A galaxy far, far away just got a bit closer with the enormously hyped launch of the Disney+ streaming service and its flagship show, The Mandalorian. The first live-action Star Wars TV series ever created takes place after the events of Return of the Jedi but before The Force Awakens and centers around an enigmatic bounty hunter working on the outskirts of the New Republic.
The series hails from Jon Favreau (Iron Man) with the first episode introducing audiences to the show with a patient tone-setter that slickly tells a smaller story in the dark corners of the Star Wars universe. Likely to the chagrin of some viewers, there are no big space battles, no lightsabers igniting and no giant planet-destroying devices — just a soft-spoken badass in Mandalorian armor, but that’s enough for a solid first episode.
Pedro Pascal stars as the man under the helmet and manages to instill quite a bit of swagger and personality into the character by the episode’s end with body language and stellar voice work, despite never showing his face. The bounty hunter meets many interesting people in the episode, but Werner Herzog is peak Werner Herzog as a shady client with some obvious ties to a certain recently toppled regime. Bounty hunter droid IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi) also steals the show with his deadly accuracy and light bits of dry, unintentional humor that never feel corny or out of place. Many of the rest of the core cast don’t even show up in the premiere, but thankfully the second episode is slated for release in only four days.
Directed by The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels showrunner Dave Filoni, the first episode also finds a terrific balance of Prequel Era and Original Trilogy visuals and storytelling. There’s plenty of love for old-school practical creature effects with some deep cuts of Original Trilogy favorites mixed in, and some occasionally iffy CG beasts styled after the more recent films. Filoni’s first foray into live-action Star Wars should continue his rising star in the fandom’s eye and it’s only a matter of time before he gets his own live-action film or project.
The action in The Mandalorian is also fresh to this world and well-choreographed, presenting the best take yet on Old West gunslingers in a sci-fi universe. The way Pascal draws and holsters his pistol with lightning speed or lassos an adversary is beyond cool and makes good on the promise that the series was intended as a western set in the Star Wars universe — the protagonist even rides a beast of burden through the desert to track down his bounty, partner.
That being said, the first episode isn’t exactly the mind-blowing kickoff to Disney+ that has been built up in everyone’s minds since its inception, but it’s a great place to start with a huge amount of potential awaiting for the rest of the season. The cliffhanger ending is a smart, understated in-universe choice with a huge upside that fits the vibe of the whole first episode — nothing too big, nothing too small, just right. The only drawback is that Disney chose not to make additional episodes available at launch to truly sell The Mandalorian to anyone that might find themselves underwhelmed by this patient, world-building opening episode.
Score: 4 out of 5