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Hollywood Insider The Mandalorian Review, Star Wars, Disney+, Pedro Pascal

Photo: ‘The Mandalorian’/Disney+

It was only a little over a year ago—specifically November 12, 2019—that Disney+ launched in the US, and with it the highly-anticipated series ‘The Mandalorian’. A lot was riding on it as the streamer’s flagship show and as the first live-action ‘Star Wars’ series, with top-level talent and movie-quality production values behind it. And it was only a little over a year ago that the world first laid eyes on “Baby Yoda” and immediately fell in love with him as he grew into an internet phenomenon: even if you didn’t follow the show, you knew about him and (maybe) couldn’t help but be won over. The show’s runaway success hasn’t gone unnoticed—the streaming service is now all-in on developing new shows to further explore the ‘Star Wars’ universe.

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Thankfully the show has more to offer than just boasting a small yet unbearably cute mascot and marketing opportunity. Grounded and low-key yet brimming with cinematic action, stunning visual effects, and a good deal of heart—‘The Mandalorian’ is one of the most exciting, compelling, and satisfying ‘Star Wars’ adventures in years. And with the show’s second season having concluded just a few weeks ago, now’s a great time to be part of the conversation.

“This is The Way” – The Adventure Begins

Taking place five years after the events of ‘Return of the Jedi’ (post-Galactic Empire but pre-First Order), the show follows Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal), or “Mando”, a stoic bounty hunter operating in the outer reaches of the galaxy to make ends meet and provide for his hidden clan of Mandalorians—the same clan iconic ‘Star Wars’ character Boba Fett belonged to. When Mando accepts an off-the-books job from remnant Imperial forces represented by “The Client” (Werner Herzog), he’s shocked to learn that his latest bounty is a strange infant alien, referred to as “The Child”, with supernatural powers. Despite his initial reluctance, Mando decides to go rogue and protect The Child from rival bounty hunters and the Imperials now hunting them down.

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Season Two begins with Mando now realizing his mission: to reunite The Child with his kind. As the duo search the galaxy for clues that could lead them to the Jedi, Mando comes to question his worldview as well as reassessing his bond with The Child. All the while the two are still pursued by Imperial forces led by warlord Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), who seeks to use The Child’s connection to The Force for his own evil purposes.

‘The Mandalorian’ is an Accessible Entry Point Into the ‘Star Wars’ Universe

The ‘Star Wars’ universe is one of the largest, broadest, and most extensive in modern fiction, with vast amounts of details, stories, worlds, species, and lore. And the exploration of this universe encompasses many movies, animated shows, books, comics, and video games. In theory, it can be overwhelming to keep up, the concern here being that the average viewer might feel left out if they haven’t followed other ‘Star Wars’ media beyond the movies.

The good news here is that for the most part viewers don’t need to have watched any of the previous ‘Star Wars’ films, or the various side stories in other media, to make sense of ‘The Mandalorian’; case in point, my knowledge of details from the original and prequel trilogies is a bit fuzzy but I followed along just fine. All you really need to know is that the show takes place after ‘Return of the Jedi’, which ended with Darth Vader and the Empire’s defeat. Otherwise, there’s little to nothing connecting the players here to any key figures in the ‘Star Wars’ universe. As such, this show is a good starting point for those not yet versed in the franchise.

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The second season does lean more into lore, incorporating previously established characters like Jedi knight Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), Mandalorian warrior Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), and even bringing back Boba Fett (Temeura Morrison), as well as potentially tying events into the main canon. But it does so in a way that is still accessible even if you haven’t kept up (though the surprise at the end of the season finale would probably have more impact for those familiar with the films).

A More Personal Story With a Different Feel

Story-wise ‘The Mandalorian’ is very easy to follow; while there is an overarching “Protect the Child/Get the Child to Safety” plot, the way the show is structured resembles more of a serialized procedural (think ‘X-Files’). Episodes that advance the plot would bookend the season, and in the middle, you’d have these self-contained stories with Mando going on jobs that take him to (mostly) new and exciting locations across the galaxy. While the stand-alone stories do lead Mando to new allies and story revelations, they also give the writers a chance to delve even more into and flesh out the universe. Though at times it feels like the show is spinning its wheels, I still really liked this approach.

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What sets ‘The Mandalorian’ apart is its reduced scale. Our hero isn’t trying to save the galaxy, or stop a superweapon, or defeat a tyrant. And he’s not a Chosen One with a grand destiny to fulfill. He’s just a bounty hunter (albeit a very skilled one) trying to survive and protect his young charge. Another difference is in its tone—this is the seedy underbelly of ‘Star Wars’. It’s dirtier and more grounded; while it’s not grim or bleak there is more of an edge to it. It’s no secret that George Lucas drew heavily from classic Westerns and samurai movies for the original films. ‘The Mandalorian’ embraces those inspirations, even more, drawing heavily on those genres’ visual motifs and overall vibe. Episodes also evoke action-thrillers and even horror movies. It’s a very engaging change of pace and helps make this show feel different from other ‘Star Wars’ stories.

‘The Mandalorian’ Boasts Impressive Talent

Jon Favreau is the creator of this show and serves as showrunner and head writer; he also writes most of the show’s episodes. And drawing on his work for Marvel and Disney, he does a great job of combining action, humor, and the occasional emotional depth. Alongside Favreau is Dave Filoni: in addition to co-writing, directing, and executive producing, he brings street cred and a deep understanding of the ‘Star Wars’ universe thanks to his work on the beloved ‘Clone Wars’ and ‘Rebels’ animated shows.

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Equally impressive are the talents taking turns behind the director’s chair: in addition to Filoni, Deborah Chow, Rick Famuyiwa, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Taika Waititi, the second season also sees Favreau step up to direct, joined by Peyton Reed, Robert Rodriguez and even Carl Weathers (who also plays Mando’s adversary/ally Greef Karga). All the directors do excellent work in storytelling and staging exciting action sequences. Needless to say, this is a visually stunning looking show, combining tactile physical effects and impressive, potentially game-changing CGI technology. Equally great is Ludwig Göransson’s music score, which excellently draws on the classical score from the films in a more subdued way while incorporating edgier, more futuristic sounds.

The cast is also strong. Herzog, Esposito, Morrison, Sackhoff, and Weathers all play recurring characters alongside Gina Carano, Nick Nolte and Ming-Na Wen. Standouts including Esposito who makes for a great major villain as expected, drawing on his work in ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Better Call Saul’; Herzog is an unlikely presence in the ‘Star Wars’ universe, but he perfectly conveys a menacing presence; Morrison finally gives fans a chance to see Boba Fett as the badass they’ve always imagined him to be. Guest stars and cameos come from a fun and unlikely mix of established genre actors (Timothy Olyphant, Clancy Brown, Michael Biehn) and comedians (Horatio Sanz, Bill Burr, Amy Sedaris, Jason Sudeikis, Adam Pally). And Waititi and Richard Ayoade voice two vastly different droid characters. Performances are solid overall.

This brings us to The Mandalorian and The Child.

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The Heart of the Show – The Bond Between Mando and “Baby Yoda”

What else is there to say about The Child, or as fans have called him “Baby Yoda”? He’s a masterwork in terms of character design. In addition to launching a thousand memes and being a lucrative merchandising opportunity for Disney, he’s so adorable it almost hurts. Anyone who gets a glimpse of him can’t help but be won over even a little as he leaves your heart with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. Every time we see The Child—powerful yet so small and helpless—reach out to and interact with his guardian/surrogate father, we’re constantly reminded that he is just a baby. It arouses feelings in us; as we discussed in our profile, we as humans are wired to care for and help a needy and cute baby, and The Child fits that to a T. But he also provides the storytelling with stakes, urgency, and most importantly an emotional core.

The father-child bond between The Child and The Mandalorian is what gives the show its emotional depth, and it only works if both parties are equally engaging. Thankfully Mando is as well.

Din Djarin/Mando fits the archetype of the mostly silent and stoic badass: the kind frequently seen in Westerns. He’s not a hero in the traditional sense; even more so than say, Han Solo, he’s mostly looking out for himself and his clan. But he has some semblance of a moral code and believes in tradition and respect, showing gratitude to those who sincerely help him. And as competent as he is, he’s not indestructible like a Jedi. He’s mortal: he’ll get hurt, he’ll fail, and sometimes he’ll only win or survive through sheer luck. It’s easier to be more invested in his plight. And as he takes in and cares for The Child, he shows a softer side of himself and gradually warms up to him. He starts out trying to avoid responsibility but comes to fully embrace the role of fatherhood. And by the second season, he’s a caring parent willing to do whatever it takes to keep his kid-safe, even if it means questioning his sacred beliefs.

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I can’t stress enough how Pascal really delivers in the role. Even when we don’t see his face most of the time, his vocal performance is expressive and speaks volumes, whether he’s calm and collected or unsure. And his body language also infuses the character with personality, with credit to the actor and his stunt performers. The moments between Mando and The Child are genuinely moving stuff, with Pascal truly nailing the emotional heart of the character.

Conclusion

After the disappointment of ‘The Rise of Skywalker’, this was very much appreciated. Here’s a show that channels the best of the franchise: the fun, the humor, the escapism, the excitement, and yes, the cheesy but earnest heart. And coupled with excellent filmmaking and a strong cast, ‘The Mandalorian’ is one of the best things to come out of ‘Star Wars’ in years.

Seasons 1 and 2 of ‘The Mandalorian’ are now available to view on Disney+.

Cast: Pedro Pascal

Also Starring: Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog, Omid Abtahi, Nick Nolte, Gina Carano, Giancarlo Esposito, Emily Swallow, Taika Waititi, Richard Ayoade, Ming-Na Wen, Temeura Morrison, Katee Sackhoff, Rosario Dawson, Amy Sedaris, Bill Burr, Horatio Sanz, Sasha Banks

Creator: Jon Favreau | Based on: ‘Star Wars’ by George Lucas | Writers: Jon Favreau, Rick Famuyiwa, Dave Filoni, Christopher Yost | Directors: Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, Rick Famuyiwa, Bryce Dallas Howard, Deborah Chow, Peyton Reed, Taika Waititi, Robert Rodriguez, Carl Weathers | Executive Producers: Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, Kathleen Kennedy, Colin Wilson

By Mario Yuwono

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Author

  • Mario Yuwono is from Indonesia, but was born in Italy and attended school in Jakarta, Moscow, Berlin and Los Angeles. He has been obsessed with films ever since he saw his first movie at the age of five, and would go on to spend his younger years reading film encyclopedias and movie guides. Combined with a global upbringing rooted in greater social awareness, this drives him to be more observant of values promoted in films. He believes in cinema’s potential to enable greater empathy and meaningfully expand people’s horizons, in line with Hollywood Insider’s goal. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Screenwriting from California State University in Northridge. Aside from reporting on film, TV and culture, Mario also aspires to write for film and television, and is a strong believer in social change, equality and inclusion.

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