We live in strange times. While many of us grew up in a world with only three Star Wars films, we now have nearly a dozen. Not just more, but too much, to the extent that Disney will likely take a break from making more Star Wars films for a while. It only took a handful of years.
Meanwhile, television has grown more powerful, a medium now flush with talent and resources usually reserved for the big screen. As the line between film and television grows increasingly dim, projects we never even considered possible are now all over the place. A mature sequel series to Watchmen? Sure! A Star Wars Western series? Why not?
But maybe television suits Star Wars. The brand found success on the small screen with various animated series, but The Mandalorian is a much different beast. It wants to at least approximate the size and scope of a feature film, while also luxuriating within the relaxed time constraints and lower stakes television allows. Ideally, The Mandalorian should offer high-scale Star Wars fun without the burden of Skywalkers, the First Order, or even (so far) the Force. And based on this first episode, that’s exactly what it does.
This initial foray keeps things pretty simple. We are introduced to the Mandalorian, a lone bounty hunter who seems to operate exclusively in shitholes regardless of what planet he’s on. He does a little bounty hunting to show us what a badass he is. And yes, he freezes his bounties in carbonite. I choose to believe that the method’s success with Han Solo became bounty hunting news across the galaxy, and now it’s just what everyone does. I must either accept this or be irritated.
Plot-wise, it’s all pretty by-the-numbers. The Mandalorian takes on a special bounty, which leads to something unexpected that sets the rest of the series in motion. This isn’t about knocking your socks off with twists, but simply getting everyone settled into this Spaghetti Western corner of Star Wars. The Mandalorian himself, by necessity of his character tropes, offers little more than a cipher of cool shooting poses. He’s tough but with a heart of gold and all that.
The Mandalorian’s real beauty is in the side characters. It’s very exciting to see actors like Carl Weathers and Werner Herzog (not to mention Brian Posehn!) in the Star Wars universe. But even they pale in comparison to Nick Nolte’s weird little alien guy and Taika Waititi’s IG-11 (NOT the infamous IG-88 - this droid is way too eager to commit suicide to be that guy).
Clearly, there is a lot we don’t yet know about The Mandalorian, but I am in. I like Star Wars, I love Westerns, the creature work is great, and it offers us a look at the weirder corners of the Star Wars universe. Furthermore, it’s refreshingly simple. I don’t yet know what’s up with The Mandalorian’s surprising bounty or his obviously important backstory, but everything else feels solidified and known, which can be nice when so much television is mired in overwhelming mystery. Those shows are great too, but it’s also nice to just sit back and watch a fun space Western. This is more Bosch than Westworld.
Which is about all The Mandalorian needs to be. I’m sure its plot will bring it toward larger Star Wars canon, but I doubt that will evolve into an overwhelming feature of the show. The Mandalorian seems satisfied with its gunfights, aliens, robots and silent hero. And it should be because so far it's great.