Riding into town to save us from our lockdown blues and give everyone a reason to get a Disney + membership (outside of the family-friendly back catalogue of films), it’s The Mandalorian. The brainchild of Jon Favreau (the man who kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and the House of Mouse’s first foray into TV for one of its key brands, there’s a lot riding on this show. But it seems to have paid off, having spent the past six months dominating the internet with memes and gifs of its MVP (baby Yoda). With the launch of the streaming platform in March, the UK can get in on the action and see whether the show lives up to the immense hype it’s received.
The narrative here is simple. Set between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, we follow a masked bounty hunter (in garbs familiar to fans of Boba Fett) as he travels across the galaxy in search of an asset to return to a shady figure. From there, he meets a roster of colourful characters and explores the immense universe Star Wars has shaped.
The eponymous figure is played by Pedro Pascal, who has had a terrific run of late with key roles in Game Thrones, Narcos and the forthcoming Wonder Woman sequel. He’s an enjoyably stoic presence and the show wisely limits his dialogue, aiming for the strong silent type. Instead, it packs in a star-studded, verbose and eclectic ensemble around its helmeted hero. Cult icons like Taika Waititi and Carl Weathers are in the mix, while grizzled veteran Nick Nolte pops up as does the titan of arthouse Werner Herzog. They all gamely go along with the charming nonsense on screen, selling the Star Wars lore in a way that some of the cinematic entries have struggled to do so. It’s perhaps the great strength of The Mandalorian. Unlike some of the lesser films of late, it doesn’t sacrifice its own narrative to adhere as closely as possible to what already exists in the mythology that surrounds this series. Wouldn’t it have been so much more enjoyable to have had a Han Solo prequel about an adventure barely linked to the original trilogy, than the cumbersome origin-by-numbers we got.
Star Wars has always been a franchise that wallows in well-worn tropes and this is the case with The Mandalorian, acting firmly as a space western. I’m not usually a huge fan of the western genre, but this show flourishes by taking the tropes of it, while grafting it to its sci-fi setting (not unlike Firefly). The show works so effectively right now because it feels so detached from what’s around us. The peerless visual style (money has been spent on this show) and relatively brisk episode running length mean viewers can dive into this world, wallow in it and leave entertained.
When the Disney machine gets something right, they land a knockout blow. And The Mandalorian is an expertly made watch, packed with meme-worthy moments, well-constructed action and, most importantly, a sense of fun that survives some of the over-appreciation of the Star Wars lore. It proves that, even after the lacklustre double of Solo and The Rise of Skywalker, the brand still has enough material to flourish.