Creator: Jon Favreau
Title: The Mandalorian
Franchise: Star Wars
Series: The Mandalorian #1
As we’re nearing the release date of the second season of The Mandalorian, the highly acclaimed space western series and the only thing that valiantly stands between Star Wars and the abyss of total, disgraceful annihilation, we’ve decided it was high time to review the first season 😊.
The Mandalorian came to the TV screens as a surprise pet project of Jon Favreau, for a long time associated mostly with Marvel and their cinematic universe. Favreau and Dave Filoni, known best for his long-time work with Star Wars franchise (particularly the animated series SW: Clone Wars and SW: Rebels), worked long and hard on a new live-action series that would explore the SW universe immediately after the events of The Return of the Jedi.
Ola: Hmm, I wonder why is that? Is it possible they weren’t fans of the new Star Wars movies Disney so horribly botched? 😀
When you watch The Mandalorian, the answer to this question quickly becomes obvious. The new series pays direct homage to the very beginnings of the Star Wars franchise, revisiting old places and old themes in a way that remains respectful, very self-aware, and wonderfully nostalgic while simultaneously offering new perspectives, immensely better CGI and slicker storytelling – not to mention the exploration of the more mysterious elements of the lore, such as the Mandalorians, the nature of the Force, or even the species of Yoda. It’s clear that the series is a creation of devoted fans, a heartfelt tribute to a phenomenon that had significantly influenced not only the imaginations of many generations of movie goers but also the Western popular culture in general.
Piotrek: Yes, definitely, I won’t argue with you on that. The Mandalorian is my favourite recent addition to the Star Wars universe and one of the best SF shows I’ve seen recently. We both hated the new trilogy, even if I enjoyed its first instalment. This show was great in itself, and also developed the lore in interesting ways. Now they just need to remove most of the new feature films from the canon 😉
And let me add – I still hate the not-so-new-anymore, despicable, User Torture System WordPress insist I use now. One example – this paragraph just won’t justify. The icon is there, it just doesn’t work. With some of the other paragraphs – no problem. Some paragraphs are aligned to left in the editor, but justified in the preview mode… pure evil.
Ola: The first season of The Mandalorian is episodical in nature. Eight half-hour episodes showcase different storytelling styles, different atmosphere, different themes and even different secondary characters – and yet the main story arc is consistently evident in each episode, forming a clear plot line and an engaging, belieavable journey of the main protagonists throughout wonderfully realized and diverse galaxy far far away. The journey is equally outward and inward – as what begins as a typical bounty hunting gig transforms into a complex relationship between a parent and a child.
Piotrek: And that’s so cool! I miss that so much. I’m not a big fan of the old tv shows that were fully episodic, but I love the ones that take the middle ground – with multiple episodes that stand on their own, while the big storyline slowly develops. Babylon 5 was great with it, and I re-watched it recently, still enjoying every bit of it (ok, special effects look aged now, but it’s not a problem for me). Doctor Who does it each season, with varying levels of success, and that’s big part of why I love this show.
Series that keep on the main plot all the time need to be really tight, and even when they’re good it usually makes me long for more exploration that we would get from a few episodes diverting from the Big Thing.
Some of Netflix’s Marvel shows had a problem with a rather short plot spread thoughout too many episodes – The Mandalorian is an example of a show with excellent pacing!
Ola: I think the parental perspective is paradoxically one of the most important in this series. Many reviewers have touched on this theme already, especially with regards to its conspicuous absence from the earlier works in the franchise; while I would argue that a parental figure is always present, albeit in various forms, in Star Wars – from Obi Wan to Kanan Jarrus, to Shmi Skywalker and Galen Erso, and finally to Darth Vader, the relationship between the Child and the Mandalorian takes this theme to another level entirely, making it the most important element of the series – the issues of individual responsibility, emotional attachment, sacrifice, role modeling, etc. form the core of The Mandalorian S01.
Piotrek: And, in contrast to the movies, it takes time to develop the characters and their attachments. There are no shortcuts, we are not supposed to just accept this because we know the tropes – we see how it happened. There are meaningful conversations, difficult choices and game-changing events that makes sense, not just look pretty.
This is becoming a post about the state of Star Wars as a franchise, not The Mandalorian review 🙂 So, going back to the show, I very much appreciate how all the elements seem to matter, and to come together to create a great story.
Things regain a sense of proportion, danger is scaled down, but no less dangerous. A single AT-ST is scary enough, and the victory is no less satisfying with less noise and explosions. Infrequent displays of The Child’s power, a convenient but not overused Deus ex machina, are never just for show, but a way to move the plot forward and reveal a further bit about the characters.
What The Child becomes is a great riddle, for now he has potential for both good and evil. And how will such a powerful figure influence the universe, if he’s not mentioned in the canon movies set further in the timeline?
Ola: Ah, I wouldn’t really go that far. For those who watched SW: Rebels, The Child’s free use of the Force without any deeper moral consideration is nothing new. I think in The Mandalorian the showrunners are trying to make the point that the Force itself is a neutral power, a tool, if you will, that can be used for both good and evil – like a knife, but a bit more glorified :P. And its ultimate side, light or dark, truly depends on the wielder. But because the Force can be viewed as a fundamentally metaphysical relationship with the living universe, the moral aspect of its usage in the end has much further-reaching consequences for its wielder.
In the case of The Child, being raised in a highly ambivalent environment, filled with danger and violence, his Force choices will ultimately reflect his development, the role models in his life, his experiences, and not only his personality or genetic heritage. Nature and nurture ;). At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.
Piotrek: I hardly ready any extended universe stuff, and I’ve only watched a bit of Star Wars: Rebels, but I totally support the notion of Force itself being neutral, it’s the only logical choice. But maybe I only say that because I am a grey Jedi 😉
Ola: There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child; and it’s very true in the case of The Mandalorian. The fate of the Child deeply affects the fates of many other characters of this series, and in return, his fate and his understanding of the world, is shaped in relation with others. I absolutely love the fact that the main character for the majority of the first season remains a complete enigma, his face hidden behind the mask, his voice flattened and altered by the armor encasing him whole. The Mandalorian, whose even real name remains a mystery till the concluding episodes, is an apt personification of the saying that actions speek louder than words.
But besides Din Djarin, the eponymous Mandalorian, himself an orphan taken in and raised by the tribe of bounty hunters living in accordance to a nearly religious code called The Way, there are several other characters of particular significance, so let’s take a closer look at them:
Kuiil is an Ugnaught who worked off his servitude to the Empire and moved to a remote desert planet to live the rest of his days in peace as a reclusive vapor farmer. As his planet becomes a target for rogues and bounty hunters due to the presence of the highly coveted Child, Kuiil strikes an alliance with the Mandalorian to get rid of the whole nuisance. Poor Kuiil, he should have known better; he should have predicted that his life would never be the same after meeting Mando and the Child – but his steadfast, calming nature, his perseverance and unyielding morality make him one of the key characters of the series.
He is a decent, hard working guy who deserves the peaceful life he has, but the audience instantly realise that from the moment he met our protagonist the clock is ticking. At least his deaths served a purpose, and I have to admit I was really sad when they got him. Why are there good guys dying in the really good shows… ah, ok.
IG-11 is the only droid in the company, but what a droid! As befits the space Western series, IG-11 is an assassin. Well, starts off as an assassin, only to be killed and revived and reprogrammed as a babysitter/nurse. As much as I don’t like Waititi (don’t get me started on Thor!), I adore IG-11’s quirkiness.
Yes, this is a great story of personal (?) growth and badassery. That again leaves me conflicted about the way droids are treated in this universe. Unless it’s a metaphor of how we or are droid of sorts, devoid of free will, determined by our programming…
I still hold on to the slave theory 😀 The origins of R2-D2 and C-3PO point firmly in this direction, and it’s also consistent with a long-lived trend in the American SF to consider AI as inferior to humans or outright non-human. Though, to be fair, back in 1950s Harold Lasswell already considered giving human rights to robots (not to mention Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and the newer approaches to this problem).
Cara Dune, a former rebel soldier hiding on another remote planet, will have her life changed by Mando and the Child as well, in unforseen ways. She can hold her ground, though, and her outstanding military competence coupled with the total lack of parental instincts make the development of her relationship with the bounty hunter and his charge especially interesting.
And while she left the military after Rebellion’s victory, she’s still loyal to the cause, and willing to fight the Imperials. A bit naive, perhaps, compared to the Mandalorian, but it might be her that I identify the most with in this show.
Greef Karga is a tough, cynical agent of the Bounty Hunters’ Guild whom the Mandalorian goes to when he needs a job. His loyalty is to the Code of Bounty Hunters, but he does have a soft spot for our hero, and they mend fences before S01 ends.
Karga is an intriguing, ambivalent character – and I really like his role here. His interests might not align with interests of our main protagonist, but that doesn’t make him a villain. He reminds me of Lando, and I’m pretty sure that association is not coincidental 😉
Armorer leads the tribe of Mandalorian warriors, guards their sanctuary and even makes their armour. Enigmatic, charismatic, spiritual, she is also quite a badass, capable of impressive martial feats. She represents where the hero comes from, a harsh code of his warrior people, feared outcasts – but also a group that takes care of their own, and rises abandoned and orphaned children as their own.
She is such a cool charater; one of very few females in S01, she seems larger than life: a spiritual leader, an authority figure, and a tangible cultural and physical core for all very disparate Mandalorians. I really appreciate how the Mandalorian lore was explored in the series through her character, showcasing the nearly religious character of the order. Yea, can’t find a better description for the Mandalorians, they seem to me a very SW version of militant orders from our own history ;).
Piotrek: I have to say that after going through the roster I feel that would make a wonderful Mass Effect-like cRPG! A main protagonists who is a bit of a blank slated and a colourful cast of differently talented helpers… yes, please! But, even if it’s not a perfect game, it still is a great TV show!
Ola: Yes, indeed! The Mandalorian S01 might not explore the great unknowns of the Star Wars universe, and yet it succeeds in finding new, rarely trodden tracks in this old and seemingly tired franchise. It’s ambitious in its unique mixture of freshness and respect to the old sources, offering great entertainment while still smuggling in a few thought-provoking points for a heated geeky discussion. I don’t know what S02 will bring, but S01 was just splendid.
Score: Ola: 10/10