For as long as Star Wars took to be the pop-culture behemoth that it is today, many have wondered if the brand could push borders outside of film. Holiday specials and Ewok spin-offs were the first to test those waters and their infamous tribulations are now but a memory enter The Mandalorian. Lucasfilm has already found great success within television using animation, but the big leap into live-action was always seen as treacherous. Disney Plus launched today and Lucasfilm used the service to amplify a defying statement- yes we can jump that far.
The Mandalorian is the first series Lucasfilm is debuting on the streaming service to be followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-offs. Written by series creator Jon Favreau (The Lion King), the first episode simply titled ‘Chapter 1’ is a pristine example of an efficient pilot. The viewer is introduced to the basic gist of the program, bounty hunting, and is complemented to a short but very enticing taste of what is to come. The story follows Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) as a mysterious and proficient Mandalorian bounty hunter just trying to make ends meet in a galaxy rebuilding from a fallen empire. When the job of all jobs becomes available, he reluctantly takes it on to only to discover that not everything is what it seems.
Similar to The Last Jedi, this is looking to be another very bold venture from Lucasfilm. The amount of time that went into crafting this project could not be more visible than in this first episode. Naturally, because there has never been a live-action Star Wars show viewers will first put the visuals to judgment. With a budget backed by Disney, the digital effects are unsurprisingly crisp for television. However, the show shines brighter because it continues the current strong Lucasfilm practice of blending digital and practical effects. The puppeteering, set, makeup, and costume departments all deserve immense praise for what they have managed to accomplish. Just like other recent huge scale shows like Game of Thrones, it literally feels like your screening room has morphed into the cinema.
The first episode also lifts off thanks to the direction under Dave Filoni (Star Wars Rebels). Brought up by George Lucas himself, Filoni has been one of the many Lucasfilm masterminds with a hand on the creative wheel for the last decade. Having such a big role in launching the company’s journey into television with animation, it only feels right to have him involved in The Mandalorian- no less the first episode. Filoni understands the legacy and impact of Star Wars like a righteous few and one can feel his admiration on screen. This is fantastic for long-time fans, but what is more crucial is his understanding of the brand’s future. The Mandalorian contains the masses’ affinity for Star Wars alongside the promise of something new.
Viewers cannot let cinematographer Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty) go as an unsung hero. One of the many reasons why the episode feels like it reaches the scope of a theater experience is because of his hands behind the camera. One is going to want to constantly pause (which they can) the episode to just admire the stunning frame. The sense of scale never feels boxed in regardless of location. Even though thousands know Star Wars like the back of their hands, the lighting and framing still make one feel like they are in uncharted waters. Combine this with Filoni’s directional guidance and one gets a good mix of familiarity with inquisitiveness. Fraser worked on 2 more episodes as the cinematographer and they cannot come sooner.
‘Chapter 1’ is a very promising start to what could be one of the best large budget programs of the year. The only thing that could come back to bite this series is the length of the episodes. With only a 40 minute run time, it would be hard to imagine that each episode is as simple and sweet as this one. Others might also not be as hooked on this series based on how no sweat (even though intentional) this pilot is. Series length pacing is what came back to haunt almost every single one of Marvel Television’s Netflix programs to the point of their unfortunate demise.
It remains to be seen if that same issue will manifest here. What is currently clear is that this a Star Wars venture like none before. It cannot also be understated how great it is to see diverse leads driving such a project. Lucasfilm is no stranger to criticism in the handling of diverse characters. However, The Mandalorian genuinely feels like it can be on the right side of the push for diverse storytelling. Until that becomes more clear, listen to composer Ludwig Göransson’s (Black Panther) superb and enthralling original score on repeat until the release of the next episode.