Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Review: The Mandalorian (Chapter 1)

The Mandalorian
Cert: 12A / 60 mins*1 / Dir. Dave Filoni / Trailer

And so my last cinema visit for who-knows-how-long turned out to be a trip to the Galaxy Far, Far Away, which is some manner of muted send-off at least. As part of the promo-push for the UK's Disney+ streaming-service launch on March 24, Cineworld teamed up to show the first episode of the first live-action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian*2.

And good lord does this look fantastic on a big screen. Cinematically, it's is pretty much indistinguishable from its movie-cousins (although that's admittedly par for the course with feature-television in 2020 anyway). This episode (and even the first season as a whole) doesn't cover 'all' of the feel of classic Star Wars, but it gets the Space Western aesthetic bang-on. This is something which, admittedly, has been missing from the GFFA for some time (well, for non-Clone Wars viewers, at least*3). There's a gritty, tactile feel here, the run-down desolation of Solo only with better lighting. Lucasfilm's emphasis on physical (foreground) sets gives this the rough-and-ready feel of Tatooine, of things built and weathered and hoisted onto a soundstage at the last minute to make the perfect shot.


Pedro Pascal's eponymous protagonist is a Man With No Name for the Star Wars universe, even moreso than the legendary Boba Fett. A man of few words he's far from the top of the game here, but we see our anti-hero develop as time goes on; learning from mistakes as much as success. And who'd have thought we'd end up with Werner freakin' Herzog as a bling-sporting badass of the Imperial Remnant, Carl freakin' Weathers dishing out jobs in the Bounty Hunters' Guild while Nick freakin' Nolte becomes a fount of wisdom and patience riding atop a lizard first introduced in 1985's Battle For Endor TV movie??

Because perhaps most interestingly, The Mandalorian has become a wildly successful Star Wars property even though (in this first episode, at least*4) it utilises completely new characters and locations. Species and organisations are carried over of course, but everyone we meet here is for the first time. The show doesn't necessarily challenge the viewer, but neither does it spoon-feed with callbacks and obvious fan-service. Quite remarkable, and no less than we'd expect from director Dave Filoni.


The only downside to all this is the relative low-key nature of the overall release. Because of the necessary secrecy surrounding The Child™, and the noticeable gaps that one's absence would create by omission in advance marketing material, we've got a Star Wars property arriving on screens without the toys. Without the books. Without the comics. With an absolute bare minimum of behind-the-scenes material. We can be thankful at least for Ludwig Göransson's masterful score hitting the streams, while b-list merchandisers fall over themselves to slap stickers of Baby Yoda on lunchboxes faster than you can say distribution-networks-disrupted-by-a-global-pandemic. But I digress.

This is a very, very good thing.
But then, you knew I'd say that.

The Mandalorian is taking its first step into a larger world; television that looks like cinema while it expands an entire galaxy. This is the way.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The 'Western' elements of A New Hope.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Other than tonight's screening, this is a Disney+ affair, so small-screen only.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream definitely, but fans of physical media are sure to be pining for the hard-copy and its associated supplementary material already.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Difficult to say, some very strong talent, here.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
I have opinions about this, so that's possible.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There bloody isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: It is Star Wars

...but if you wanted to go around the houses with it, The Mandalorian features Mr Nick Nolte, who was in 2011's Warrior with Joel Edgerton, who also cropped up in Gringo alongside David Oyelowo, who appears in the upcoming Peter Rabbit 2 next to Domhnall Gleeson, star of About Time in which his mum was played by Lindsay Duncan, who rocked up in 2016's Alice Through The Looking Glass, as did Geraldine James, who starred in the 2011 remake of Arthur with... Nick Nolte.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Y'know what, the Cineworld website said "60 minutes". Now obviously the first chapter of The Mandalorian is only 38 minutes long, but once you add the trailer for Black Widow beforehand (even though you wouldn't normally), a Disney+ promo-reel, the 4-5 minute Mando featurette afterward plus a trailer for the final Clone Wars season, it's probably just under the hour mark all-in. Naturally I'd hoped we'd get chapters 1 and 2 of The Mandalorian back to back, like the Disney promo-machine put out for the Inhumans series, alas no. Still, it's at least nice to know that part of my dreams can come true... [ BACK ]

*2 Although truth be told, I'm not entirely sure how effective a promotion is by making it an Unlimited-exclusive. Surely a better way of getting a taster of The Mandalorian to a wider audience (the actual point of all this) would have been by making it a public screening, like that Inhumans one? I'm not complaining of course, but if this had turned up on Odeon's Limitless card instead, I'd be a bit peeved. [ BACK ]

*3 And while the cinema wasn't exactly packed for obvious reasons, the trailer for the long-awaited and final season of the animated Clone Wars show which played after The Mandalorian saw a succession of punters standing, putting on their coats and sidling to the exit. They did not give a solitary hoot about The Clone Wars. Without wanting to be too snobby, this underlined that the majority of the audience here were Unlimited card-holders, rather than excitable Star Wars fans... [ BACK ]

*4 Because without going into the hows-and-whys, of course I'd seen all of the episodes before I sat down in the cinema to watch this a week ahead of its UK TV debut. Truth be told, I can count on one hand the Star Wars fans I know who hadn't watched it by then. But international licensing agreements and associated release-scheduling are another subject for another time. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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