2020 is the year of television and not the year of movies because audiences are stuck at home and craving content to help them last the quarantine. The Mandalorian, created by Jon Favreau, is a prime example of such content. The first season of this show was released in November of last year and was marketed as a spin-off Star Wars series set during the Skywalker Era. We follow the travels of the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal), a lone bounty hunter who operates in the outer reaches of the galaxy. One of his missions leads him to encounter a youngling with a special abilities. ‘Mando’ travels around the galaxy with the youngling, in the search for a new home for him.
First and foremost, I liked that this series focused on a character that is NOT a Jedi nor a Sith. I was frankly frustrated with the fact that nearly all Star Wars movies and TV series were centered around a character with a Skywalker lineage. The expanded universe of Star Wars, brilliantly explored through non-canon books, tells tales of species with just as interesting story-arks and adventures. In the first season of this show, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that there were no lightsaber battles or force lightning being generated by the fingertips of Sith lords (in fact the force is treated as a myth in this show). Instead, I was treated to sequences featuring hand-to-hand combat and blaster action.
The series also does a great service to expand the Star Wars universe by continuing the legacy of shows such as Star Wars: Rebels and Stars Wars: The Clone Wars which took us to new places. We also got to see a myriad of new weapons being used, new vehicles being driven, new languages being spoken, and new species being beat up by the Mandalorian. At the same time, there were callbacks to stuff we saw in the Skywalker movies – visits to Tatooine, Tuscan Raiders, AT-ST walkers, and even the terrible aim of Stormtroopers! There was a great balance between the nostalgic and newer elements of Star Wars.
On the more technical side of things, I was surprised to find that the show was devoid of any green-screen or on location shooting. Instead, virtual sets were constructed for almost every setting. There was also little to no CGI used to bring to life the non-humanoid species – makeup and puppetry were at their work once again. The score, crafted by Ludwig Göransson, was also admirable. It wasn’t a beat-by-beat rendition of John Williams’ iconic score, nor did it seem inspired by it. The score of The Mandalorian had a color and taste of its own. Also, can I just take a minute to appreciate the talent of directors utilized – Taika Watiti, Deborah Chow & Raick Famuyiwa all made their services available to bring Jon Favreau’s vision to life.
All eight episodes of the show were really well made. Each episode was ~40 minutes long and ended on a definitive note – a deviation from the Netflix model which likes to end episodes on cliffhangers. Even though I wish there were more episodes in this season, by the end of it I felt like I had been through a rowdy adventure. Each episode was beefed up with action, meaningful dialogue and character development. My favorite episode was hands down the one where Mando teams up with a mercenary crew to help break and individual out of a prison. Comedian Bill Burr made a surprise yet impactful appearance in this episode.
The main protagonist of this show; Mando, was also well written. He wasn’t naggy like Anakin Skywalker nor was he a Mary Sue like Rey. To those of you who don’t know, a Mary Sue is a generic name given for a fictional character who is so competent/perfect in their abilities that it appears absurd – even in the context of the fictional setting. Instead, Mando made mistakes – he was not a one man soldier who could shoot his way out of any confrontation. Mando was occasionally physically and emotionally vulnerable and relied on the assistance of allies & strangers to help him make it through the day. He also grew throughout the season by developing sympathy for others and learning more about this clan – The Mandalorians.
The only negative thing I have to say about this season is that it was missing an awesome antagonist. In fact, we don’t get introduced to a antagonist until like the second last episode of the season. Even then, his/her on-screen presence was forgettable. In my view, the antagonist of this season should’ve had a force-like ability (preferably something we haven’t seen before). This would’ve tied their motif to the character of Baby Yoda (who is a very important character in the series). Instead, the antagonist we got didn’t really have a strong motivation for his/her actions.
In summary, I was very impressed with Season 1 of The Mandalorian. From a technical point of view, it was groundbreaking – the virtual sets, puppetry, make-up, character design, score etc. From a storytelling perspective, each episode had a fun vibe to it and felt like an adventure. The characters, particularly Mando, was very well written. For season 2, the show should focus on improving its antagonist.