The first segment of Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni’s The Mandalorian is an intriguing introduction to a darker, grittier corner of the Star Wars universe, doing a whole lot of worldbuilding, establishing a compelling mystery spanning several planets, and leaving viewers with plenty of questions.
Set sometime after the fall of the Empire in The Return Of The Jedi, the series presents us with a region of deep space that seems unaffected by the peace and prosperity we saw blossom across the universe in Jedi‘s celebratory finale. The aliens and humans we encounter in the pilot episode are barely scraping by, surviving only by hunting down their enemies and killing them – or hiring others to do so. The nameless protagonist played by Pedro Pascal, known only as the Mandalorian (or “Mando”, as he is disparagingly called in one space cantina), is supposedly one of the most legendary bounty hunters in the parsec, though he does surprisingly little to earn that reputation in this episode: the action sequences are few and far between, and the big battle at the end of the episode is really just a whole bunch of red laser-bolts dancing wildly across the screen, leaving the Mandalorian himself with little room to prove his own tactical or military prowess. His uncomfortably awkward encounter with an alien monster named a Blurrg undermines the character even further. As of right now, I can’t understand why everyone is so terrified of the Mandalorian, or how he has somehow established such command in the bounty hunter guild he works with – but his ally, the hunter droid IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi), while undeniably more malevolent, is even more clumsy, so perhaps this is a trait shared by all of Star Wars‘ bounty hunters – even the mighty Boba Fett fell into a Sarlac pit, after all.
It’s an unpleasant reality, but Pascal’s Mandalorian is simply not as interesting as some of his co-stars in the first episode, who receive far less screentime but far more personality and character. Even the Armorer, a female Mandalorian who designs a shoulder pauldron for the Mandalorian (I get that they’re a secretive people, but names would be really helpful right about now), is marginally more interesting than him: Mandalorian culture in general is something that I’d love to see explored in greater depth as the series progresses – though at present, there’s a much greater mystery unfolding, one which definitely takes precedence over “why are shoulder-pads so important to the Mandalorians?”
Werner Herzog plays the Mandalorian’s nameless client, who appears to be a survivor of the Empire’s demise: he commands a host of trigger-happy stormtroopers, and is working closely with a suspiciously enthusiastic scientist named Dr. Pershing (Omid Abtahi). The two men employ the Mandalorian to hunt down a dangerous target on the other side of the galaxy, though neither is willing to give many details about their prey – save that Pershing wants it alive at all costs. We’ve known for quite some time that this series could give us crucial details about how the fallen Empire rebuilt itself into the First Order that currently threatens Rey and the Resistance: if I had to make a guess at this early stage, I would assume that Pershing and his mysterious friend have something to do with that. And I’ve even got the beginnings of an idea as to why that might be, but it requires us to get into spoiler territory – so without further ado, here’s your SPOILER WARNING!
At the end of the episode, after the Mandalorian and IG-11 have broken into an alien base on a desert planet, they come face to face with the unidentified asset they’ve been hunting via tracking fob. And while some of us might have been expecting their target to be a prominent Star Wars character such as Obi-Wan Kenobi or Princess Leia, they are instead greeted by…a tiny floating cradle. It would have been absolutely outstanding if the cradle’s occupant had turned out to be baby Rey, but no…
It’s baby Yoda.
Now, The Mandalorian takes place after Yoda’s death, so obviously this isn’t the Jedi Master himself – which means there are only a couple of reasons why this character would even be introduced, and why the Empire would be so desperate to hunt him/her down and capture him/her. It could be that Baby Yoda is a completely unrelated member of the Jedi’s same species (which, let’s face it, isn’t likely). It’s possible that Baby Yoda is Yoda’s child, which is at least theoretically plausible. But I happen to think this baby is none other than Yoda’s clone: an infant messiah who the Empire might want to capture for two reasons – firstly, because letting it live isn’t exactly Imperial protocol; and secondly, most importantly, because at this point in the Star Wars timeline, with the Empire collapsing into ruin across the galaxy, with the forces of evil on the run, the Sith Lords are desperate for something to restore their greatness and glory. What better way to do so than to bring back Emperor Palpatine himself – something we know will happen in The Rise Of Skywalker – through use of cloning technology? Why else would a scientist be so desperate to get his hands on the seemingly harmless child? Why else, unless he wanted to study the secrets of cloning and use that technology to resurrect the Emperor?
But the Empire didn’t count on Pedro Pascal’s Mandalorian being a kind-hearted softie who can’t bring himself to hurt the baby when he confronts it – even killing (or at the very least injuring) IG-11 when the droid tries to “terminate” Baby Yoda. The episode ends with a powerful shot of Baby Yoda holding the Mandalorian’s hand, staring up at him with adorably naive eyes and making cute cooing noises. I don’t know what to expect from Episode 2, but somehow I don’t think that the Mandalorian will be responsible for taking the baby back to the Imperial baddies.
Aside from Baby Yoda, the episode’s finale leaves us with a couple of big questions. Is IG-11 really dead? Will the Mandalorian be able to escape with Baby Yoda? – his Ugnaught guide Kuiil (Nick Nolte) was adamant that people who enter the desert don’t come back alive, but the Mandalorian seems to have taken care of all of the infant’s alien guardians pretty easily. As for the Mandalorian himself, who is he? Glimpses of his backstory as a war refugee played in a montage while the Armorer was designing his shoulder-pad, so it looks like Pascal’s character might have had a tragic past during the Clone Wars.
When all is said and done, the series’ pilot episode is merely good – with hints and teases of better material down the road. At the very least, it’s worth watching for Ludwig Göransson’s beautiful score, which sounds almost more fantasy than sci-fi. And with characters like Ming Na-Wen’s assassin Fennec Shand yet to appear onscreen, there’s plenty to look forward to in later episodes.
Episode Review: 7/10