***WARNING! The following contains plot spoilers for Episode I of The Mandalorian!***
Disney+ is finally here and with it, The Mandalorian. And I say this with absolute certainty: the Mouse House could not have picked a better project to help launch its in-house streaming service. The first live-action Star Wars series in Lucasfilm's history is everything fans of the galaxy far, far away could want and more.
Jon Favreau (creator/writer/producer/showrunner) and Dave Filoni (director/producer/writer) have a profound understanding of the Star Wars IP—from practical creature puppets to exotic planet locales—and squeeze it for every last delicious morsel.
I can't remember the last time I was so excited to see the next episode of a new series.
There's no opening space crawl or epic fanfare. This isn't a sweeping space opera, it's a gritty space western, and it opens as such (wasting no time whatsoever in getting to the action) with a barroom brawl in which the titular bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) dispatches a bunch of thugs like it was nothing.
Seriously, this character is one of the coolest we've ever seen in the Star Wars universe.
I already know what I want to dress as next Halloween.
He's a man of few words (directly based on Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name in Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy) but exudes confidence and fierceness just by existing on the screen. You're scared of the dude, even though you never see his face because Mandalorian's do not remove their helmets. Pascal's clipped delivery goes a long way in cementing the main character's lone wolf persona operating in the Outer Rim.
Anyway, the opening begins on a hostile ice planet with savage monsters lurking just beneath the frosty surface. Keen-eyed (and eared) fans will recognize a nice little cameo appearance from stand-up comedian Brian Posehn, a self-confessed Star Wars super-fan who has a bit about his hatred for the Special Edition release of the original trilogy.
Completing a round of bounty hunting, the Mandalorian meets with Greef Carga (a charming Carl Weathers), the leader of a bounty hunting guild (yes, there is some honor among thieves) for a new job. This leads him into the employ of the Client, a mysteriously awesome Werner Herzog who might be slumming it, but hey, at least we get to hear him say the word “parsec.”
The Client enlists the Mandalorian to track down some unknown target and pays him with a brick of Beskar, a rare and precious metal from Mandalore that seems to have been pilfered by the Empire. Palpatine and his goons may be gone, but the destruction and pain they brought upon the galaxy is still as raw as it ever was. The Imperial crest on the hunk of Beskar eerily recalls how the Nazis would steal gold from European Jews, melt it down into bricks, and stamp them with the eagle clutching the swastika.
Mandalorians were among one of the biggest groups affected by the Empire, suffering an event referred to as “The Great Purge.” From there, we get some flashbacks of the Mandalorian's traumatic childhood as he has the Beskar melted down and forged into a new piece of armor.
With that squared away, he flies off to nab his target on a desert-like planet. And in case you were wondering, the answer is a resounding yes—there are classic Star Wars wiping dissolves between certain scenes. As soon as he lands, the Mandalorian is attacked by a pair of blurrgs, creatures that resemble a cross between piranhas and T. rexes.
Our protagonist is saved at the last second by Kuiil, a gravely-voiced moisture farmer who never repeats himself, preferring to end nearly all of his statements with “I have spoken.”
Perfectly portrayed by Nick Nolte, Kuii is Ugnaught brought to life by prosthetics that don't exactly synch up with the dialogue, but that's totally ok. It only adds to the show's charm and harkens back to the pre-CGI days of the first three movies in the late 1970s and early '80s.
Kuii guides the Mandalorian to a compound where he engages in an epic western-style shootout, helped along by a fellow bounty hunter: an assassin droid by the name of IG-11 (Taika Waititi). IG-11 is no K-2SO, but Waititi's comically dry performance gives the droid just enough character until his purpose is served.
Once inside the compound's main building, the Mandalorian locates the bounty he was hired to find, and it turns out to be a baby…something. That's one thing I won't spoil because it's just so crazy. You need to view it with your own eyes in order to believe it.
The shocking finale certainly throws a wrench into everything we thought we knew about Star Wars and will ensure that you tune in for the next seven episodes of the first season. I have no clue where things can go from here, but I'm so excited to find out. Better still, nearly all of the trailer footage was from the first episode, so there's no telling what can happen in the coming weeks.
While reviews posted thus far have alluded to deep-cut ties to the franchise's rich mythology, I am admittedly not that astute when it comes to the Star Wars Expanded Universe. I'm a huge fan of the movies, but never really got into the games, comics, novels, or animated series. If you want to call me a fake fan as a result, that's fine, but I was still able to pick out certain visual references that only longtime fans could detect.
If you worship at the altar of this franchise like I do, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for nods to Salacious Crumb and Greedo. I'm sure there are more obscure things I didn't get (technically, Disney ruled the EU as non-canon when it bought Lucasfilm, but Favreau and Filoni are slowly reversing that), but it's cool to see the past subtly brought into the forefront as we venture into unexplored territory.
Ludwig Göransson's ominously discordant score, which has just the faintest whiff of John Williams to it, is just the icing on the entire cake.
There were a few times where I had to pause the first episode and just reflect on how insanely happy I was to be back in this world again. The Mandalorian looks as good as any of the movies and will certainly tide fans over until The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters next month.
While episodes will be released on a weekly basis like any traditional television show, The Mandalorian is dropping its second episode this Friday as a special premiere treat for Disney+ subscribers. For our comprehensive guide to everything about the new series, click here.