As Disney+ hopes for a huge initial push, it is placing a lot of stock in not only Star Wars, but Jon Favreau. Created and written by Favreau, The Mandalorian stars Pedro Pascal as a bounty hunter at a time between the fall of The Empire and the rise of The First Order.
Though the show has been hyped for ages and released various trailers and promos, the first episode ends with a twist, putting the overall arc of the show in a realm at least somewhat unexpected. As with any such pivot in a show’s basic premise, potential fans aren’t necessarily going to respond positively, though everyone is likely to wonder just what the hell they’re watching as the curtain closes.
The Mandalorian (who never does manage a name to this point) is a bounty hunter at a time that is especially difficult. The galaxy is in a chaotic phase of rebuilding, and bounty hunting isn’t the kind of game it once was. With few contracts available, especially ones that pay well, The Mandalorian takes what he can get. In this case, that means he doesn’t get a lot of information, but he’s keen to make some money.
Part throwback to a simpler stage, part stylized tribute, The Mandalorian is a show that most loves the things that first drew audiences to the franchise. Fights in bars with the hopelessly outmatched, long treks across strange planets/biomes (when we might have simply parked closer), and the mystery and potential back-stabbery of people in masks, literal or otherwise.
Though at times the series plays a little too hard for corny one-offs, like the sputtering, alternate vehicle offered to The Mandalorian (or it’s eventual demise), where Favreau nails his effort is in creating a character who is exactly what Star Wars fans are likely looking for. More importantly, he manages to give us someone who can convince us that he is able to believably transition into the second episode after the reveal, which isn’t easy.
While the Star Wars cinematic universe has dealt with an ebb and flow of fanbase reactions recently, The Mandalorian feels like a venture that can refocus the franchise toward a character that pulls you in and a quest that is a different kind of long on odds. Once the show can jettison the shmaltzy, “genre-within-genre” elements, like learning to ride a horse (seriously, park closer), and dives into the guild, deeper world-building, and exactly who is behind the mask, this is a series that is going to win people over.
There’s an obvious pull to compare this to the other “branching” films in the franchise, but The Mandalorian doesn’t fit well with the over-the-top, bombastic efforts of anything calling itself “A Star Wars Story.” Rather, it’s more in line with an adult version of Star Wars Rebels, or at least, all signs point in that direction. If Favreau keeps going that direction, and it feels very Favreau to do so, throwing us into the mire of daily life with this near-noir near-gumshoe and his variety of foils, he’ll be on the road to a character that will take a top spot in the franchise overall.
On the other hand, if the goofier moments in the pilot win out and the show starts spinning down the same paths that left people scratching their heads in Rogue One and Solo, well… people will still show up, but the response won’t amount to much.