Naturally, there are spoilers for the first episode here.
The Mandalorian is the first live-action television series to spring from the world of Star Wars. Created by Jon Favreau, this first episode is directed by Dave Filoni, the powerhouse mind behind Lucasfilm’s popular (and important) animated shows. It stars Pedro Pascal as a nameless Mandalorian bounty hunter who gets an offer for a job he can’t refuse from another nameless mystery man with Imperial connections played by Werner Herzog. Along the way, he joins forces with an ugnaught voiced by Nick Nolte and a suicidal bounty hunting droid named IG-11 voiced by Taika Waititi.
Ultimately, it’s a classic spaghetti western set-up, taking all the best tropes of Japanese samurai cinema and reformatting them into a western. The show merely takes that one step further by dropping it seamlessly into a galaxy far, far away.
When stepping into the world of The Mandalorian, the thing that’s most striking about it is how it blends those worlds of classic, lawless westerns and the universe of Star Wars. In a western, the backdrop of the civil war shades everything and when hints are dropped about which characters were on which side, we’re left to fill in the blanks about what that tells us about a character. Because of the rich mythology behind Star Wars and all of the various factions and wars in its recent history, we’re able to bring that same semiotic knowledge to bear.
When the titular Mandalorian refuses transport from a droid in a brand new speeder in favor of one breaking down and driven by Brian Posehn, we’re left to wonder where that animosity comes from, though we suspect he might have strong opinions about the Clone Wars, where droids were an oppressive force in the galaxy. To have those suspicions confirmed in his brief flashbacks where the Separatist armies took his parents from him is something that strikes a chord for fans of Star Wars. This revelation builds in surprise for the audience when the Mandalorian teams up with IG-11 and then adds more surprise when that situation turns again.
Dave Filoni – Superstar
Dave Filoni has been working in the world of Star Wars for well over a decade and it shows in his deft work here in The Mandalorian’s first episode. There were some questions about whether or not the skills he developed running the world of Star Wars animation would translate to live action, but I think those concerns were unfounded. Here, Filoni’s ability to tell a solid story, to pace it well, to reveal all the information at the right time, and engage the wonder of the viewer, is on full display. This looks like the work of a master of the form rather than a freshman effort and it proves that George Lucas was correct in choosing Dave Filoni as his padawan. The tone is balanced evenly between the cool-factor of Toshiro Mifune/Clint Eastwood style anti-hero, reverence for the lore of Star Wars, a fascinating but simple story, and a sense of humor that ties it all together. Filoni has what it takes. Look no further than this episode for proof.
Keep Your Eyes Open
When working in the world of Star Wars, there are two competing things fans are on the constant lookout for. The first is Easter Eggs to other bits of Star Wars lore and the second is the classic cinema influences that were brought into the show.
For the former, there were many. The Mythoral character (played with aplomb by a completely unrecognizable Horatio Sanz) mentions wanting to get home to see the family for Life Day, one of a few references to the legendarily terrible Star Wars Holiday Special. Other references to that show in this episode alone include the Mandalorian’s pulse rifle (which was the first weapon we saw Boba Fett wield in his debut on that show) and similar shots of the Mandalorian riding a mount, just as Fett had on that show.
There are also additions to the lore of the planet Mandalore and its people, introducing the concept of “foundlings.” Like the title character, these seem to be Mando orphans who are brought into the various tribes and clans. This is also the first time we’ve seen Beskar—the material Mandalorian armor is traditionally made from—forged into something new. This is done by a mysterious new Mando character played by Star Wars newcomer Emily Swallow.
Perhaps the most breathtaking reference involves Nick Nolte’s character, Kuiil, chiding the Mandalorian for his inability to ride a bluurg because his ancestors once rode the Mythosaur. For fans of Mandalorians, this is a big deal. On Boba Fett’s shoulder pauldron is the skull of what was formerly referred to as a mythosaur, but all of the lore surrounding the skull and these creatures had been wiped from the larger Star Wars canon in 2014. Now, the legend is back and in the best way possible. These references definitely give you an idea that the makers of the show know how to properly incorporate a reference without making it feel like fan service while, at the same time, making it feel important to the story.
Lone Wolf and Cub
The other thing to look out for are the classic cinematic influences. As we get deeper into the season, I’ll do a full write up on Lone Wolf and Cub (1972) and its obvious influence on the ending of this episode for my Movies that Made Star Wars column. In the meantime, consider giving that film a watch. It’s currently streaming on the Criterion Channel.
Although we haven’t seen the second episode, this ending suggests this movie will be useful in understanding the template of what’s going to come. Who is this baby? Where did they come from? Does it have any tie to Yoda or Yaddle, the only other two members of that unnamed species we’ve ever seen? Is there a connection to the Force? If this infant is fifty years old and there is a connection to the Force, it could have very well been guarded in a Jedi nursery like we saw in the early seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. It raises more questions than it answers.
The other two films I’d suggest you all check out would be the Akira Kurosawa/Sergio Leone double feature of Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars. In the first film, Kurosawa established the feel of a character—played to perfection by Toshiro Mifune—who is of dubious morality but seems to unscrupulously play both sides of any conflict against each other to both get himself paid and, tangentially, make life better for the normal people. Leone remade this movie in A Fistful of Dollars and established the kinship between westerns and samurai films. Aside from all of the visual and story cues, the place where this becomes most apparent is Ludwig Göransson’s score. Imagine if Ennio Morricone had been asked to translate his western style to Star Wars and fill it with both traditional instruments and electronic sounds, that’s what we’re given here for The Mandalorian and it fits beautifully.
The first episode of The Mandalorian provides Star Wars fans with everything they’d want in a tease for a new series. It starts stronger than any of the animated series have so far and offers more intriguing questions than answers. It has the legacy of classic film that gives Star Wars its identity and offers a rich playground to expand the mythos. Casual and super fans alike will find plenty to love about this new scripted drama and it already feels like a welcome addition in the Star Wars universe.
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