Disney Plus’ original series The Mandalorian seems to have swept up the greater Star Wars fanbase. Every fan, hardcore or casual, that I have spoken to has claimed that the show is a fantastic branch of the Star Wars universe with plenty to enjoy. I have been a fan of Star Wars since I was a young lad when I grew up with the prequels, blind to what many would later be unable to look away from. Yes, the prequels are rough around the edges, but a mix of nostalgia and hilarity keep me entertained through the many faults in the films. The classic trilogy is exactly that, classic. Those three films revolutionized a lot and have established the Star Wars brand through their greatness.
That leaves the sequels, Disney’s attempts at advancing the Star Wars story, as well as various spin off films based around the Star Wars universe. Personally I’m not a huge fan of most of the Disney films for a variety of reasons. Don’t get me wrong they aren’t awful, they have stunning visuals, some interesting concepts, and can be compelling at times. Perhaps my distaste is my own doing. I maintained a sense of potential that these films didn’t reach for me, they fell short of my expectations and only really look grand and spectacular, they don’t feel like it.
The sequels somewhat soured my taste on the newer Star Wars branded Disney content. Fortunately, The Mandalorian presents what I’ve found to be an undivided opinion, it’s pretty good. Inspired by the claims of my constituents I decided to bury my bias and watch the spin off series with an open mind. Season 2 of the show finished its run on December 18th last year and all the excited chatter I’ve gathered has been based around it’s conclusion, so with haste I planned on catching up to the hype train.
Season 1 did not disappoint. The first couple of episodes felt somewhat slow or bloated, but by the end of the season I understood why these storylines were deemed necessary or important. There is a clear western influence in a lot of shots and themes throughout the show. Wide shots of open fields with silhouettes, dark interiors lit only by the light shining around our Mandalorian standing in the doorway, and plenty of quick drawing shootouts in dusty towns. Lighting and production design play a huge part in selling the settings of the series. Often the lighting is dark and contrasted, with our hero operating in the shadows, and at other times things appear colorful or bathed monochromatically.
Under all this light is the production design, consisting of what appears to be mostly live sets. The overall design draws on that of the original trilogy, a rusty industrial future seemingly made of spare parts, and its counterpart, the strange mysticism surrounding the Star Wars universe. At times this mysticism is Baby Yoda and his magic hands, or the Mandalorian (often called Mando) and his tribal or religious background of Mandalore.
What is a review of this series without at least a brief mention of Baby Yoda, the cute little critter he is. Being an actual puppet helps a lot, as its facial expressions and actions are well animated and look absolutely adorable. A simple reaction shot of Baby Yoda can say an incredible amount given the context, and of course the score steers this along as well. The score punctuates the series at all times, from Mando’s signature pan flute theme and tribal drums, to suspenseful orchestral horns and strings. It does a lot of heavy lifting when attempting to elicit emotion from the titular character as well. The light can help here of course, but when the audience is staring at a metal helmet devoid of emotion, the music cues them in intensely on how they should feel, and on how Mando may feel underneath.
Pedro Pascal plays the Mandalorian bounty hunter and his body language and voice give a lot of character to what is essentially a shiny and durable suit of armor. The rest of the cast performs equally as well with a few stand outs. Some of these come from my least favorite episode, The Prisoner. My problems lie not with the performances, just the cartoonishly villainous heist team. It felt almost too cliche, and at the time I struggled to see any importance in the material the episode presents, it felt like filler. These few moments of filler are my only real issues with the series.
Some scenes and storylines turn out to be more consequential than others, but at times it feels that there are attempts at filling run time. I believe this is a symptom of being an episodic series rather than a film or series of films. Overall season 1 sows the same type of seeds that A New Hope does. It offers character growth and gives a great foundation to continue the story into season 2. Call me a believer, This is the Way.
Season 2 starts off similar to the first season. This time around though, the earlier slow episodes felt like their stories had consequences, like what happened in them will actually matter later in the season unlike the slower episodes in season 1. The difference being that certain episodes in season 1 had what felt like sporadic stories that may be unaffiliated with the previous or next episode, whereas the slower or seemingly inconsequential episodes in season 2 push the story along in one way or another.
Like any good sequel this season provides more of what the audience wants and better. More answers, more cool Star Wars moments or mentions, more emotional scenes, larger stakes and more action, it truly has it all. Beyond the step up in basically all matters, the rest of the show’s production quality stays on par with the rest of Disney’s Star Wars programs. The sound design is killer and recognizable to any fan of the universe, the set pieces are vivid and feel real, and the character designs fall into Star Wars convention.
As season 2 wrapped up, I felt refreshed. Renewed vigor and faith in Star Wars flowed through me and I was brought to the childlike wonder I had felt all those years ago when I fell in love with the Star Wars mythos. The Mandalorian is refreshing because of its return to its roots in the original trilogy. The world feels lived in and the characters feel like they matter, and because of this their emotional moments don’t fall flat. The series avoids the overblown CGI found in both the prequel and sequel trilogy in favor of real sets and costumes, and especially simple character stories.
The story finds itself drawing on the themes of the original trilogy, themes of mystery surrounding the unknown force and the importance that family and friends can have. In saying this I must mention that none of what The Mandalorian does feels entirely original, and fortunately that’s not a problem. It draws on western imagery and the classic story of the hero, one where the protagonist grows in strength and wisdom throughout their quest, all while collecting weapons and friends along the way.
Even so, the quality with which this classic story structure has been crafted shows that a new spin on the old can be extremely effective. In this same way one can see how the series relates to the original trilogy again. A simple story of a hero’s journey, with down to.. uh.. Naboo? characters that have emotional weight and chemistry on screen. I’d very highly recommend this series to any Star Wars fans, those that love or hate the new Disney material, and more than that I’d recommend this to anyone who is a fan of well shot, scripted, acted, and produced television series. It is seriously worth the watch.
Written by Damon Rios
Damon is an amateur writer and professional media consumption artist. Movies, music, games, and books are all on the table. He is working towards a bachelor’s in communications and hopes to go professional in any writing capacity. As stated, Damon’s habits rotate from music consumption, to movie consumption, and everything in between.