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The Mandalorian ‘Chapter 1’ Review

‘The Mandalorian’ far exceeds expectations.

When Disney+ launched this morning (for most of us, anyway), I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Mandalorian. I mean, sure, we’d been told it was basically a western in space featuring a main character from one of Star Wars‘ most popular races. But would a live action television show be able to do the Star Wars universe justice? Would the effects be movie-quality good, or would they look like Microsoft paint files floating across the screen?

And most importantly, would the story be good?

Well, this crusty old Star Wars fan is happy to report that The Mandalorian far exceeded his expectations–and will likely do the same for Star Wars fans of all ages and interest levels.

Fair warning: There will be spoilers in this review, so proceed at your own risk. I have spoken.

What Works

Much of The Mandalorian‘s opening bar/cantina fight scene has been spoiled via trailers and sneak peeks, but seeing the whole thing play out in context was a real treat.

By the time the title character had dispatched a group of thugs (including one particularly badass kill involving a Quarren and a portal door) and collected his target, we have a pretty good sense of where things stand. He’s obviously violent, but only to the degree that’s required. There is absolutely no wasted movement or words.

The same cannot be said for his quarry, who yammers incessantly (and hilariously) in an attempt to buy his freedom.

At this point, the show had me hooked with regards to cinematography and atmosphere. Much like the title character, the use of incidental music was judicious and extremely effective, adding to scenes that needed it and cutting out at just the right time.

And when the giant ice serpent leapt up to attack the Mandalorian’s ship, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief that the CGI was going to be good, too.

From there, we’re treated to a succulent slow burn narrative with a side of delicious Star Wars easter eggs. As the Mandalorian meets with the leader of the Bounty Hunter’s Guild, a fellow member of his Mandalorian tribe, and a secretive (and likely Imperial-remnant) client, there are all sorts of nods to Star Wars eras new and old: Storm troopers, a monkey-lizard roasting on a spit, and even a blink-and-you’ll miss it Kyuzo who I hope with all my heart will turn out to be Constable Zuvio.

And while all of that is great, you don’t need to know any of it to enjoy watching the title character as he takes on his mysterious new job and travels to collect the high-priced target. You don’t need to know that the names of the creatures that attack the Mandalorian when he reaches the unnamed planet are called blurrgs–or that the the character who saves him–and offers to help him reach his quarry in an effort to stop the flow of bounty hunters and mercenaries coming to his planet for the same target–is an ugnaught.

It’s just well-acted characters, excellent special effects, and great story-telling all within a Star Wars framework.

The real gem of the episode, however, occurs when the Mandalorian reaches the location/building where his target is located. A massive–and beautifully choreographed–shoot out ensues. And when I say beautifully choreographed, I mean on par with Michael Mann’s Heat or that one good episode/scene from the second season of True Detective.

Luckily, our protagonist is aided by a bounty hunting rival who made quite an impact back when he was revealed in The Mandalorian’s first trailer.

Although I’m still a bit miffed that they didn’t use the classic and well-known IG-88 assassin droid, the Mandalorian’s interaction with the new IG-11 is somehow both riveting and hilarious. Also, IG-11 is totally awesome in his own right–so much so that if he makes a return appearance, I might be forced to add a figure of him to my office shelf.

Of course, that return appearance might not be possible since the Mandalorian put a hole in his head for trying to assassinate the adorable Yoda-race baby everyone else is gunning for.

Is the Mandalorian making a decision to save and protect his target, or does he simply want to collect the higher bounty for him/her being delivered alive? Are we finally going to learn more about the race Yoda is a part of? Did the Mandalorian’s client want the Yoda-baby for his/her force sensitive potential, or something even more nefarious?

Considering the brilliant opening chapter we just finished to get to these questions, I can’t wait to see how they get answered.

What Doesn’t Work

While I really liked the scene between the Mandalorian and the armorsmith from his tribe, the flashbacks to what was implied to be his childhood felt jarringly melodramatic compared to the rest of the episode.

Also, I understand why the Mandalorian’s taming of the Blergg had to be condensed, but it still felt a bit ridiculous for the creature to go from wanting to kick his ass to completely docile and subservient with a few raspy words of encouragement.

Both extremely minor complaints, but there ya go.

The Verdict

Look, I don’t like the idea of paying for another streaming service, either. But believe me when I say that this show alone is worth giving Disney+ a try. This is the live action Star Wars series that every fan of the franchise has wanted–from ‘Original Trilogy Only’ die hards to the proud Prequel and Sequel lovers to the ‘Legends Only’ crowd…and those of us who somehow manage to enjoy stuff from all of the eras…The Mandalorian might just be one of those rare and truly remarkable pieces of Star Wars media that manages to appeal to everyone.

 
The Mandalorian ‘Chapter 1’ Review
Is it good?
That mass appeal won't be due to mediocrity, though. For better or worse, The Mandalorian is laying all its cards on the table to attempt a truly great and unique story in a franchise that has told a ton of them already. So far they appear to be wonderfully on the right track.
Fascinating/well-acted characters, excellent special effects, and great story-telling all within a Star Wars framework.
Gorgeous cinematography and judicious use of incidental music create a dreadful (and fantastic) atmosphere.
The Mandalorian's opening chapter ends with both a flourish and a host of questions we can't to see get answered.
The flashbacks to the Mandalorian's childhood felt jarringly melodramatic.
The taming of the Blergg felt incredibly rushed compared to the rest of the episode's very deliberate pace.
9.5
Great
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