“The Mandalorian” arrives with a lot of weight on its armored shoulders, not only representing the first live-action “Star Wars” series but easily providing the biggest original draw to help launch Disney+. Happily, the show’s brisk, handsomely produced 39-minute premiere is a great deal of fun, giving fans reason to have a good feeling about this.
Disney held back on previewing the episode for critics, which seems especially silly after watching it. It spoils nothing to say the show – set after the fall of the Empire, but before the rise of the First Order – contains a fair amount of action, built around a bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) seeking to eke out a living with his blasters and wits in a near-lawless frontier.
In that description, you have pretty much everything one needs to know about the series, which – produced by “Iron Man’s” Jon Favreau (who wrote the opener) and “Clone Wars’” Dave Filoni (who directed it) – apes the vibe of a western, with Pascal’s character owing a sizable debt to Clint Eastwood’s man with no name from those spaghetti westerns in the 1960s.
That’s a shrewd strategy, not only in keeping with “Star Wars’” roots but emulating the half-hour westerns that populated TV in its infancy – an appropriate analogy, since “The Mandalorian” represents an ambassador for another new means of delivering entertainment.
Because the title character is a man of few words, most of the dialogue falls to those who pass through his orbit, which include characters played by Carl Weathers and director Werner Herzog, who dispatches him on a mysterious mission.
If the look and action don’t quite possess the heft of a theatrical blockbuster, it’s certainly close enough. And Favreau and Filoni (the latter moving into live-action, after carrying the “Star Wars” banner splendidly in animation) are clever enough to speckle the episode with both humor and plenty of visual gags that will give hard-core fans an excuse to do their own hunting for Easter eggs.
Mandalorian armor remains one of the original trilogy’s most useful designs, given the excitement that Boba Fett (and later Jango) generated, despite contributing relatively little to the larger story. The character of Sabine in the animated “Star Wars Rebels” added to that lore, but it’s still visually striking to see it elevated and showcased in this live-action format.
Herzog’s character points out that bounty hunting is “a complicated profession,” but in the early going, “The Mandalorian” has the advantage of utter simplicity. That includes its real-world mission of giving “Star Wars” fans an incentive to subscribe, which the maiden flight looks well-suited, or armored, to carry out.
The first episode of “The Mandalorian” is streaming on Disney+.