Review - The Mandalorian (A Disney+ Original Series)

The Mandalorian is part of the Star Wars universe, spinning the adventures of an intra-galactic bounty hunter. But really, it's about a space cowboy going on some classic Western-style quests across the galaxy with assists from a widely varied cast of characters.

I've seen all the Star Wars movies. But even if you have seen zero of these films, I think you can still enjoy this series. You'll miss the winks and Easter Eggs left for the Star Wars fandom, but that in no way detracts from the fun.

The Plot:

Mandalorians are group of legendary warriors. In this series, we follow one of those fighters, who is referred to as Mando and is working as a bounty hunter. Like all the Mandalorians, he's suited from head to toe in armor, with a helmet he never removes plus a cape.  Over the course of the eight episodes in Season One, he is essentially put through a series of trials, collecting a motley crew of allies and dependents along the way.

Thoughts from Your Pop Culture Concierge (mild spoilers included, although only if you have heard nothing about this series)

There are a few things that really strike me about The Mandalorian, one of the first original series produced for Disney+.

  1. They must have spent goo-gobs of money on this. It looks AMAZING! Whether it's the spaceships, the creatures and critters, the droids and so much more - all the effects create a totally immersive world. It looks as good as a theatrical release, and in fact better than many recent features.
  2. The score by Ludwig Göransson is masterful. It is completely original, while also feeling like an homage to both the iconic John Williams scores from the films and familiar beats from any number of classic Westerns. Just like in the movies, it does a lot of heavy lifting for the series. Mando is so laconic and there are many sequences with little or no dialogue (Episode Two is action only for the first 11 minutes). The score gives Mando a signature theme, and helps along both plot and storytelling. It's almost its own character, it's that good. Click here to watch a brief video of the composer using various instruments (is that a didgeridoo?) to create the epic sound of this show.
  3. For a hero encased in armor, Pedro Pascal as Mando is able to create a three-dimensional character without the benefit of facial expressions or even a lot of dialogue. With a tilt of his head, a shift in posture, a strategic pause, we get a lot of information. For much of the series, he's pretty much the textbook of show, don't tell. When he does speak, he is steely and sometimes cranky, but also a surprisingly good (albeit dry) comic presence. I wasn't familiar with Pascal's work before - apparently he is known for a role in Game of Thrones. But he has done a lot with this part that could have been little more than a costume, and is one of my favorite parts of the show.

Mando's story includes a lot of archetypical Western plots. He helps defeat the bullies that are tormenting a beleaguered frontier community. He takes on a prison break with a group of outlaws. And he becomes the subject of hero worship from a wide-eyed child, when he crosses paths with the juggernaut that is Baby Yoda. Baby Yoda more than makes up for what we don't see from Mando - he is one expressive Muppet. They do a lot with his schmoopy eyes and ridiculously communicative ears. And the juxtaposition of hulking and steel-encased Mando against wrinkled and cuddly Baby Yoda is a sight gag that never stops paying dividends.

Among the supporting cast of characters, Kuiil is a standout. (Voiced perfectly by Nick Nolte.) He's a wizened mentor of indeterminate origins, gets a perfect catchphrase, and builds a real screen presence even without much screen time. There is also a creatively designed bounty droid that gets a third act career change and, as voiced by Taika Waititi, provides plenty of comic relief.

This is science fiction, so there's the requisite unfamiliar jargon (chain code, bounty puck, beskar). A lot of it gets explained eventually, but even if you don't understand all the lingo, it doesn't hugely impact the enjoyment of the show. There is a high body count (no blood) created mostly by blasters but occasionally by disintegration. There's also a surprising amount of beauty - including multiple shots of Mando crossing the frontier with the sun behind him. I loved looking at this show - it's got a lot of grace.

Season One is eight lean episodes, with a total run time of about five and a half hours. That might not be quite enough on its own to compel you to subscribe to Disney+ but in case you've already done so in order to watch Hamilton, I hope you'll give The Mandalorian a look. It's also been renewed for Season Two and nominated for 15 Emmys, including best drama series.

8 episodes

E1: 39m

E2: 32m

E3: 37m

E4: 41m

E5: 35m

E6: 43m

E7: 40m

E8: 48m

315 minutes or 5.5 hours total

TV 14 (Some flashing light sequences or patterns may affect photosensitve viewers)


Pedro Pascal