A long time ago in a boardroom far, far away a Disney executive hit merchandising gold which would not only reinvigorate a franchise, but also be the key to Disney+’s successful future.
Not long ago at the back-end of 2019 there was a tangible sense of desperation surrounding Star Wars. Audience reactions to The Last Jedi and Solo had been vitriolic and apathetic respectively, and as much as the studio tried the hype just wasn’t there for the upcoming saga concluder: The Rise of Skywalker. Then Jon Favreau stepped into the picture with The Mandalorian, a key original property for Disney+ to put on every poster for its upcoming launch. It looked different, grim, bold and distinctly Western, an attempt for Star Wars to go back to its roots and not be mired in continuity. Legal streamers in America (and pirates around the world) watched in anticipation, and by the end of the first episode that this was something new, and refreshingly needed.
Audience reactions to The Last Jedi and Solo had been vitriolic and apathetic respectively
Set between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, The Mandalorian follows the titular bounty hunter getting into scrapes across the galaxy, with only his wits and arsenal of weapons to get him through. It’s a refreshingly low-key Star Wars story that allows us to visit new planets, meet new aliens and tell a tale divorced from the endless family quibbles that dominate The Skywalker Saga. Pedro Pascal is excellent as the Mandalorian, the character coming mostly from physicality and a handful of spoken lines. Similar to the heroes of Rogue One, he’s not a clean-cut hero, but still is endearing, particularly in this case because of his bond with one particular internet phenomenon.
Enter Baby Yoda. No this is not a spoiler, everyone by now knows what (not necessarily who) Baby Yoda is. Appearing for the first time at the end of Episode 1, Baby Yoda is a merchandising goldmine, the cutest thing Disney have ever created and a scene-stealer. As soon as he appeared in his little cradle he won over every heart and mind through excellent animatronics and modified CGI as well as his meme-inspiring antics. He also turned out to be more than just a cute mystery given his force abilities, ensuring his survival with the portion of the fanbase who hate cute things in Star Wars.
Baby Yoda is a merchandising goldmine, the cutest thing Disney have ever created and a scene-stealer
For anyone wondering if the show is just Baby Yoda though, it isn’t. Despite having a somewhat slow pace, The Mandalorian excels when it comes to its atmosphere. It has a down-to-Earth/Tatooine grit and features a number of lived in, dirty settings that make it feel true to the Original trilogy. The action is well-directed, fun and tightly reigned in. The show’s score is the only one in the whole franchise which doesn’t sound like it’s trying to ape John Williams. Like much of the show’s aesthetic it has something of a Western vibe, which goes well with its often-desolate planets and familiar plots.
The supporting cast is also really good. Taika Waititi makes for a great droid bounty hunter turned nurse, Gina Carano is excellent as Cara Dune, a Rebel shock trooper and Carl Weathers is deeply charming as a bounty hunter contract. The show also expands very organically on the mythos of Star Wars. The Mandalorians themselves are well explored as a people, the Imperial characters are well depicted to show they’re clearly on the back foot but dangerous, and there are even scenes from the prequel era which make it look actually impressive as opposed to the weightless CGI sequences George Lucas directed. There’s a hallway fight in particular in episode 6 which feels like the opening of Phantom Menace, but reimagined so it’s actually tense and a real space.
Like much of the show’s aesthetic it has something of a Western vibe, which goes well with its often-desolate planets and familiar plots
Overall, The Mandalorian is the best thing Disney has produced with the Star Wars brand yet. It’s a short series of television with a strong cast of characters, lots of Baby Yoda moments to adore and some good old-fashioned shootouts. The only downside for UK viewers is that its release is being staggered, so maybe wait a few weeks before you use your trial run for Disney+.