The Mandalorian review: Spectacular Star Wars show deserves better than Hotstar as Disney+ has inauspicious launch in India
Creator - Jon Favreau
Cast - Pedro Pascal, Nick Nolte, Gina Carano, Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog, Giancarlo Esposito
Both in terms of scope and the simplicity of its story, The Mandalorian embraces the Spaghetti Western origins of Star Wars. The eight-episode series is a welcome relief — narratively and cinematically — from the convoluted conclusion to the larger Skywalker saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, that was released roughly in parallel with the show.
Unlike JJ Abrams’ disappointingly unambitious trilogy capper, which succumbed to perceived fan pressure and set the franchise back by at least a decade, multi-hyphenate creator Jon Favreau discards perennial Star Wars themes of legacy and lineage in The Mandalorian. Instead, he chooses to tell a stripped down story that pays homage to the samurai and western films that inspired George Lucas to create Star Wars in the first place.
Watch The Mandalorian trailer here
Aided tremendously by Oscar-winner Ludwig Göransson’s stunning score and cinematographer Greig Fraser’s tone-setting work on the first episode, The Mandalorian revisits familiar Star Wars ideas such as parenthood and honour. On several occasions, the titular character, played partially by the helmeted Pedro Pascal, affects the swagger of Clint Eastwood, strolling in and out of frontier towns, making trouble and not minding his own business. On others, he struggles with his own morality, like a Toshiro Mifune character from an Akira Kurosawa film.
After Mando — that’s the (slightly racist) nickname that people call him by — is tasked with retrieving a valuable package in exchange of a solid bounty, he discovers that the object of everyone’s desire is in fact an infant belonging to the same species as the legendary Jedi master Yoda. Struck by a sudden bout of conscience, Mando saves The Child, and embarks on a planet-hopping adventure, evading other bounty hunters and warlords. It’s a familiar set-up -- a weary man is ‘forced’ to protect a ‘special child’ -- that brings to mind stories such as Children of Men and Logan.
But structurally, The Mandalorian is a cross between the iconic graphic novel Lone Wolf and Cub, by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima, and the Red Dead Redemption video games — sparse, episodic and rather melancholy. Despite the involvement of the very funny Favreau, and Taika Waititi, who has directed one episode, the show is rather sombre in tone.
After spending several episodes wondering what the larger point of it all was, a short speech by the legendary Werner Herzog, no doubt written as an homage to the Bavarian filmmaker’s famously nihilistic worldview, made it all very clear. “The Empire improves every system it touches,” Herzog’s character, The Client, says. “Judging by any metric: safety, prosperity, peace. Compare Imperial rule to what’s going on now. Is the world more peaceful since the revolution? Look outside. I see nothing but death and chaos.”
The Mandalorian is set shortly between the fall of the Empire, at the end of Empire Strikes Back, and the rise of the First Order, before Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It is a period of anarchy, as a society struggles to get back on its feet after having survived authoritarian rule. This lawlessness leaves a vacancy in seats of power all across the galaxy, inspiring men like The Client to stake their claim. It poses the very intriguing, and rather cynical question: what is the cost of a revolution’s success?
Indeed, during long stretches of The Mandalorian, the storytelling is done visually, with extended combat sequences and montages; not through dialogue. Favreau and his visual effects department have utilised state-of-the-art rear projection techniques that enable the crew to shoot in makeshift virtual sets. Even in spirit, it seems, the show mimics the innovative methods that Lucas employed in the 70s.
But what little fan service there is — one brief pit stop at everyone’s favourite ‘wretched hive of scum and villainy’ hit me with a blast of nostalgia — is handled in a much more subtle manner than the largely pandering The Rise of Skywalker.
It’s unfortunate then that The Mandalorian has been released in India via Hotstar, infamous internationally for being the service from which a Game of Thrones episode was stolen before its premiere, and for surreptitiously censoring John Oliver. In a bizarre move that in hindsight is exactly the sort of thing one should’ve expected of Hotstar, the streamer, after announcing that the entire Disney+ slate would be made available in India on March 29, released all of it on March 11, without any warning whatsoever. And then, as if having fully committed to this comical goof up, the service revoked all the Disney+ content less than 24 hours later. Except The Mandalorian.
It’s difficult to appreciate the show’s gloriously cinematic visuals -- the entire series seems to have been set during a perpetual sunset -- with regular interruptions and drops in video and audio quality. The first live-action Star Wars show deserved better than Hotstar.