One episode into The Mandalorian, what have we learned about the first live-action Star Wars series’ anonymous, eponymous protagonist?
He’s old-school. He flies the Razor Crest, a pre-Imperial gunship once used to patrol local territories. He’d rather ride a beater landspeeder driven by Bert Kibbler than an Uber Black landspeeder driven by a droid. He doesn’t have much money, and he doesn’t like droids.
He’s resourceful. He may not like droids, but he’ll team up with one (temporarily) if it increases his odds of survival. He makes the most of his surroundings: If he’s fighting in a cantina, he’ll blast the door controls to slice an assailant in half. If his quarry can be reached only on blurrgback, he’ll learn to ride one. He’s competent, taciturn, and implacable, but he isn’t invincible, and he doesn’t always work alone. He’s a member of the Bounty Hunters’ Guild, but he doesn’t abide by the Bounty Hunter’s Code.
He’s the product of a disordered galaxy. His ex-Imperial client, played by Werner Herzog, laments that the galaxy is “no more peaceful since the revolution,” but the Mandalorian’s milieu wasn’t particularly peaceful before the revolution. He’s seemingly not a native Mandalorian, but a foundling adopted by the clan after becoming embroiled in, and presumably orphaned by, a conflict glimpsed in fleeting flashbacks as a blacksmith melts his slab of Beskar. Like his pauldron, the Mandalorian was forged in fire.
If the Mandalorian is as old as, say, Pedro Pascal, he was born in the waning days of the Old Republic, about 10 years before the separatist crisis that preceded the Clone Wars. He’s hardly known peace in his lifetime. On the Outer Rim, the power of whatever regime controls the Core Worlds—Old Republic, New Republic, Empire—is blunted by distance. To the Mandalorian, Empires and Republics are abstract concepts whose authority governs only the kinds of currency he accepts. His client seeks to “restore the natural order of things,” but in the underworld where the Mandalorian operates, lawlessness is the natural order.
That’s where our intel on the Mandalorian ends. We don’t know his name. We don’t know what he looks like (or we wouldn’t, without having seen Narcos and Game of Thrones Season 4). We don’t know the name of his new client, although his Stormtrooper escort and shiny neck bling make his history clear. (Kudos on keeping a low profile.) We don’t know who his friends are, if he has any. We don’t know what he wants, aside from collecting bounties, completing his Beskar glow-up, and contributing to the Mandalorian benevolent fund.
That’s not much to go on. But for now, it’s enough. The first episode of The Mandalorian isn’t interested in answering questions. It’s interested in provoking them. By giving us tantalizing looks at a new side of Star Wars but withholding details, The Mandalorian’s premiere makes the expansive Star Wars galaxy seem even less limited, an auspicious start to a new era for the franchise.
We meet the Mandalorian in the middle of a job. It’s a routine bounty, beneath his abilities. He busts some skulls in a bar fight, incapacitating a pair of toughs who were menacing a Mythrol. But the blue alien is in for even worse news: He’s the bounty that the Mandalorian has come to collect, and he’s headed for a carbonite nap. Tired of rounding up bail jumpers on whom he barely breaks even, the Mando returns to his Guild contact, Greef Carga (Carl Weathers), with a hold full of frozen prizes and asks for a stiffer challenge. He’s in luck: Carga offers him a commission so sensitive that the client insists on conferring face to face (or face to helmet).
The client, who conceals his political leanings as poorly as Dr. Strangelove, hands him a sample of Beskar and tells him more will be waiting for him if he retrieves the target, preferably alive. All he’s willing to divulge to his hired hunter is that the unspecified prey is 50 years old. The Mandalorian accepts the assignment, takes the tracking fob, and sets off in search of his objective. (Side note: Tracking fobs kind of take the detective work out of bounty hunting. Why does every target have a homing beacon attached? Can’t these clients call in air strikes?)
Our antihero takes a detour to the Mandalorian local, where he has his Imperial-branded Beskar melted down and refashioned into a shoulder plate. Then he hops to the planet where he hopes to catch his ticket to a bigger Beskar score. After running afoul of the fauna he finds there, he joins forces first with an Ugnaught played by Nick Nolte and then with IG-11, a bounty droid voiced by Taika Waititi who’s on the same mission. The droid and the Mando clear out a town swarming with thugs, then blast down the door that stands between them and their goal. Inside they see a sort of Poké Ball bassinet, which the Mando opens to reveal the being the client sent him to track down: an infant that belongs to the same long-lived species as Yoda. IG-11 raises its blaster to terminate the “asset,” but the Mandalorian shoots a hole in the droid’s head before it can fire. (Wuher would approve.) The episode ends with the infant and the Mandalorian on the verge of reenacting the finger touch from E.T.
The Mandalorian is explicitly inspired by Western tropes and iconography, and the first episode doesn’t stint on the hallmarks of that genre, from the sparing, Sergio Leone–esque score to the bucking blurrg and the gunslingers engaging in a shootout in a desert town. Creator Jon Favreau extends the “Man With No Name” ethos of his title character to the rest of the show: The Mando works for clients with no names, hunting targets with no name, on planets with no names. Even the episodes have numbers, not names.
Those unidentified settings stand in stark contrast to those of Rogue One—The Mandalorian’s strongest competition for the title of “grittiest on-screen Star Wars”—which clearly labeled each locale whenever its plucky freedom fighters made planetfall. The absence of such text in The Mandalorian reinforces the alienating effect of its protagonist’s itinerant existence. These places aren’t his home, if he even has one. They’re just the latest in a long line of interchangeable worlds he’s briefly setting foot on solely to spirit someone away. For the entirety of the premiere’s roughly 36-minute running time, the Mandalorian is either on the job or preparing for the next one. Being a bounty hunter is a great way to rack up frequent flier miles, but a bad way to form friendships.
Although the Mandalorian isn’t traveling to see the sights, the premiere is a feast for our senses. The bounty hunter lives in a liminal space: The Battle of Endor is only five years in the past, and the Galactic Civil War’s dust is still settling. The series’ sense of ever-present danger reflects that tumultuous time. Unseen monsters lurk like dianogas beneath the innocent, icy surface of the first planet the Mandalorian visits, and even the mounts on the third planet have fangs. Visually, The Mandalorian is moody and strikingly austere, although its populated places supply the same imaginative mélange of species and untold tales as Mos Eisley. The backdrops are generated by Unreal Engine, the same tech that undergirds the video game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, but most sequences rely heavily on practical effects that make each scene seem lived-in, from the Razor Crest to the scuffed Stormtrooper armor. The Mandalorian looks like A New Hope without the hope.
The first episode’s tone is a tad uneven, particularly in the trite opening scene, which is one swinging saloon door away from Western overload. Horatio Sanz as the Mythrol makes a somewhat discordant scene partner for the faceless Pascal, but with the first bounty behind it, the premiere hits its stride, and the running gag about IG-11’s impending self-destruction provides a needed dose of levity amid the blaster-bolt barrage. Although The Mandalorian stars a killer with fewer qualms than most Star Wars leads, this is still a Disney series that’s supposed to be the backbone of a family-friendly streaming service, so we probably won’t see any close-ups of exploding skulls. The Mandalorian is aiming for a balance between traditional, Star Wars–y wisecracking and grimdark drama, which will take some finesse: Straying too far in the former direction might make the series seem like Star Wars as usual, but overcorrecting toward darkness might make it a monotonous slog.
One episode into the eight-episode season, we’re left with a lot of unknowns. What does the client want with the infant? Is this just another job, or will the Mandalorian balk at handing over a fellow foundling, even if that foundling is 50 years old? When the Mandalorian does experience inner turmoil, will Pascal make us feel the conflict without removing his helmet, as James Earl Jones and David Prowse did with Darth Vader? Will this stay a self-contained series, or will it morph into one with implications for the rest of Star Wars? And will it actually answer our questions, or sustain them into the second season, which is already being filmed? Perhaps we’ll start to find out when the second episode airs later this week—or maybe we won’t. For now, either way works. Star Wars has taken a confident first step into a larger (if smaller-screened) world, and The Mandalorian offers more than enough reasons for fans to follow along.
On to our recaps’ recurring categories:
Fan Service of the Week
The Mandalorian may present a side of Star Wars we haven’t seen before, but Favreau and director Dave Filoni—a lore expert, George Lucas confidant, and veteran of Rebels and The Clone Wars—go to great lengths to anchor us in a well-loved world. The Mandalorian is littered with obvious and obscure Star Wars signifiers, from the screen wipes and irises out to the cantinas to the gonk droid to the roasted Kowakian monkey-lizard to the Jabba’s Palace–esque gatekeeper droid to the Mythrol’s reference to Life Day, an event introduced in the Star Wars Holiday Special, which also inspired the design of the Mandalorian’s rifle. (The blurrgs first appeared in Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, so The Mandalorian mines the whole of the franchise’s limited TV live-action library.) The deflated wheeze the Razor Crest’s engine emits when it won’t take off is the same as the sound the Millennium Falcon makes when its hyperdrive won’t activate. And the mythosaur skull sigil that hangs on the wall at Mandalorian HQ is familiar from Boba Fett’s shoulder plate.
Speaking of Boba Fett, he may have made a cameo in the premiere. I know what you’re thinking: Boba Fett? Where?! A shadowed figure whose armor seems to sport Fett’s color scheme lurks behind the Mandalorian’s left shoulder as he enters Club Mando (artificially lightened images below), but maybe many Mandalorians look alike on the outside.
If that is Boba, it would confirm that he survives the sarlacc in the current canon, which would be big news (and would open up possibilities if the rumored stand-alone Fett film is ever revived). But the most momentous crossover comes at the end of the episode, in the form of a 50-year-old who makes Rob Lowe look ancient. The origin of Yoda’s species is one of the most closely kept secrets in Star Wars: Even Lucas, a rampant overexplainer in the prequel era, strictly forbade anyone from exploring it. Yoda’s species was Lucas’s Europa, the frontier no one else was supposed to settle. Perhaps he had his own reveal in mind, which he was saving for the live-action series he never got to make. If so, that truth could come out now.
Prior to the premiere, Yoda and Yaddle (Yoda’s female, more hirsute counterpart on the Jedi Council, who also appears in The Phantom Menace) were the only members of their species in Star Wars canon. Even in the de-canonized “Legends” timeline, only a handful of, um, Yodels (?) were ever identified, all of them Jedi. (If they mature so slowly that they’re still stuck in a cradle at 50, no wonder so few seem to survive to adulthood.) We don’t know that this series will stick to Star Wars convention—not sticking to convention is kind of its thing—but the odds are in favor of the infant being Force-sensitive, too.
Is the infant the lovechild of Yoda and Yaddle? (Look, we’re just asking questions.) If not, who are its parents? Does it have parents, or could it be a clone? How did it end up in that well-guarded camp, and does the presence of Nikto henchmen suggest that the Hutts are involved? Why does IG-11 have orders to kill the infant, if the Mandalorian’s client and the sinister Doctor Pershing prefer for it to be taken alive? Have multiple people put a price on its head? Are the ex-Imperials trying to lure Yoda out of hiding? Does the infant somehow play a part in the rise of the First Order? How quickly can we purchase the plush toy? And most important, when it speaks its first sentence, will the syntax be backward?
Expanded Universe Spotlight
So wait, why is Beskar such a big deal?
In addition to forming the basis of the Mandalorians’ signature style, Beskar, or Mandalororian iron, is one of the galaxy’s most durable alloys. As such, it’s the go-to material for a people that wears armor almost all of the time. In the first scene, the drunken bully who’s about to be in a world of pain (Tait Fletcher from John Wick, Breaking Bad, and Westworld) asks the Mandalorian whether his armor is made of Beskar steel. We know it’s not—outside of his helmet, at least—because when the ringleader’s Quarren sidekick scratches the Mando’s chestplate, it leaves a mark.
Later in the episode, the Mandalorian takes a blaster bolt to his shiny new pauldron courtesy of IG-11, and the plate looks none the worse for wear. That’s Beskar. Beskar can withstand not only blaster bolts, but a glancing blow from a lightsaber. One can see why a warrior would be willing to go out of his way for more of that scarce substance.
But the Mandalorian’s desire for Beskar isn’t only a matter of personal protection; it’s also a point of pride, particularly for a former foundling who may still be trying to find his place in an insular society. Beskar is native to Mandalore and Mandalorian-made, so it’s tightly interwoven with Mandalorian culture. Like the armored bears of His Dark Materials, Mandalorians cherish their armor above almost all else, and Beskar denotes status and skill.
Mandalorians have a tortured past: The warrior race’s crusading brought it into conflict with the Old Republic, and an ensuing war with the Jedi rendered the surface of Mandalore almost uninhabitable for a time. Even in subsequent years, the Mando homeworld was frequently riven by invasion, occupation, and civil war, so bringing Beskar back to the fold is one way to heal. The Imperial logo seared into the slab is a reminder of those dark days and an affront to Mandalorian sovereignty. Hence the blacksmith’s satisfaction when she says, “It is good it is back with the Tribe.”
Previously Unseen in Star Wars
Toilets! OK, technically toilets—or, in Star Wars-ese, “refreshers”—have appeared on the small screen before, in the animated series The Clone Wars, Rebels, and Resistance. But we’ve never seen a live-action incarnation of a space pooper—or as the Mythrol delicately calls it, the “vacc tube.” Now that we know what one looks like, we can picture the thrones where all of our favorite franchise heroes went to while away the hours in hyperspace. Cozy! Although a little light on privacy, unless that door can be closed.
We can commend The Mandalorian for shining a light on the less glamorous aspects of the Star Wars universe, but by solving one waste-related mystery, it inspired others. Does the Mandalorian have to remove his armor to use the facilities? And what did the driver on the first planet mean when he said, “Everyone dumps their gray holds out. They think the whole entire planet is their own personal stink pit.” Wasn’t he implying that the ravinak was attracted to stored in-flight poodoo dumped at the spaceport? Are vacc tubes military technology that hasn’t been declassified? Memo to Disney: We need to know more.