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Saturday, November 16, 2019

Force in Focus: The Mandalorian Episode 01

"Chapter One"

After successfully completing a round of bounty hunts, an unnamed Mandalorian accepts his next, higher-paying, job from Greef Carga. Meeting with the client, the Mandalorian receives a tracking fob to locate his quarry and a block of beskar steel as down payment. He brings the beskar to a Mandalorian armorer, who fashions it into a pauldron for the hunter adds to his armor. Later, the Mandalorian lands on a desolate planet. He encounters the diminutive Kuiil, who agrees to help him reach his destination. But first, the Mandalorian must tame a blurrg mount. After doing so, he ends up overlooking a fortified camp where his target is being guarded. Another hunter, the droid IG-11, is after the same target, and the two hunters agree to team-up. Together, they fight their way into the camp and reach their bounty, a small green infant with long ears. IG-11 is prepared the kill the child, but the Mandalorian blasts the droid to take it for himself.

Firsts and Other Notables
Obviously, this first episode of Disney Plus' marquee launch series introduces a bunch of new characters into the Star Wars universe, most notably its titular protagonist (it remains to be seen how many of the other characters appearing here will be significant or limited to this episode).

The title character remains unnamed on the show; the actor playing him has given his name in interviews, but I will refrain from using it until it is confirmed as such in the context of the show.

It's not made explicit in this episode, but the show is set sometime after Return of the Jedi and the fall of the Empire (Werner Herzog's character speaks of restoring order, a common trope spoken amongst ex-Imperials in post-Jedi stories, and the Mandalorian is reluctant to accept Imperial credits for his bounties, as they have lost value).

The big episode-ending cliffhanger reveals that the bounty driving the plot of this first episode is an infant (albeit a 50 year old one) of the same species of Yoda. Somewhat infamously, very little information exists about Yoda's species (including its name), with only the existence of Yaddle (if two can count as a "species") on the Jedi Council in The Phantom Menace confirming he's part of a unique species (and not just a mutated or otherwise atypical member of an existing species). Presumably, that stands to change with the inclusion of this character in this series.

Casting Call
The Mandalorian is played by Pedro Pascal, most well-known for his roles on Game of Thrones & Narcos.

Other notable actors in this episode: Horatio Sanz (former SNL cast member) plays the talkative and entertaining Mythrol (the initial bounty we see the Mandalorian capture), Carl Weathers (Arnold's buddy in The Predator & Tobias' acting coach on Arrested Development) is Greef Carga, auteurist director & internet darling Werner Herzog plays the Mandalorian's client, Nick Nolte provides the voice of Kuiil, and Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi is the voice of IG-11.

A Work in Progress
The tiny bit of backstory presented for the character comes in the form of brief flashbacks to (presumably) his childhood, in which he was separated from his family during a firefight. It's also established that he was a "foundling", and is pleased that the proceeds from his latest bounty will help more foundlings (suggesting there is more to the character than simply wanting highly paid bounties for his own personal gain).

We also know he doesn't like droids, though the exact reason (if there's a specific one and not just a general distrust) is unknown.

Jawas are seen amongst the various denizens of the planet where the Mandalorian does his business, which is, I believe, the first time they've been shown to live somewhere other than Tatooine.

The client uses "parsec" to describe a section of the galaxy; Han Solo famously made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs (which seemed to be a unit of time but we've since learned is actually a unit of distance (ie he flew a shorter, more dangerous, route), which is somewhat consistent with how its used here).

The ill-tempered dewback-esqure creature the Mandalorian must tame is called a Blurrg, appearing here for the first time.

Kuiil says that the Mandalorians once rode Mythosaurs

Did You See?
The Mandalorian's spear rifle weapon seems like a deliberate homage to the weapon wielded by Boba Fett in the animated portion of the Star Wars Holiday Special.

Speaking of, "Life Day", the Wookiee holiday which is loosely attributable to some combination of our Thanksgiving & Christmas holidays, gets mentioned in passing.

The droid which greeted the Mandalorian outside Werner Herzog's office was similar to the gatekeeper droid employed by Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi.

Also, Kowakian monkey lizards, the species to which Jabba's cackling pet Salacious Crumb belonged, are seen being spit-roasted on the streets.

Kuiil is an Ugnaught, one of the porcine-like aliens who worked at Cloud City and oversaw Han's carbonite freezing.

What's the Deal With Beskar? 
Beskar, the Mando'a term for what is elsewhere called "Mandalorian iron" is a super-resistant form of steel forged by Mandalorians, capable of deflecting most blaster bolts and even lightsaber blades (though sustained contact with a lightsaber can damage it). The Mandalorians, who have history of fighting with the Jedi, use it in their armor and forge bladed weapons with it as well. It was introduced back in the old Expanded Universe early in the run of Dark Horse comics, was also referenced in the animated Rebel series (which brought it into the new canon).

Austin's Analysis
The Mandalorian is, at least in this first episode, all about creating atmosphere. The Star Wars universe has never shied away from leaning into its Western influences, but never has it leaned into those influences as hard as it does here. While the characters are thin on the ground (its still-textually-unnamed title character is little more than a collection of Western tropes in Boba Fett armor, though some of the fringe characters are, in their brief time, more sketched in, with Horation Sanz's Mythrol entertainingly walking the line between fear & acceptance and Werner Herzog being Werner Herzog-y), the atmosphere itself is really the main character of this first episode, as the titular bounty hunter goes about his business, gets in bar brawls and makes backroom deals, tames a wild steed to cross a treacherous wasteland, surveys a frontier output before engaging in a laser-fueled shoot 'em up (alongside a sentient murder robot). The Star Wars elements are there (the iconic Mandalorian look, familiar aliens, dirty Stormtroopers, talk of parsecs), but it's really only in the closing moments that the balance between those elements and the Western ones fall back into equilibrium, as the Mandalorian looks into the eyes of a bright green baby Yoda.

As an ongoing series, this can't coast along on atmosphere alone forever. Embracing the Western elements are great, but eventually, the series is going to need to develop its characters, world, and themes into something more than "like a Western, but in the Star Wars galaxy". But for an introductory episode, one which, more than anything, intends to make a strong statement about the kind of show its going to be and which corner of the vast Star Wars universe its going to claim as its own, this is a remarkably confident and accomplished piece of television.

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  1. All this needed to nail down the Spaghetti Western in Space vibe was for the Mandalorian to wear a pancho. They leaned hard into that.

    Carl Weathers (Arnold's buddy in The Predator & Tobias' acting coach on Arrested Development)

    Somewhere, Apollo Creed sheds a tear. And then gets punched by Ivan Drago.

    Got more to say when you get to the second episode, since my thoughts on that fall back into this one, but I will say this is a solid start to the series.

  2. Off topic. November 17 marks the 35th anniversary of the MUPPET BABIES Episode "Gonzo's Video Show" The gang borrow a camcorder and decide to stage STAR WARS, with the help of their imagination and STAR WARS Stock Footage.

  3. I really liked this episode, and if the rest of the series is anything like it, I'll be happy.

    I was particularly gratified that the main character (whose name I actually don't know yet, having avoided all the series' pre-press) never took his helmet off. I'd love it if he keeps it on for the entire series, or at least only removes it sparingly. I got plenty of emotion from his voice and body language; seeing his face is unnecessary. This is a lesson that I wish Marvel would learn with its movies.

    (Side Rant: I seriously winced in AVENGERS: ENDGAME when all the heroes came back and the first thing everyone with a mask did was unmask. Why would Black Panther or Spider-Man feel the need to reveal their faces in that moment? There was no reason for it except to let the audience see the actors' faces, which drives me nuts. I don't care that it's Tom Holland or Chadwick Boseman. I care that it's Spider-Man and Black Panther. They could've put stand-ins in the costumes and never shown their faces for that whole fight and I would've been just as happy -- or probably happier!)

    Anyway... looking forward to THE MANDALORIAN! I still need to watch the second episode.

  4. "Embracing the Western elements are great, but eventually, the series is going to need to develop its characters, world, and themes into something more than "like a Western, but in the Star Wars galaxy"."

    This was the main issue I had with the episode. For the first 30 minutes, the plot and dialogue was like something you'd find in a Word doc template labeled "loner/western." If someone walked into the room while I was watching the show right before the Mandalorian met up with the IG droid, and I said "it's a bounty hunter western," they could have instantly described most of the scenes that led up to that point.

    A well-established plot framework isn't a crime, but (up to that point) the show didn't do anything special with its characters, plot, dialogue, or filmmaking to distinguish itself from every other "troubled loner walks a lonely, morally ambiguous road" story. We're well past the days where such bland storytelling can be overcome by just dumping a bunch of Star Wars crap on the screen to distract the fans.

    Fortunately, the last five minutes was an immediate improvement. The action scene was well-made, and I enjoyed both the visual style of the IG droid as well as the silliness of its enthusiasm for self-destructing. It was enough to get me to tune in for the next episode, which (not a spoiler alert) I thought was considerably better. But that discussion can wait.


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