What were your first impressions?
Angus: Woo hoo! It’s Star Wars — what’s not to love?
Actually Star Wars encompasses quite a large range of quality; from the beautiful-but-shot-through-with-plot-holes prequel saga, to the power and beauty of Rogue One. The Mandalorian is squarely in the Rogue One camp! Not only is it beautifully crafted, but it also has that gritty, realistic edge that Star Wars should always have had.
In case you’ve not seen it, it is set during the New Republic Era, after the fall of the Empire but before the rise of the First Order. There are some references and flashbacks that suggest that it’s set about 40–50 years after the Clone Wars, which would place it during the first decade following the destruction of the second Death Star.
For me, at least, this is Star Wars as Star Wars should always have been!
Ben: I disagree with Angus here, actually. I think The Mandalorian is much better than Rogue One! It’s in the Star Wars universe and is clearly crafted by people with a love for its lore, but is far superior in its storytelling. Decisions make sense, they have consequences, and each episode has a clearly-defined story arc. This is episodic television at its best.
One of the really interesting things about this series is its use of virtual backgrounds for filming. They used game engines and 360-degree LED screens to create whatever setting the characters happened to be in. The result was virtually indistinguishable from location filming, and probably far cheaper. There are videos about this online that are well worth watching, and a documentary that came to Disney+ on May 4th (Star Wars Day).
Of course, the real star of the show (at least according to social media) is Baby Yoda, and he’s the most fantastic macguffin in Star Wars history. I’m so glad they decided to go with a puppet baby; the result is already incredibly popular. If you’ve not seen YouTube videos where people subtitle Baby Yoda through various moments in the series, it might be worth a couple hours of your time.
Connor: There have obviously been quite a few debates surrounding which part of the Star Wars mythos are ‘the best’, but watching The Mandalorian made me realise that the franchise is at its best when it shows us the grimy, lived-in world the characters inhabit. And now, through the various show locations, digital or otherwise, we get to explore a side of the universe previously untapped. Mando is 100% my favourite piece of Star Wars canon because it feels the least like Star Wars. How crazy is that?
Tell us about the themes.
Angus: There is the age-old question of good and evil, light and dark; but this is Star Wars, so that goes with the territory. What is different is that The Mandalorian puts everything in shades of grey. The good guys do questionable things, but the Empire is worse. The question of honour, and living by the code – ‘the Way’ – comes up repeatedly. What happens when the Way clashes with personal morality?
Beyond that, the series asks about the nature of parenthood: what will a father do for his son? What does the son learn from the father? There are strong themes of sacrifice, most notably in Quill’s and IG-11’s arcs.
Ben: In a lot of ways, the show is a call back to the old Western archetype of the ‘mysterious stranger’ who comes into town and ends up making the town better. We don’t know who this guy is, we just know he’s a badass and has a heart buried somewhere in that rugged, ancient armor. There’s a lot about family — specifically, found family — that gets you thinking. The death of a character at the end of ‘The Reckoning’ hits so hard because of the bonds that have been woven throughout the series.
Connor: I agree with Ben. The Western elements shine through strongly, and Mando isn’t ashamed to kick some ass in stoic, gunslinger silence. These elements work; they don’t need hours of analysis, and they’re just downright fun to watch. The fact that John Wayne’s grandson is one of the three guys who plays Mando is a pleasant coincidence.
What did you like about it?
Angus: I liked almost everything, the whole look and feel. The gritty rundown frontier setting. The Imperial remnant trying to hold things together beyond the notice of the New Republic. The exploration of the Mandalorian creed; although it’s never explicitly addressed, it also hints that Boba Fett wasn’t really a Mandalorian at all. Presumably because Jango Fett was a renegade who left the creed behind?
I liked the interesting little pieces of backstory. We know from Star Wars Legends that the Mandalorians fought the Jedi in the distant past — and that was referenced in the final episode. But this is the first time we had information about the Empire destroying Mandalorian training camps. I had always assumed that the clans had never really recovered from the Jedi; it seems they were a significant force that the Empire perceived as a threat and eliminated fairly early on.
I really liked our archvillain, though we only got to meet him in the final episode. There are some very nice references back to Star Wars lore. Gideon carries the legendary ‘Darksaber’, an ancient Mandalorian lightsaber that had previously been owned by Darth Maul and Sabine Wren.
Ben: I loved the lore, having torn through the old Legends canon in my teenage years. Somebody on the creative team was really a devotee of the expanded universe, it’s obvious. As much as I enjoyed seeing references to the old canon, like an Ugnaut and an IG-series droid, what made it perfect was that the references were never the point. They were just window dressing for a story that was unique all on its own. Choices made sense and had real emotional impact. It’s hard to overstate how important that is, and how difficult.
The series did a fantastic job of building the relationship between the Mandalorian and his charge. We laughed, we cried, and we cheered at every turn with these two. It was a masterclass in character growth. Not far behind was Gina Carano as Cara Dune. It’s a minor point, but seeing a woman kick arse on screen who actually looks like she has the muscles for it is deeply satisfying.
For all that each episode had its own charms, and there was certainly no darth (ha ha) of slapstick humour. The most fantastic scene in the whole series was the Waiting for Godot comedy skit at the start of ‘Redemption’. It was at once humanising, sociopathic, and hilarious. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.
Connor: I mean, everything? The soundtrack deserves special attention; Ludwig Göransson throws down classic Western-style guitar riffs, mixes in a few synth sounds, and finally gives us the classic orchestral swellings that let us know that it’s the galaxy we all know and love. It’s hopeful in parts, tense in others, and generally a blast to listen to when I’m doing mundane stuff and need motivation.
What didn’t you like about it?
Angus: There are eight episodes in Season One, and of those, six were penned by Jon Favreau. While all the episodes were good, those written by Favreau were noticeably better and more internally consistent than the other two.
Episode 6, ‘The Prisoner’, was supposed to tell us about the Mandalorian’s past by introducing some ‘old associates’, as they try to spring a prisoner from a New Republic prisonship. This just seemed out of step with the other episodes. If we had met one of these characters in a previous episode to set up the hook, it would have worked better. While on the prisonship the Mandalorian obtains a tracking fob from the only living crew member. In the event of a breakout, he is meant activate it and the New Republic will send in a strike force to clean up. Ok, no problem. However, the strike force consists of three X-wings which indiscriminately destroy a space station because the tracking fob is there. Uhm?
No wait, what? I know Star Wars is all shades of grey, and fairly dark grey when cut from the Rogue One cloth, but indiscriminate destruction of a space station makes no sense. The fob was supposed to be on the person of the only living crew member of the prisonship. Why blow it up? Even if the whole prison barge had been offloaded on to the space station, what about all the innocent people who live there?
No; it was lazy, heavy-handed plot hole-ary, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Uncle George penned the prequels.
Ben: I agree with Angus, the two episodes not penned by Favreau were pretty weak. ‘The Gunslinger’ was a bit simple and pretty blatant sequel-hooking, and ‘The Prisoner’ had its moments but felt like fan service. “You want betrayal? Tension? Scenes of Mando kicking arse? All that and more, plus a surprise appearance from everybody’s favourite rebel starfighter!” Both had cute moments, but were fairly lacking otherwise.
I didn’t like the Darksaber reveal either, actually. It was cool as all get out to see that weapon in live-action, but it had no significance in-story. A reference to it beforehand to give that moment more meaning would have been nice. I don’t want to have to google “Gideon Darksaber” to figure out why that moment was such a jaw-dropper.
Angus: I think the appearance of the Darksabre is pure foreshadowing of what is to come. I mean, it was never referenced and never used in anger — Gideon just has it. It does prompt quite a few questions though, such as: how did he get it from Sabine?
Connor: If I have to mention a perceived flaw with the show, it’d have to be the lack of interconnectivity. Dave Filoni, of The Last Airbender and The Clone Wars fame, also worked on Mando. His work is usually characterised by all sorts of little Easter eggs and continuity between episodes, but I couldn’t pick up on any of that here. Though the blue arrows on Mando’s gauntlets are a nice touch.
Angus: If you like your Star Wars gritty and ‘realistic’, this is where to look for it! I am so glad that Disney chose to do this as a live action series rather than another animated outing like Star Wars: Rebels, Star Wars: Resistance and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. It makes it feel like it’s for grown-ups!
Ben: A fantastic offering set in the Star Wars universe, and it didn’t rely on pre-existing characters! Definitely worth your time. Get ready for your heartstrings to be tugged to and fro.
Connor: This is what Star Wars should have been all along. I went in with no expectations and my mind is more blown than both Death Stars. Season Two promises to be an absolute rollercoaster if it keeps up the standards of this season.