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With “The Mandalorian,” Star Wars returns to its roots

The new show from Disney hearkens back to the franchise’s roots in Old-West serials and golden-age science fiction.

Official concept art from "The Mandalorian," by Ryan Church & Nick Gindraux (via twitter.com/themandalorian)

The first season of Disney’s The Mandalorian deliberately—and successfully—returns to the tighter storytelling of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. It uses sparse dialogue and gorgeous visuals to set the scene, and keeps the focus on a small number of key characters. That will come as a welcome relief for fans of the original trilogy who were perplexed by the prequel trilogy’s convoluted political and economic plotting and the sequel trilogy’s hyperactive pacing, in which we seem to get a new planet every minute and a new host of characters we are supposed to care about in each film. The Mandalorian’s stripped-down dialogue is occasionally clunky—a fine Star Wars tradition—but also manages to be funny in places.

Before the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars was not a sweeping epic treating the themes of good and evil, light and dark—it was an adventure story based in old Western serials and golden-age sci-fi glossies. The Mandalorian hearkens back to that aspect of Star Wars storytelling and manages to regain the fun of the fictional universe. In simplifying, it doesn’t have particularly ambitious plot or character goals; but its reach does not exceed its grasp and, when the season ends, it ends satisfyingly (especially for viewers who may also have watched other Star Wars offerings on the small screen).

The series manages to meld episodic and serial techniques. Each episode can stand alone pretty well, with a one planet/one adventure format. There are a few episodes in the middle that meander a bit, but the season ends well enough that it is easy to forgive the small flaw.

The series is mostly family-friendly. It is fairly intense and a bit violent, although only a hair more than the original trilogy. Depending on their constitutions, children under 10 may not be ready. There is no overt sexuality and, for once, this series seems to have left behind the mania for wokeness.

There are lots of fun gun fights, some whiz-bang tech, and a completely adorable Star Wars puppet that you probably already know about. The creature effects are spectacular, as you might expect from showrunner Jon Favreau (also the director of the recent Disney remake of The Jungle Book).

The story itself follows the titular Mandalorian, a bounty hunter wearing armor similar to that made famous by the original-trilogy bounty hunter Boba Fett. The plot involves the Mandalorian capturing a bounty but deciding not to turn it in (no spoilers here if you haven’t watched yet), instead becoming the target’s protector. The show highlights the Mandalorians, a group that has been visible only on the margins of cinematic Star Wars but has played a large role in animated shows The Clone Wars and Rebels, and in several of the Star Wars video games.

The Mandalorian is set on the outer rim of the galaxy, far off from the main action of the cinematic stories, where few have even heard of the Jedi and, it seems, it hasn’t mattered all that much that the Empire has been replaced by the New Republic.

The series features writing and directing from, among others, Taika Waititi (director of Jojo Rabbit) and Star Wars small-screen master storyteller Dave Filoni. Deborah Chow, who is slated to be showrunner of the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi show, also directs.

Pedro Pascal turns in an excellent performance under difficult conditions—it is a major plot point that Mandalorians do not remove their helmets. But as with other helmeted Star Wars characters, most notably Darth Vader, Pascal manages to use other cues to make it work: subtle turns of the head, posture, and voice inflection. The performance fits well with the pared-down style of the show as a whole. Carl Weathers, Gina Carrano, and Werner Herzog turn in competent but not inspired performances, while Giancarlo Esposito is suitably menacing as big bad guy Moff Gideon, and Nick Nolte steals scenes as the diminutive Kuiil. Taika Waititi’s assassin-turned-nursemaid droid, IG-11, is also worth the price of admission.

Disney has already announced season two of the Mandalorian with Favreau and Filoni set to return in creative leadership roles. Expect the plot to revolve around the target-turned-ward from season one and an exploration of the Mandalorian people’s situation in the galaxy after the fall of the Galactic Empire.


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About Thomas P. Harmon 16 Articles
Thomas P. Harmon is associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.

6 Comments

  1. The Mandalorian is played by “Pedro,” not “Pablo.”
    Otherwise, the article is right on. The Mandalorian is the best show I’ve seen on tv in a long time. Programming on tv has been so bad, for such a long time, that I can’t even name a single show on the other networks. But, the Mandalorian is truly a masterpiece and I’m only disappointed that I have to wait another year for Season 2.

  2. Actually, SOL, you lose the culture war when you separate yourself from modern culture. You have to be a good observant of modernity so that you remain relevant and can incorporate God’s message into today’s conversation swiftly and wisely. Staying relevant means when you go to evangelize your message makes sense to the people living in this world of today.

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