For decades now, the world George Lucas created for his “Star Wars” films has felt like a massive sandbox to play in, but we’ve only seen a relatively small corner of it. If you think about it, even with the prequels, sequels, and spin-offs, we’re still obsessed with names like Skywalker and Vader. There have been cartoons and video games that have explore the world outside of Anakin and Luke, but one of the most high-profile properties to date in that arena is “The Mandalorian,” the new weekly series that launched today with Disney Plus. For a company that knows how to make a fortune, it’s yet another smart move designed to grab consumers and bring them under the now-massive tent that includes Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and "Star Wars." It’s a high-budget, theatrical caliber series written and produced by none other than one of the kings of the current era of Disney and Marvel, Jon Favreau. Only one episode is available now, but a second will come Friday and then new ones every Friday after that. How’s the premiere? Good enough to keep me watching, forgettable enough that I doubt I’ll want to watch this specific episode again.
Its opening scene sets up “The Mandalorian” as a Western, complete with a saloon shoot-out. The title refers to the race of the bounty hunter of our protagonist (Pedro Pascal), which happens to be the same as the legendary Boba Fett. No, this is not a Boba Fett origin story, but kids will almost certainly see it as such, and that's fine for the creators. The first few scenes remind us of the purposeful drive of a character like Boba Fett, someone who saves a victim in the opening but only because that victim happens to be the bounty he’s seeking. With old-fashioned dialogue straight out of a John Ford movie like “I can bring you in warm or I can bring you in cold,” the first few minutes of “The Mandalorian” actually hint at a moodier, less action-heavy show than what follows. I hope it gets back to that tone a bit in subsequent episodes.
After a brief scene with a character named Greef Carga (Carl Weathers) that illustrates the dire times between the fall of the Empire and the rise of the First Order, The Mandalorian gets his latest assignment, an off-the-books major job at the behest of a mysterious fellow played by Werner Herzog in a way only Werner Herzog could play him (I have to believe it was in his contract to say “The natural order of things.”) Herzog’s character, known only as The Client, asks The Mandalorian to find a bounty and bring it back alive, if possible, which sends our hero to a desert planet for a final shoot-out, the introduction of a robot bounty hunter voiced by Taika Waititi, and the final reveal of exactly what everyone is searching for.
The premiere of “The Mandalorian” is undeniably tight—the era of streaming has led to 60-minute-plus pilots and Favreau and company were wise to keep this closer to 40. Their target audience is still a young one, and they don’t need too much bloat to get hooked. And that’s really the purpose of this episode—to grab people testing out a new service and convince them not to cancel for a few months as this story unfolds. To that end, there’s a bit too much whiz-bang editing and overdone production value (they should pull back on the overheated score a bit) but it’s clearly designed to keep young people watching. Think about it. They just got a streaming service with hundreds of hours of their favorite movies—how do you keep them from flipping over to something else? You don’t give them a chance to catch their breath.
For my critical taste, “The Mandalorian” is too hyper by several notches—there’s a flashback scene that’s so monstrously put together that I cringed—but my business taste understands exactly why Favreau built it this way. Like the character at the show's center, this guy knows the job. Hook the viewer, and keep them hooked as the monthly subscription cost renews. “The Mandalorian” feels likely to do exactly that.