After a galaxy's worth of hype, The Mandalorian--the first live-action Star Wars TV show--has arrived on Disney+. The series, from creator Jon Favreau, was a launch title for Disney's new streaming service and practically everything about the series was kept top secret. Now, though, Disney+ is here, and with it the first episode of The Mandalorian has premiered.
As far as first episodes go, The Mandalorian is a bit of a mixed bag. It manages to set up the ongoing plot of the series, introduce a few key characters, throw in quite a few of the Star Wars nods fans are going to be looking for, and end with a twist that's sure to have viewers talking. However, it does a poor job introducing you to the characters. What's more, this one episode alone expects viewers to soak up a lot of information that, unless you're a diehard Star Wars fan, will seem rather pointless.
The story is simple. The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) is tasked with tracking down a mysterious bounty by someone we only know as the Client (Werner Herzog). Along the way he meets an Ugnaught named Kuiil (Nick Nolte) and a bounty droid called IG-11 (Taika Waititi). If you don't know any of their names, don't worry--they're not actually said in the show, and several of these actors are unrecognizable for various reasons (Pascal never takes his helmet off and Waititi voices a droid). But they are listed in the end credits.
That's one of the issues with the premiere: So much information is packed into any given moment of the episode that it can be hard to track. The premiere only runs 40 minutes, and throws a lot of elements at viewers--very quick flashes of the Mandalorian's childhood, nods to the history of the planet Mandalore, a number of familiar alien creatures, and more than one battle.
Visually, the first episode of The Mandalorian is stunning. Favreau and his creative team have gone to great lengths to make this story feel like a Western set in space. What's missing, however, is a reason to care about a lot of what's happening. You are immediately dropped into this character's world with no real indication of why he's someone you should be rooting for. Never seeing his face doesn't help; neither does the fact that he says about 30 words the entire episode.
Star Wars is at its best when there's a hero you can identify with and root for. Thus far, the protagonist of the Mandalorian remains a mystery. We know practically nothing about him, his motivations, or whether or not he's actually the hero of this story. He just looks cool, is great at fighting, and hates droids for some reason we might learn about in future episodes.
But there's a lot to love about The Mandalorian too--the cinematography, the setting, the cast, the nods to what's happening in the Star Wars universe post-Return of the Jedi. It's also easy to love because, simply, it's a live-action Star Wars TV show and it's not outright bad. There's potential here for a show that can become great. For that to happen, though, the characters we've met thus far--and the ones that are still to come--need a better introduction.
As exciting as a Star Wars TV show is to Star Wars fans, this is a show that needs to work for general audiences and those that aren't hardcore fans too. As much fun as it might be for diehards to hear two people talk about the importance of Beskar ore, character development should also be in there somewhere.
With its first episode, The Mandalorian has made a statement about what a live-action Star Wars TV show looks like. Now, with the remaining seven episodes in Season 1, it needs to make a statement about how a Star Wars plot should unfold over a longer form of storytelling.
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