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‘The Mandalorian’ series premiere throws ‘Star Wars’ in the middle of the wild west

A strong series premiere opens up the world of 'Star Wars' in a brand new way.

Jul 5, 2020, 12:51 pm*

Internet Culture

Michelle Jaworski 

Michelle Jaworski

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This article contains spoilers for the series premiere of The Mandalorian.

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Taking place about five years after Return of the Jedi, The Mandalorian—Lucasfilm’s first live-action Star Wars TV series—is far removed from the galaxy-wide struggle between the Galactic Empire and the Rebellion. But as we meet the titular Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and are introduced to his world, it’s evident that the scars of war are still fresh in a slow but fascinating premiere.

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The New Republic might be around at this point, but on the outer edge of the galaxy where the Mandalorian makes his living, it doesn’t seem to have arrived yet. Business might be booming for bounty hunters with the likes of bail jumpers and the occasional smuggler being flagged for collection, but few are willing to pay the fees set by the Bounty Hunters’ Guild, which is run by a calculating man named Greef Carga (Carl Weathers); the highest fee won’t even cover the Mandalorian’s fuel. Carbon-freezing, which was first tested on Han Solo in Empire Strikes Back, is now a regular part of bounty hunting.

Scene after scene of The Mandalorian’s first chapter feels like it’s even more out of a western than previous Star Wars stories. The cold open introduces us to an unflinching Mandalorian, whose mere presence is enough to make one patron stop threatening a Mythrol (played by Horatio Sanz) and turn his sights onto the Mandalorian, who makes quick work of most of the cantina’s patrons; the Mythrol is grateful up until the Mandalorian places a bounty chip onto the table. The final action sequence of the episode features a climactic gunfight with its own gunslinger, a trigger-happy bounty droid named IG-11 (Taika Waititi) who keeps offering to activate his self-destruct sequence, and those quintessential, near-impossible Star Wars odds. It’s also evident in Ludwig Göransson’s score, an eclectic mix that builds even more of the Mandalorian’s universe up.

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Under the watchful eye of Dave Filoni, who makes his live-action directorial debut on The Mandalorian after years of running Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, and a script by creator Jon Favreau, much of The Mandalorian feels effortless even as we’re being thrust into a new kind of story. It’s even more of a challenge considering that our protagonist never shows his face.

In practice, there’s something a little unnerving about the Mandalorian. He’s a man of few words, something that clearly makes the Mythrol he arrives on an icy planet to collect uncomfortable. The more that the Mandalorian doesn’t speak, the more that the Mythrol presses him with more questions. “Is it true that you guys never take off your helmets?” he asks at one point, something that most Star Wars fans are probably wondering since, for many of them, they only know of Boba Fett. (I don’t know if this Mandalorian will take off his helmet anytime soon, but Mandalorians can and do take off their masks in Clone Wars and Rebels.)

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Mandalorians have a vast and rich history in Star Wars lore. But given the reaction of the Mythrol and an Ugnaught named Kuiil (voiced by Nick Nolte), who offers the Mandalorian and any other bounty hunter he sees help collecting an asset so that his planet can finally return to a peaceful existence, there is still an air of mystery surrounding the Mandalorians. Kuiil’s curiosity also gets the better of him, noting that he’s “only read the stories” about Mandalorians.

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We don’t yet know what happened to Mandalore—the planet that Mandalorians call home—after the fall of the Galactic Empire. It hasn’t had an easy time of it, having been wrecked by a war between clans, an Empire takeover, and another civil war that would unite the Mandalorians in pushing the Empire out. But the planet’s and its people’s glory days are clearly behind. The Client (Werner Herzog), a mysterious man wearing an Empire emblem who hires him to obtain a mysterious asset, pays him in something worth far greater than credits: Beskar, the alloy used to make Mandalorian armor. (Upon the asset’s retrieval, the Client promises to pay the Mandalorian a “camtono of Beskar.”)

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“The Beskar belongs back into the hands of a Mandalorian,” the Client tells him. “It is good to restore the natural order of things after a period of such disarray.”

For Mandalorians, their armor is a part of them. It encompasses their history and that of their ancestors’ (in Rebels, Sabine Wren notes that her armor is 500 years old), and as the Mandalorian watches an armorer melt and mold it, we see just what it means. He might not be a traditional Star Wars hero, but like so many other heroes—Luke Skywalker, Ezra Bridger, Jyn Erso, and Cassian Andor, to name a few—his life was upended by war and violence. Making his own armor is a way to reclaim the history he likely lost.

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By the episode’s end, he might need that anchor. With the help of IG-11, the Mandalorian gets a hold of the asset, only to find that the 50-year-old that he’s supposed to collect looks like a baby. It’s the same species as Yoda, who lived to be 900 years old. Given that we don’t know what Yoda is—in the official Star Wars databank, Yoda’s species is listed as “Unknown”—fans will probably call this creature “Baby Yoda” until we’re given another name. The Mandalorian was told to bring the asset alive while IG-11 was ordered to kill it, resulting in the latter getting a blaster to the head.

We know absolutely nothing about this creature except for its resemblance to Yoda and that the two main characters of this species, Yoda and Yaddle, were both Force-sensitive. But is that the case here with Baby Yoda? Why would the Client and Dr. Pershing (Omid Abtahi) want them, and why would IG-11 be told to kill them while the Mandalorian was told to bring them in alive?

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It feels like The Mandalorian is just getting started as it reaches the end of “Chapter 1.” It doesn’t mean that the 35 minutes or so before it are filler or completely useless, but just as we’re introduced to one show, The Mandalorian pulls the rug from under our feet to introduce another one. If the first was thrilling and exciting, the second is much more intriguing.

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This post has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Cassian Andor’s and Carl Weathers’ names.

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*First Published: Nov 12, 2019, 12:35 pm