Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Mandalorian, Season 1: Chapter One

It's finally here! Yet another attempt by Disney to drain the last drops of milk from the dried up, withered teats of the Star Wars franchise. The ONLY reason to sign up for the Disney+ streaming service, and then cancel it once it's over. It's The Mandalorian!

As long-time readers of Bob Canada's BlogWorld know by now, there was a time when I was a HUGE Star Wars fan. From the moment I saw the original movie in the theater first run, mind you! I ate, slept and breathed the property. It had a major impact on my life and even influenced my choice in my so-called career. 

That was in the Before Time though. Things have changed.

The lame Prequel Trilogy dealt my Star Wars enthusiasm a mortal blow, and it lay on life support for many years. Then the Sequels (I guess that's what we're calling the new trilogy?) came along, and pulled the plug altogether. After the debacle that was The Last Jedi (which I've seen only once and refuse to see ever again or review), Star Wars was dead to me. It became a distant memory of something I once loved, but no longer thought or cared about.

So with all that said, I had absolutely ZERO expectations for The Mandalorian. None whatsoever. In fact I wasn't even planning to watch the thing. That's how little I cared for Star Wars anymore.

But then a funny thing happened— I started hearing good things about it. Things like, "It didn't suck," and "It feels like Star Wars again." I was intrigued by the people involved with the show as well. The series was created by writer/director/actor Jon Favreau, who helmed such films as Elf, Zathura, Iron Man and The Jungle Book

Plus the first episode was directed by Dave Filoni, who created the Star Wars animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels. I've never seen Rebels, but I did catch a few episodes of The Clone Wars and liked what I saw. In fact I thought they were miles better than the live action Prequels!

With all that talent behind the scenes, I decided to give the series a look. Boy, am I glad I did! I absolutely LOVED The Mandalorian! Loved it, I tell you! For the first time since 1999, I actually give a sh*t about Star Wars again!

As stated by others, The Mandalorian feels like proper, old school Star Wars— before the Dark Times. Before the Prequels and Sequels. It's set five years after The Return Of The Jedi, which is probably why it feels so much like the original films.

I think the thing I liked most about the show is that it's extremely simple. The entire first episode revolves around the taciturn titular character as he attempts to collect a lucrative bounty. That's it! That's all there is to it! No Jedis, not blowing up Death Stars, no galaxy-spanning wars, no senses-shattering secrets. There's not even so much as a lightsaber on display!

That definitely sold me on the show. The Star Wars franchise was starting to feel extreeeemely limited, as if it was impossible to do anything that didn't involve the Skywalker clan. It was refreshing to see another corner of the Universe that involved a completely new set of characters.

See, Disney? It's not that hard to do something good with this franchise. You CAN make decent Star Wars material if you hire the right people who understand the property and have actual talent.

Even better, the show's kind of about one of my favorite characters! I've always been a big Boba Fett fan, and although this series isn't about him per se, it's about one of his kinsmen, so it's right up my alley. 

It's only been one episode, but so far the series seems to be restraining itself when it comes to annoying fan service. Yeah, there're quite a few Easter eggs and references to the Original Trilogy, but I felt that most of them were there just as atmosphere. If you're gonna set a series in the Star Wars Universe, it's only natural to see familiar alien races and ships, right? There were a couple blatant "Hey, Remember This?" moments, but they didn't overwhelm the episode or piss me off.


The Plot:
It's five years after The Return Of The Jedi. On an ice planet that absolutely isn't meant to remind us of Hoth, the Mandalorian (played by Pedro Pascal, though you never see his face) enters a cantina. Inside, two alien thugs are planning to kill a Mythrol (a blue, fishy-looking gent) and steal his credits. The thugs aren't 
happy to see the Mandalorian, and pick a fight with him. He easily kills them both, and the Mythrol thanks him profusely for saving his life. The Mandolorian shows him a bounty puck, and the Mythrol realizes he's there for him.

OK, I'm getting tired of writing "Mandalorian" every time, so I'm just gonna call him "Manny" from now on.

Manny leads the Mythrol out of the cantina, where he charters a landspeeder to take him across the ice back to his ship. So I guess that's how he got there the first time, right? The speeder drops them off at Manny's ship. As if drives off, it's attacked by some creature living under the ice. Manny takes off, but the creature grabs one of the landing gear and threatens to pull the ship under the ice. He leans out the hatch and blasts it, causing it to let go. The ship heads for open space.

The Mythrol tries making small talk with the sullen Manny, but is met with icy silence. The Mythrol excuses himself and goes to the cargo hold, on the pretense of using the facilities. There he discovers several other bounties in a storage unit, all encased in carbonite. He backs up in surprise and bumps into Manny. He throws the Mythrol into a carbon chamber and freezes him like the others.

Manny lands on a planet and enters yet another cantina, where he meets with his "agent" Greef Carga (played by Carl Weathers). Carga pays him with Imperial credits, but Manny refuses them, saying they're no good now that the Empire's fallen. Carga says fine, pays him in Calamari "flan"and offers him a lucrative bounty job that's off the books. Manny accepts.

He goes to the address Carga gave him, where he meets The Client (played by Werner Herzog). The Client, who may have once been an Imperial Regional Governor, still has a squad of Stormtroopers hanging around, and is working with a Dr. Pershing. They want Manny to locate a fifty year old asset and bring it back alive. As payment, The Client offers Manny a bar of rare and precious Beskar steel. Again, Manny accepts.

Manny then pays a visit to a Mandalorian base or temple or something, which is populated by others of his clan. He hands the Beskar bar to a Blacksmith, who says it'll be enough to make him a new shoulder pauldron to replace the mismatched one he now wears. She says the excess metal can be used to support the many "foundlings" in their base. As she forges the new armor piece, Manny has flashbacks to his childhood, in which his parents were attacked by someone and seemingly sacrificed themselves to protect him.

The Blacksmith attaches the new pauldron to Manny's shoulder. He then flies to a desert planet that absolutely isn't meant to look like Tattooine, looking for his next target. As he walks along, he's attacked by a couple of blurrgs— dinosaur-like creatures that can be ridden like horses. One grabs his arm and pins him to the ground as the second charges toward him.

Suddenly the blurggs are hit by a couple of tranq darts and fall to the ground. Manny turns and sees he was rescued by an Ugnaught named Kuiil. He asks why he helped him, and Kuiil replies that his planet was once peaceful, until various bounty hunters arrived to attempt to take the asset from its heavily-fortified compound. He says Manny looks like he could succeed where all the others failed. He figures if he helps him obtain the asset, then everyone will get the hell off his planet and it'll be peaceful again.

Kuiil tells Manny the compound's too far to reach on foot, and says he'll have to learn how to ride a blurgg. He tries and is thrown off several times, before relaxing and calming the beast. Manny and Kuiil ride through the barren landscape, and eventually arrive at the compound. Kuiil takes his leave, refusing to accept any of Manny's credits for his help.

Manny hides behind a ridge and observes the compound, which is crawling with alien guards. Suddenly an IG-11 Bounty Hunter Droid storms into the compound, apparently on the same mission. Many intercepts IG and suggests they work together and split the bounty. IG agrees. Between the two of them, they manage to take out the dozens of guards. The two of them then stare at the compound's impenetrable door.

Manny jumps on a mobile cannon and blasts open the door. Inside they locate the asset— a tiny green baby of the same species as Yoda. Manny wonders how a baby can be fifty years old, and IG reminds him that all species age differently. IG wants to kill the asset, but Manny's reluctant to do so. He shoots IG in the head, and stares down at the baby. He holds out his finger, and the baby reaches up and grabs it.

• Let's start with a disclaimer— I only know Star Wars from the movies. I'm not well-versed in the Expanded Universe, and know little or nothing about the novels, videogames and various animated series like Star Wars Rebels. So a lot of the questions I have about this episode may very well have answers in those other properties.

• As I said in the intro, Disney FINALLY pumped out a series that feels like real, proper Star Wars. The Mandalorian uses the same sound effects as heard in the Original Trilogy, the planets are populated with familiar alien races, and they even use the traditional Star Wars "wipes" during scene transitions! Well done!

• The original Star Wars was always sort of an old school Western— just set in outer space. The good guys wore white, the bad ones black (OK, with the exception of the Stormtroopers), there were shootouts and bar fights, people used animals for transportation and it was good versus evil.

The Mandalorian continues this theme, although this time it's more of a Spaghetti Western grittier and more realistic, with morally ambiguous antiheroes.

• The Mandalorian is played by actor Pedro Pascal, who's probably best known as Oberyn Martell on Game Of Thrones. Note that at no time does Pascal ever show his face in this episode. I'm assuming at some point in the season he'll give us a look under his helmet, else why bother casting a reasonably well-known actor?

Rounding out the cast is Carl Weathers as Greef Carga, and actor/director Werner Herzog as The Client. Actor/director Taika Waititi voices IG-11.

According to the official cast list, Nick Nolte stars as Kuiil. I'm pretty sure someone else physically played him though, while Nolte just voiced the character. Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't imagine Nolte agreeing to sit in a makeup chair for four hours to transform him into an Ugnaught. Plus, Kuiil looked to be well under five feet tall, and I'm pretty sure Nolte's taller than that.

SNL alum Horatio Sanz plays the Mythrol. Despite the fact that I know it's him, I just can't see any trace of Sanz under all those prosthetics.

All in all, it's a pretty impressive cast for a TV show!

• For some reason, none of the planets visited in the episode are ever identified. Two of them look suspiciously like Hoth and Tattooine, although I don't think they're supposed to be. Who knows, though? 

Would it have killed them to have added some onscreen location captions?

• The second I saw that irising door in the cantina, I knew someone was gonna get cut in half by it! Sorry about the black bars, by the way. I can't get rid of 'em.

The Mandalorian features a ton of aliens from the original series, which all self-respecting Star Wars fans will instantly recognize. I spotted Rodians, Quarren, Trandoshans, Off-World Jawas, Niktos, the aforementioned Ugnaught and of course a Kubaz (pictured above).

By the way, I laughed when I saw the Kubaz play a flute to summon a landspeeder taxi. His elongated snout is already basically a flute! Why didn't he just play his nose?

• Brian Posehn makes a brief appearance as a landspeeder taxi driver, who drives Manny and his catch back to his ship. Meh. I'm not a fan of these celebrity cameos. Whenever I see a star make an appearance like this, it takes me right out of the episode as I try to figure out who I'm looking at.

Hey, Brian Posehn, just because you've been a Star Wars fan since childhood and are probably friends with Jon Favreau, that doesn't mean you should make a distracting appearance here.

Some might point out that Horatio Sanz's appearance amounted to a cameo as well. Eh, I disagree. His role was much larger, and he actually helped further the plot. Posehn's inclusion was unnecessary and superfluous.

• I liked Manny's ship— the Razor Crest— quite a bit. It's high time we got some more cool-looking ships in the Star Wars Universe! I'm especially glad he has a NEW looking vessel, and not another variation of the Slave-1!

• In the hold of the Mandalorian's ship, the Mythrol discovers several previous bounties encased in carbonite for easy transport. Whoops!

In The Empire Strikes Back, carbonite was used in Cloud City as a way to preserve and transport Tibanna Gas to other worlds. It was never meant to be used on lifeforms. In fact when Vader announced he wanted to freeze Luke in carbonite to safely ship him to the Emperor, Lando warned him of the danger:

Lando: "Lord Vader, we only use this facility for carbon freezing. It might kill him."

Vader: "I do not want the Emperor's prize damaged. We will test it on Captain Solo."

Apparently after Han survived the process, the news spread among the bounty hunting community, and the carbon-freezing of perps became SOP. Maybe a lot of bounty hunters passed through Jabba's palace, saw Han displayed on his wall and decided to use the method themselves.

• In this episode we learn that Mandalorians never remove their helmets— at least around others. That was a surprise to me, as it seems to contradict what we saw in the Prequels. Hell, Jango Fett could barely keep his helmet on for more than a few minutes at a time.

This is one of those seeming plot holes that may have an answer in the cartoons, which I know heavily features the Mandalorian race.

• By far the best 
thing about The Mandalorian is the fact that it retroactively makes the Star Wars Holiday Special part of the official canon! For example:

Early in the episode, the Mythrol says he hopes to make it home in time for Life Day (!). That particular holiday drove the plot of the Special, as Han Solo was trying to get Chewie back to Kashyyyk (when one "Y" just isn't enough) to celebrate it with his previously-unseen family.

Additionally, all through the episode, Manny carries a blaster rifle with a forked end.

Which is nearly identical to the one Boba Fett had in the animated segment of the Special (which was his official Star Wars debut, by the way!).

Also, when Manny attempts and fails to ride the blurgg, Kuiil says, "You are Mandalorian! Your ancestors rode the great Mythosaur! Surely you can ride this young foal."

I'm assuming the Mythosaur may be the dinosaur-like creature that Boba Fett rode in the Special?

Hilariously, this episode also just made Gormaanda (the four-armed alien Julia Child knockoff played by Harvey Korman in drag) part of the official canon as well! That means she could have theoretically been Grand Moff Tarkin's personal chef!

And this touching scene of Ackmena (as played by Bea Arthur) singing to a giant alien rat in her Cantina on Tattooine is also now an official part of the Star Wars Universe. Oh, Jon Favreau... what have you done?

• If you look closely, The Client is wearing a medallion featuring the spoked symbol of the Empire around his neck. He's also got his own personal squad of Stormtroopers, whose armor looks like it's seen better days.

I'm betting The Client was one of the Regional Governors that Grand Moff Tarkin spoke of in A New Hope— one who's still tenuously clinging to power on this backwater world, despite the fact that the Empire's fallen. 

My theories are usually hilariously wrong, so future episodes will prove if I'm right this time or not.

The Mandalorian features a ton of Easter eggs and callbacks to the Original Trilogy. I'm not gonna list 'em all here, as I'd have to type an additional 50,000 words. There are numerous comprehensive lists on other sites. I will point out a couple that jumped out at me though:

As Manny walks through a street market on the second planet he visits, we see a vendor selling roasted Kowakian Monkey-Lizard on a spit! Jabba the Hutt's pal Salacious Crumb was a Monkey-Lizard, and one of the most annoying-ass characters in the entire franchise. That made it extra sweet to see his species is apparently considered a foodstuff in the Star Wars Universe!

Also, when Manny visits The Client, he's confronted by a gatekeeper droid. Note that this droid is IDENTICAL to the one seen in Jabba's Palace in The Return Of The Jedi. It even says the exact same lines!

• I appreciated all the world building in the episode, especially the bits relating to Mandalorian er, lore. This week we learn that the Mandalorians are a secretive race that constantly hides their faces, there was some sort of Great Purge of their planet and Beskar steel is the most valuable substance in the galaxy to them. According to Star Wars lore, Beskar steel can block even a lightsaber blade! No wonder they love the stuff so much!

I didn't understand a lot of it yet, but I'm assuming they'll fill in the gaps in upcoming episodes.

I liked the Blacksmith's cool Spartan-looking helmet, proving that Mandalorians don't all look like clones (heh) of Boba Fett.

Speaking of Beskar steel, this week Manny gets a new shoulder pauldron made of the stuff, to replace his old one. Note that Manny's current look consists of lots of mismatched pieces scavenged from various other armors.

I would not be surprised if he gets more Beskar pieces over the course of the season, until he's fully outfitted in the stuff in the series finale.

• This week we get a couple of VERY brief glimpses of Manny's past, as he flashes back inside the Blacksmith's foundry. It's impossible to tell what exactly's happening here, other than it appears his parents sacrificed themselves to save him. I'm sure we'll eventually find out what's going on in a future episode.

Note that Young Manny looks Hispanic, just like Pedro Pascal (who's of Chilean descent). That reinforces my theory that we'll eventually see Manny unmasked at some point in the series. Else why match the ethnicity of the young and old versions of the character?

• I thought the blurggs were fun, even though I can't imagine how their bodies would work in real life. 

I'm trying to figure out just how much of them was CGI and how much, if any, was practical. Obviously when they're walking around or being ridden they're CGI. But I'm betting they build at least a partial blurgg for the scenes in which Manny's wrestling with one. If not, then that was some damned fine CGI!

By the way, the blurggs reminded me a lot of the pig lizard from Galaxy Quest.

• After more than three decades, we FINALLY got to see an IG unit in action! Awesome! 

We saw IG-88 back in Empire of course, but he never actually did anything, and stood motionless for his entire scene. I don't think he even moved his head! This IG unit is VERY animated, as his various sections can swivel 360 degrees to take potshots at perps all around him!

• So it turns out that the asset Manny's after is a baby of Yoda's species. GASP! A couple things here:

Manny seems puzzled by the baby, since The Client said his quarry was fifty years old. IG-11 reminds him that different species age at different rates.

Yeah, that may be, but do they really expect us to believe that this baby's half a century old? What kind of a life cycle is that? Can you imagine the poor parents of this thing having to change its sh*tty diapers for fifty goddamned years? I don't think so.

Secondly, it's been almost forty years, Lucasfilm. it's high time you stopped playing coy and gave Yoda's species a freakin' name. Why the secrecy?

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