A guy walks into a bar. There the otherwise nameless titular Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) breaks up a brewing confrontation between patrons, shows himself to be ruthless rather than altruistic when thanked, and leaves with his hapless mark in tow. It’s the classic mysterious gunman setup, throwing the protagonist into the action so we know right away what he’s made of.
The only problem is that it’s not very interesting, and neither are the subsequent variations on the initial theme. There’s no tension to the violence between the Mandalorian and the thugs, no sense of real physical stakes even when one lowlife gets (bloodlessly) bisected by a pressure door. Nor is all the gunplay and derring-do much fun, especially with Ludwig Göransson’s lightweight score warbling and pinging over it.
Between the iconic T-visor helmet and Pascal’s reserved body language it’s hard to get a handle on what the Mandalorian feels about the things he does. We get some shaky-cam childhood flashbacks of his traumatic childhood and we’re told, clumsily, that he became an orphan at some point. The idea to intercut these flashbacks with the forging of a new piece of his armor by another Mandalorian is solid in and of itself, but there’s no meat, no noteworthy words or actions in that trauma to attach to the character. He’s supposed to be a cipher, sure, but a good cipher has just enough characterization to suggest there could be any number of people behind the facade. If director Dave Filoni (the mind behind those astoundingly ugly CGI Star Wars cartoon shows) took even a single visual risk maybe there’d be some trace of feeling here. He doesn’t, though, so there isn’t.
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Mutiny on the Bounty
Carl Weathers makes a brief appearance as Greef Carga, a bounty guild official, and his quiet brand of half-seriousness lends his scene with the Mandalorian a bit of texture, but the episode’s real attraction is the Client, played by Werner Herzog. An Imperial holdout of some sort surrounded by Stormtroopers in cracked and filthy armor, Herzog’s nameless character commands the room effortlessly, his every gesture and expression communicating callous, entitled institutional cruelty. His parting entreaty to the Mandalorian to return things to “the natural order” is the hour’s sole piece of commentary on the violence it uses to propel itself.
The rest of the episode is occupied by nameless, washed-out worlds, a strange little interlude about the Mandalorian learning to ride a piranha-faced creature called a blurrg, and a lengthy gunfight between an IG assassin droid, the Mandalorian, and a compound full of armed Nikto doing… something. For someone. For some reason. The blocking and pacing of the fight are heavily weighted toward back-and-forth and arbitrary “there are too many of them!” moments followed by effortless victories, and here again the shortcomings of Göransson’s score are evident. At just forty minutes long The Mandalorian’s first outing doesn’t overstay its welcome, but neither does it make much of an argument for its own existence.