Disney’s bounty hunter finally makes his way into European homes
Note: contains spoilers
With March’s launch of Disney+ across key European territories (using temporarily lower bandwidth), the continent follows the US, Latin America and Australia in being able to access The Mandalorian, the streaming service’s flagship ’Star Wars’ series from showrunner Jon Favreau which reportedly cost $15m for each of its eight episodes. Although they’re short – nothing more than 40 minutes is offered - the money is certainly on the screen in a show which cheerfully raids its own iconography while adding successfully to the whole. By the end of what is, essentially, less than the running time of two features, it’s no surprise to know that a second series is already in production.
It is, undoubtedly, high-quality television. It is their way.
The Mandalorian launched Baby Yoda onto the internet when it bowed last November, and, while European parents who signed up to Disney + for the family-friendly catalogue might not yet be aware of this, their children will certainly know. It may even be the reason they’ve begged for the service. Without giving more away, this lushly-mounted series is set between The Return of the Jedi (ie, the end of the original trilogy) and The Force Awakens, released in 2015. The Empire has fallen, and it’s a “world of warlords and bounty hunters” – and bars, yes, amazing cocktail bars, filled with colourful alien life and acting as a mnemonic jerk back to the day viewers first entered the Cantina with Luke Skywalker. We also have frozen wastelands and the scorched earth deserts of a planet that could be Tatooine, complete with Jawahs.
But mostly, we have money. And Favreau, the original ’Swinger’ from 1996 who directed The Jungle Book, knows how and where to best spend it.
The Mandalorian is a little on the darker side of Disney’s upbeat streaming service; it’s violent in a cartoonish way as our hero, Mando – or The Mandalorian – lays waste to vast numbers of opponents using his smarts, a blaster, and the Mescar armour which, at the outset, is his entire motivation as a professional bounty hunter for Greef Karga (Carl Weathers). The Mandalorians constantly work on improving their shields and never take their helmets off. “It is the way,” they intone, so we never see the face of the actor who plays him, Pedro Pascal. Early sequences inform the viewer that he was a foundling; that, like Han Solo before him, he’s not keen on droids. Mostly though, at the outset, Mando is the ’Star Wars’ iteration of The Man With No Name as, accompanied by Ludwig Goransson’s Spaghetti Western-influenced score, he roams the galaxy unaware that he’s looking for a cause. He’ll find one soon enough.
It’s quite easy to settle into The Mandalorian without any need for a refresher course in ’Star Wars’ lore; it’s there humming throughout, but the plot moves along without the need to remember the minutae. (It’s clear, by the end of the first episode, that everything will ultimately connect.) Visually, the small screen offers up its own treasures, mainly through CGI renditions of animals such as mudhorns or the giant fish on legs that Mando has to learn to ride at the behest of mysterious Kuiil (Nick Nolte, in miniature). Taika Waititi, who will return to direct the last episode, appears in the first as a metal droid, IG-II, via voice, although this lankly spanner is unmistakably a rendition of the actor/director.
And, most amusingly, where the big screen offered Alec Guinness or Peter Cushing, The Mandalorian presents Werner Herzog as the baddie, the mysterious “Client” who has a whiff of the dark side about him. “Bounty hunting is a complicated profession,” he intones in the manner of a space-age Dracula.
From the aforementioned bars, to market sequences, the jabbering Jawas with their moveable fortress, to blistering sunsets in the sand, The Mandalorian makes a pilgrimage to pay its respects to the cinematic origins of this series. Production design by Andrew L. Jones draws from the past with reverence. Pretty soon, though, Favreau and his team are adding their own iconography, whether that be the immovable helmet, a floating crib, or the sight of The Mandalorian himself in his full Mescar armour as he cradles a small package in the manner of Chow Yun-fat in Hard Boiled.
The Mandalorian could be viewed as an act of good faith by Disney + as it starts to make its house calls. See, it says, you will not be short-changed, and we will spend money to bring you the best the galaxy can offer. It is, undoubtedly, high-quality television. It is their way.
Production company: Lucasfilm
Creator, screenplay: Jon Favreau
Executive producers: Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, Kathleen Kennedy, Colin Wilson
Directors: Dave Filoni, Taika Watiti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rick Famuyiwa, Deborah Chow
Main cast: Pedro Pascal, Nick Nolte, Carl Weathers, Gina Carano, Werner Herzog