‘The Mandalorian’ blasts its way onto the small screen Disney+ is here, but not (legally) for Russians. ‘Meduza’ looks at the premiere of the service's flagship show.
Disney has finally released the first episode of “The Mandalorian,” a space Western set in the Star Wars universe that’s meant to rope in even more subscribers for the company’s new service, Disney+. Not so long ago, in a galaxy all around us, Netflix was the undisputed king of video on-demand. But turmoil has engulfed the Internet, and streaming services are in dispute. Having clobbered and absorbed its competition at the box office, Disney’s foray into online programming has prompted rampant speculation that Netflix’s days are numbered. “The Mandalorian” is just the opening salvo. The show — and with it Disney's whole new streaming service — is currently unavailable (legally speaking) in most parts of the world, including in Russia. Given past concerns in the United States about “Russian operatives” triggering fan outrage against “The Last Jedi,” Meduza's Kevin Rothrock watched this latest Star Wars installment to find out what all the fuss is about.
Our titular hero is a lone bounty hunter with the voice of Pedro Pascal, whom many viewers last saw getting his head squashed back in season four of “Game of Thrones.” Pascal’s character is a Mandalorian — the fictional race of people from the fictional planet Mandalore from whom Boba Fett was cloned. None of this is explained in the first episode, but we get a flashback indicating some childhood trauma that apparently motivates our hero to donate some of his income to “the tribe’s foundlings.”
Like any gunslinger worth his salt, the Mandalorian spends his time looking over his shoulder at saloons, negotiating his prices in “Calamari Flan,” and taming various wild beasts, whether it’s a saber-toothed snow snake or a walking piranha tadpole. (There’s a drawn-out, tedious scene where the Mandalorian learns to ride this latter animal — the aptly named “blurrg” — that’s sure to please your kids.)
The Mandalorian’s supporting cast shines, though Carl Weathers (Rocky, Predator) and filmmaker Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Bad Lieutenant) are two of the only characters who show their faces on screen. Every moment with Herzog and his unmistakable German accent is a treat. His character, “The Client,” commands what seems to be a remnant of the Imperial Army. His men are stormtroopers, but their armor is filthy and scuffed. We meet this crew when the Mandalorian accepts the job that sets the season’s story in motion. The moment has a bit of everything for Star Wars fans: it’s old and familiar, and it’s new and unusual.
Herzog’s voice isn’t the show’s only recognizable sound. Besides iconic engine and blaster noises, Nick Nolte (48 Hrs, The Thin Red Line) brings his trademark grumbling to a farmer that helps the Mandalorian master his blurrg, and filmmaker Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) offers up a more robotic version of his Korg sidekick from “Thor: Ragnarok,” voicing IG-11, a droid bounty hunter whose whirlwind gunplay provides the show’s best action sequence.
But is “The Mandalorian” any good? Nobody seems to hate it, yet. Most of the coverage in the American media has focused on the financial side of things, emphasizing the show’s massive $120-million budget ($12.5 million per episode) and its role in launching the Disney+ streaming service.
Star Wars finds itself in a bit of an existential crisis these days. Critically acclaimed but hugely controversial among fans, “The Last Jedi” subverted expectations and inadvertently fueled a wave of cultural outrage that some lazy observers even attributed to “Russian operatives.” Then Han Solo’s diverting origin story last year failed to earn Star Wars bucks at movie theaters, leading to questions about the franchise’s future. Now we’re back, just a month before the Skywalker saga wraps up on the big screen. Can this universe still captivate audiences without Luke or The Force? Show us Pascal’s intact, pretty face, and maybe we’ll be in business.