated. However, the Mandalorian demands another currency, and Carga offers Calamari flan, even though he has only half of what he owes. The two negotiate the next round of bounties, most of which wouldn’t even cover the cost of fuel. Finally, Carga says, “There is one job,” a “direct commission, face to face, deep pocket,” and naturally the Mandalorian accepts.
For a few flan more
In order to be briefed fully on this particular target, the bounty hunter must meet with the Client, played menacingly by Werner Herzog. The Bounty Hunter With No Name walks through town, and the show adds yet another beautifully subtle nod to the spaghetti Western genre of films that inspire the look and feel of this “spaghetti sci-fi”: As our antihero walks, his equipment knocking against his armor sounds very much like the jingling spurs of a wandering gunfighter.. Even the incidental music is reminiscent of a Sergio Leone Western.
(Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney)
The Mandalorian approaches a door and encounters a TT-8L gatekeeper droid, and those are always fun to see. After the bounty hunter produces an ID, he is allowed to enter. He walks along a dark corridor, and another door in front of him slides open as we see four Imperial Stormtroopers in aged and battered-looking armor. It would seem they’re being paid now for some sort of bodyguard duty, and we see the Client sitting at a desk behind them. It seems likely that Herzog’s character has some Imperial connection himself, given that he appears to be wearing an Imperial medal and, in particular, given the target is he assigning.
A nervous character called Dr. Pershing (Omid Abtahi) joins them, and the Client produces an ingot of Beskar as payment. Also known as Mandalorian iron, this is a rare alloy that’s used in Mandalorian armor and that’s durable enough to withstand a direct blaster shot and even a glancing blow from a lightsaber.
The bounty hunter picks up the ingot and looks it over, running his gloved fingertips over the Imperial logo that has been stamped into the corner of the Beskar bar. Even the nearby Stormtroopers lean in slightly to see what could have mesmerized the Mandalorian so.
“That’s only a down payment,” the Client says. “I have a container of Beskar waiting for you upon delivery of the asset.”
(Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney)
After that scene, once again, we are walking through the streets and the Mandalorian is headed with purpose to a specific destination. We see a Kowakian monkey-lizard being spit-roasted on an open fire while another one of the animals looks on forlornly from a cage … and you can’t help but feel a little sorry for this normally annoying little creature.
A fist full of Imperial credits
The Mandalorian enters a building where we see other Mandalorians and yes, even one dressed similarly to Boba Fett, as pointed out in Vanity Fair. However, what Vanity doesn’t mention is that Boba Fett wore Mandalorian armor, even though he wasn’t from that planet. Consequently, the government of Mandalore disavowed any connection to Fett, claiming he was simply “a common bounty hunter” who acquired the armor through unofficial and illegal channels.
And as we’ll see, this place is clearly a Mandalorians-only club. The bounty hunter continues walking through corridors until he reaches the very bowels of the building, and here is another masked Mandalorian, but clearly this one is a metal worker. The bounty hunter pays using his recently acquired Calamari flan and presents the Beskar ingot.
“This was gathered in the Great Purge,” the female Mandalorian metal worker says, looking carefully over the bar of metal. “It is good it is back with the tribe,” she adds.
“A pauldron would be in order,” she says, adding, “Has your signet been revealed?”
“Not yet,” the bounty hunter replies.
Evidently, these two characters know each other, as she decides that the next armor upgrade the bounty hunter should have is a shoulder piece. Personally, I’d have gone for a chest piece myself — as that still appears to be inferior, sub-Beskar armor — and quite what the signet reference means remains to be seen.
She melts the bar down and shapes the section of armor. “This is extremely generous,” she says. “The excess will be used to sponsor many foundlings.”
“That’s good,” the Mandalorian says with a warm sincerity. “I was once a foundling …”
And a short montage follows showing the armor being made, borrowing a little from both classic Norse mythology and Japanese samurai movies. We also see some split-second flashbacks from what we can only assume is the Mandlorian’s own childhood.
(Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney)
And purely from this brief set piece, we have learned so much more about this unusual, appealing and interesting antihero. Despite the “complicated nature” of his profession, we suspect already that this Mandlorian’s heart is in the right place.
Having followed what few clues the Client gave him, the Mandalorian arrives on a new planet and lands in a particularly rocky region when he’s attacked by two wild Burrgs. Thankfully, an Ugnaught named Kuiil (voiced by Nick Nolte) arrives at the scene and stuns both Burrgs, saving the Mandalorian’s life. It turns out many have come before to this world in search of this sought-after bounty, but all previous hunters have died, Kuiil says.
Kuiil takes the Mandalorian under his wing and trains him to ride a Burrg, which the Ugnaught insists will be essential if the bounty hunter is going to cover the distance to the target. It’s a wonderful section of this episode, and Kuiil — a wise, old Ugnaught mentor — quickly becomes a character that we care about and want to see more of.
Little green man
The Mandalorian makes his way to the heavily defended encampment where his quarry is located. Approaching by stealth, he spies a Holowan Laboratories IG-series assassin droid (voiced by Taika Waititi) already there. “Oh no,” the Mandalorian mutters to himself. The droid-turned-bounty-hunter, called IG-11, is already making short work of wiping out everyone defending the encampment. With his hands raised, the Mandalorian shows his Bounty Hunters’ Guild identification and the two agree to join forces and share the reward.
What follows is a pretty intense and spectacular gunfight as wave after wave of “enemy” soldiers get blasted. The foes even wheel out a heavy blaster, which the Mandalorian must take out. He and IG-11 then use that same large-caliber blaster to get past a heavy-duty door where, according to the bounty hunter’s tracking fob, the target is hiding.
It’s nothing short of a bloodbath, which is made far worse when it’s revealed what the target is … and probably why these people were desperately defending it with their lives.
IG-11 and the Mandalorian cautiously approach what looks like an orb, and it’s safe to say that no one could’ve predicted what they’d find inside. They open it and see … a baby Yoda.
(Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney)
It’s not actually Yoda; it’s a baby from Yoda’s species. But very little is known about Yoda’s species, even its name, and Wookieepedia states, “The species to which the legendary Jedi Master Yoda belonged was ancient and shrouded in mystery. Members of this species were rarely seen anywhere in the galaxy.”
And the importance of this bounty becomes clear. IG-11 is more than happy to kill the child, since his commission stated that the target should be terminated, and so the Mandalorian blasts the droid in the head with no hesitation. He holsters his blaster and holds out his finger to touch the tiny hand of the baby.
As the first episode ends and the end credits roll — and once you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor — a thousand different thoughts will race across your mind. Does the Mandalorian have compassion, or does he just want the reward for himself? How important is this discovery to the balance of power in the galaxy? Will the baby automatically be strong with the Force and thus predestined to be a Jedi? Were the Client’s interests in this target connected to his Imperial affiliation?
(Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney)
We know the Mandalorian receives more Beskar in payment, because we’ve seen images of him from later in the series wearing full Beskar body armor. But is this payment from the Client?
“The Mandalorian” may have been more eagerly awaited than “The Rise of Skywalker,” and the first episode doesn’t disappoint. It does involve a lot of introductions, but this character and the world he inhabits are, in essence, blank canvases, so of course it’s necessary to introduce the other characters that are important to the story.
Moreover, the show looks fantastic, as good as any of the movies. From the CGI to the costumes and production design, Disney has spared no expense, and Season 1 is believed to have cost in the region of $100 million; that’s $12.5 million per episode. Season 2 has already started principal photography.
A lot is riding on “The Mandalorian,” and thankfully, Disney seems to be showing evidence of foresight that was nowhere to be seen when the company made “Solo.” This series is unlikely to be as much of a runaway sensation as “Game of Thrones,” for example, but a lot of people like “Star Wars,” and if all those people sign up to Disney Plus, then it will likely be deemed a success. Let’s just hope that Favreau and Filoni set and maintain high standards for the writing and directing.
The second episode of “The Mandalorian” will air on Disney Plus on Nov. 15, followed by weekly installments on Nov. 22 and 29 and Dec. 6, 13, 18 and 27. A monthly subscription to Disney Plus costs $6.99; annual subscriptions cost $69.99. You can sign up for Disney Plus here. Amazon has announced that the Disney Plus app will available on devices including Fire TV, Fire TV Edition smart TVs and Fire Tablets. Disney Plus won’t be available in the U.K., Germany, France, Italy or Spain until March 31, 2020.
(Image credit: All About Space)