Now that we’ve seen a full three episodes of The Mandalorian we’re ready to give the show a more in-depth examination. But if you want to read our review of The Mandalorian’s first episode jump to it here.
Three episodes in and The Mandalorian has found its place and tone. What seemed at first like it might turn into one of those sprawling, disorganized Star Wars adventures we’ve been saddled with in the universe’s feature films has turned into something more focused and altogether more spectacular. If you had to sum The Mandalorian up in just a few words you couldn’t do better than these: It’s Samurai Jack in the Star Wars universe.
If you’re not familiar with Samurai Jack that’s something you should change immediately. Jack was a half-hour animated series which debuted in 2001. Created by Genndy Tartakovsky it followed a Samurai warrior thrust into the future full of aliens and weird technology, where an evil sorcerer had taken over everything and turned the world evil. Each week Jack fought his way one step further in his quest, encountering foes and friends and saying very little. Now The Mandalorian does exactly the same thing.
In the years since Samurai Jack the show’s creator Genndy Tartakovsky has spent a lot of time working on various animated Star Wars programming. It’s from there that we got The Mandalorian’s current showrunner Dave Filoni. Tartakovsky and Filoni have worked together extensively in the past (though Tartakovsky isn’t working on Star Wars anymore) and it’s a sure bet that everything Filoni is doing on Mandalorian comes with Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack blessing.
It’s more than just a Samurai Jack similarity, The Mandalorian’s approach to everything is nearly identical. Each shot is composed as if it was framed in a Samurai Jack storyboard. Every beat of every episode fits right into that beautiful Samurai Jack story formula. The characters, from the “I have spoken” guy to the cute little baby Yoda, feel like they’re ripped right from the pages of a Samurai Jack tale.
None of this is a criticism. As an idea, taking a page from Samurai Jack and turning it into a live action Star Wars show, is absolutely brilliant.
The beats were there in The Mandalorian’s first episode too, but few noticed them. Mandalorian episode one was stretched into an hour long show for the series’ premiere. But since episode two the series has settled into an around a half hour long format for each episode, and with the new Samurai Jack-like running time, suddenly the similarities are clear and easily revealed.
Mandalorian creator Dave Filoni, with his long history in animation, is clearly a Samurai Jack fan. And I think it’s worth letting him know that not only do we know exactly what he’s doing… but we love it.
In my review of The Mandalorian’s first episode I called the show the best thing Disney has done with Star Wars outside of Rogue One, and nothing has changed in the two episodes since. If anything I may have to revise my episode up. This is even better than Rogue One, it’s the best Star Wars has been since Return of the Jedi’s end.
The Mandalorian is a special show. It’s a new kind of Star Wars, one taking a different creative direction, a direction which somehow also stays faithful to all that Star Wars ever was while also paying heavy homage to the worlds of something else. Don’t miss it.
THE MANDALORIAN AFTER 3 EPISODES REVIEW SCORE:
What follows is my original review of The Mandalorian after seeing only the premiere episode.
The Mandalorian Episode 1 Reviewed
Disney recently announced that after the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, they’ll be taking a break from making Star Wars movies. Once you see the first episode of The Mandalorian you’ll realize that decision wasn’t made due to franchise fatigue, but rather because modern day Star Wars simply works better on television.
The Mandalorian follows a helmeted bounty hunter from the same race of warriors that gave us Boba Fett back in the original Star Wars trilogy. Mandalorians like their helmets, they like them so much they almost never remove them. Whether or not we’ll ever see the face of the show’s protagonist remains to be seen, but so far he’s just a helmet. In The Mandalorian’s first episode he doesn’t even have a name.
The series, which is the flagship offering from Disney’s new Disney Plus streaming service, takes place shortly after the events of Return of the Jedi. It’s the first ever Star Wars property to attempt to fill in the gaps between the destruction of the second Death Star and the events of The Force Awakens decades later. Why it took this long to deliver something set in this time period is anyone’s guess since, of course, this is the only time period every Star Wars fan has always been interested in.
The setting is everything you want in a Star Wars movie . Since it takes place right after Return of the Jedi they’ve taken great pains to make it LOOK like one of the original trilogy Star Wars movies. Alien characters move like constructed using practical effects (even if they are not) and that gives them more realism and weight than we’re used to with the heavy use of computer generated effects. A robot bounty hunter who briefly teams up with our Mando is maybe one of the best special effects in all of Star Wars, his movements so perfectly real and robotic it would be easy to believe he was created by the evil geniuses at Boston Dynamics.
Everything here looks gritty and used and lived in, like the Star Wars you (or maybe your parents) remember. This feels like a place that exists, full of concerns and cares which have no impact on the plot, but seem to swirl around it… like they would in the real world.
As much as The Mandalorian looks and FEELS like the Star Wars universe it doesn’t always sound like it. The score is gritty and unique, filled with blaring horns reminiscent of something from a Spaghetti Western scored by Ennio Morricone. Quentin Tarantino would be proud. It adds an extra layer of aesthetic to our hero’s journey and helps create a world for The Mandalorian that lets it feel like part of Star Wars as a universe, while telling a story that’s all its own.
The story is an obvious setup, involving an unusual bounty which sends the Mandalorian into unusual circumstances. The ending of the first episode is a cliffhanger, with a reveal that will surely test the demonstrated indifference of the show’s reluctant hero.
What works best here is how long they have to tell this story, to dig into the intricate details, to answer all our questions about The Mandalorian’s hero. That, more than even the failure of their aesthetic, is what all the modern Star Wars movies have struggled with. Where Disney Star Wars movie scripts gloss over key details in a rush to fit everything all in, The Mandalorian has time, tons of it, to draw us all in. If they’d told The Force Awakens in this format we would not need Rey to magically become a superhero in the space of two minutes. We’d have dozens of episodes to watch her discover her Force powers, to train and to grow. The Mandalorian has time to grow and if it grows in the right direction, Star Wars fans are going to love it.
What matters most is that The Mandalorian, more than anything Disney has produced outside of Rogue One, actually feels like Star Wars. There’s no telling where this story will go, but as long as the writing’s capable Star Wars fans will be satisfied because after all this time and all these failed attempts, someone has actually gotten the feel of the Star Wars universe right.
This is a review so The Mandalorian needs a score. There’s no telling where the show will go, but as a first episode on Disney Plus is off to a great start. Were The Mandalorian the only thing on Disney Plus, it would still be worth the cost of a subscription. This review of The Mandalorian gives it four out of five stars.
THE MANDALORIAN REVIEW SCORE: