The Mandalorian Is on Track to Be the Best Star Wars in Ages
Just four episodes into its first season, Jon Favreau’s live-action streaming Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, has already added to the cultural lexicon: an iconic and recognizable musical theme that is right for Star Wars and a throwback to old Westerns, “I have spoken,” “This is the way,” and of course Baby Yoda.
It has also become one of the most-streamed TV shows ever.
Netflix has been around for years and Stranger Things is its top-streamed show. Since the 80s-inspired sci-fi series debuted on Netflix in the summer of 2016 it has become the king of streaming TV. With its many homed-in nods to 80s culture and music, 80s design, 80s history and its dead-on callbacks to E.T. and several other Spielberg films, Stranger Things is a monster touchstone and a runaway hit. According to Nielsen, Stranger Things’ third season (not even its best) racked up 26.4 million US households. According to Parrot, The Mandalorian has garnered just under 40 million “demand impressions” in its debut. Parrot says Stranger Things 3 has hauled in more than 100 million demand impressions. But Stranger Things has had months to get that far. The Mandalorian debuted on November 12 and it’s nearly halfway there. Star Wars can be a blessing and a curse. Rogue One did very well and is a solid war film. Solo came on the heels of the weak The Last Jedi and did poorly despite being a decent film.
For Star Wars fans who grew up with the original trilogy, The Mandalorian delivers some of the most satisfying battles and visuals in any Star Wars product since The Empire Strikes Back. We get to see what the galaxy was like in the near aftermath of the cataclysmic Battle of Endor at the end of Return of the Jedi. First-generation Star Wars fans have wanted to see that since the Ewoks partied. We get to see new planets and wildlife and hints at several new cultures. And we get battles, lots of them. And they are great.
In the run-up to The Mandalorian’s launch, creator Jon Favreau and star Pedro Pascal said the show would carry a spaghetti Western vibe. The Mandalorian has delivered and it works perfectly in the galaxy’s post-imperial chaos. The title character talks and feels like Clint Eastwood’s iconic Man With No Name in A Fistful of Dollars. He rarely speaks but when he does he never wastes words. When he fires his weapons, he rarely misses his target. He finds alliances but they’re mostly temporary. He may not always throw the first punch or fire the first shot, but he usually does. Yet he isn’t superhuman (or super whatever he is under that helmet). He has to learn how to ride a blurrg in episode 2, a comic scene that comes off like an old-school rookie ranch hand learning the ropes from the grizzled veteran. He gets thrashed six ways from Sunday by a mudhorn and his armor gets hammered. His ship gets taken apart by Jawas. He almost gets killed pursuing them to get his dismantled ship back. And he has a soft spot for a little green guy with big ears who just can’t seem to leave anything within reach of his tiny arms alone.
First-gen Star Wars fans have waited decades to see some things that it seemed we would never see. Since Boba Fett’s first appearance in the Star Wars universe, which was in the otherwise horrendous 1978 Star Wars holiday special, first-gen fans have been drawn to the sparsely-seen or used bounty hunter. Up to now, we have mainly seen him in live-action in his cameos in the original trilogy. Yes, he was in the Clone Wars animated series, but that’s not the same thing as live-action. The 10-minute Boba Fett cartoon story between the first two original Star Wars movies was the closest thing we have had to a Boba Fett movie. And it’s not all that good. Han Solo’s cartoon avatar’s head looks like a flattened potato. Attack of the Clones gave us kid Boba and his origins, but Jedi Mace Windu chopped Jango Fett’s head from his shoulders on Geonosis before he ever really going. And that movie was just the second-best of the awful prequels. It has little place in first-gen hearts.
The Mandalorian isn’t Boba Fett but he’s the next best thing: a true ruthless bounty hunter in Mandalorian armor who gets lots of screen time and uses his wrist-bound flamethrower every chance he gets. His combat prowess and his unemotional approach to his quarry are established in his handling of his first bounty in episode 1. Episode 3 delivers a jaw-dropping battle between a small army of bounty hunters and a smaller but badder army of Mandalorians in full armor and jet packs. Episode 4 shows the bounty hunter fighting alongside a rebel turned republic shock trooper as they take on an army of orc-like villains armed with an old imperial AT-ST armored walker. That scene opens like something from a horror film, and plays out with decent tactical nous, something rarely said of any Star Wars battle in any era.
The Mandalorian isn’t perfect and it has already had a couple of continuity errors that bother on repeated viewings but do not unravel the story, as The Last Jedi did. It could still go off the rails. But there are no signs of this so far. It’s gritty, it’s violent and it’s very good.
So I’ll just say it: after just four episodes of The Mandalorian, Disney should give Jon Favreau all the Star Wars things. He gets the Star Wars universe in ways even George Lucas no longer does. The Mandalorian is already the best Star Wars offering since Rogue One, and if it keeps to the standard it has established in four episodes, it will become the best Star Wars production since Luke lost his hand dueling his estranged father.