The Mandalorian review: Jon Favreau keeps things just the right side of schmaltzy
This new addition to the Star Wars franchise offers a more textured universe than we are used to – the only problem is the Mandalorian himself
Star Wars ultras will have been looking forward to this period of social isolation even more than usual: The Mandalorian has finally arrived in the UK. The franchise’s first live-action TV show, a eight-part series costing a rumoured $15m per half-hour episode, is a piece of fragrant cheese in the trap of Disney’s new streaming service, Disney+.
The recent Star Wars films – The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, along with the spin-offs Rogue One and Solo – were an improvement on the early-2000s prequel trilogy, but almost anything would have been. Although they were slick and energetic, the burden of all that lumpen mythology weighed too heavily on them. An extended tribute to the first films, the new core trilogy served the fanbase at the expense of an interesting story. The best was Rogue One, not coincidentally the movie least entwined with the original Jedi-Sith nonsense.
The Mandalorian takes a similar approach. Where most of the films tie themselves in knots keeping up with the family travails of Skywalkers and Palpatines, The Mandalorian operates in relative solitude. Created by Jon Favreau, it is ostensibly a Western, set after the events of Return of the Jedi but before The Force Awakens. It takes place on the literal fringes of the galaxy and also the metaphorical outskirts of the story. It uses the force, but not too much.
Pedro Pascal stars as the eponymous Mandalorian, a strong and mostly silent bounty hunter with a thin backstory about being a foundling and a twitchy trigger finger. In the first episode, his regular employer, Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), tells him that a wealthy client needs a job. The Client (Werner Herzog) is a mysterious potentate with bodyguards dressed as stormtroopers, who sets our hero to work. The role comes naturally to Herzog, who has spent a lifetime perfecting an unmistakable Mitteleuropean cadence that would lend credibility to even the most nonsensical Jedi aphorism.
The rest of it plays out on traditional Western lines, with the Mandalorian trudging in full armour around an arid, rock landscape, a galaxy a long time ago and far, far away that looks remarkably like Southern California. Along the way, he encounters various creatures, familiar and unfamiliar, including a much-trailed Baby Yoda, the galaxy’s cutest plush toy. Favreau keeps things just the right side of schmaltzy, while also creating a more textured universe than we are used to. Near the start, he even shows someone attempting to go to the loo: talk about setting out your stall.
The main problem with The Mandalorian is the Mandalorian himself. In theory, he’s played by Pedro Pascal, but it’s hard to say, because he never takes his mask off. Perhaps he will later on, but he spends the first two episodes in a full-cover motorcycle helmet, like a kind of Space Stig. Does he never shower? Star Wars ought to know that these characters are only empathetic when they take off their masks.