Disney has hinged the success of its new streaming service on the devotion of various fandoms to intellectual properties that have become brands in and of themselves, namely Marvel and Star Wars. More to the point, Disney+ has tied its launch day to the appeal of a single character within the aforementioned Star Wars universe: Boba Fett, or rather the tribe to which he belonged. As such, The Mandalorian is an interesting first step for Disney and Lucasfilm into the world of television set in a galaxy far, far away, one that both fulfills a longstanding ambition for the enduring franchise and sets the tone for a quadrant of the expanded Star Wars universe moving forward.
A Star Wars original TV series has been in the works in some form or another for such a long time the release of The Mandalorian feels both monumental and a little underwhelming. Again, the series’ success is based off of the persistent appeal of a character who had mere minutes of screen time in the original trilogy and died an ignominious death in Return of the Jedi. At the same time, however, the series is the first new piece of live-action Star Wars content since Solo: A Star Wars Story disappointed at the box office.
It’s safe to say, then, the stakes are a bit higher for the Jon Favreau-created series than for the non-IP-based original offerings from other nascent streaming services like Apple TV+. But with the weight of a decades-old galactic empire behind it, and a ravenous fan base eager to shovel new content into its ever-widening maw, The Mandalorian will likely do what it’s intended to: get people to subscribe to Disney+ in droves. So far so good for The Mandalorian, as reports of users experiencing Disney+ difficulties on launch day surfaced not long after the service was made available — presumably due to the enormous demand to watch the series premiere, get a glimpse of the Star Wars universe on the not-so-small screen, and see what the much-ballyhooed spoiler contained in the first episode was all about.
At first glance, The Mandalorian appears to have lived up to its potential. The series looks like Disney spent a mint on it (and it did), meaning the transition from multi-hundred million dollar blockbusters to hundred-million dollar+ television series is now possible and, depending on how Disney quantifies financial success, likely successful. It has a dynamic — though unseen — leading man in Pedro Pascal and a host of Star Wars-y characters and locations, important pieces of iconography that’re arguably the foundation of the franchise’s incredible longevity. The series also has Werner Herzog, Carl Weathers, Nick Nolte, and Taika Waititi, so it has a little something for everyone, provided what everyone really wants is more Star Wars. But let’s be honest: no one is signing up for Disney+ solely for National Geographic content or The Simpsons.
So, while The Mandalorian checks off a great number of boxes in its series premiere, it also does something a little unexpected: it presents a world in which Mandalorian bounty hunters are essentially the new workforce of a gig economy struggling to make ends meet in the wake of an empire’s collapse. Pascal’s character makes mention of this to Weather’s Greef Carga upon being offered Imperial credits for the bounties he’s just brought in. As they barter for wages, it’s clear the Mandalorian is barely eking out a living doing what his tribe is so notoriously good at. The implication is that the fallout from the rebellion’s successful destruction of the Death Star, along with the deaths of Darth Vader and the Emperor, have fundamentally altered the day-to-day lives of many workin' folk in the known galaxy. It’s perhaps one of the most interesting things the series has going for it, and it opens up a promising narrative about the rise of the New Republic that will hopefully coincide more with the overarching story of a Mandalorian traversing the galaxy with his mysterious baby cargo (spoiler) in tow.
The presumed significance of the green, pointy-eared infant is the reason for all the secrecy behind the series premiere, one that was spoiled on social media almost immediately. Viewers’ mileage will likely vary as to how big of a reveal this actually is, and whether, like most spoilers, it was worth all the secrecy and build up. (Spoiler: it wasn’t.) Instead, the reveal gives The Mandalorian a Lone Wolf and Cub feel and it also imbues Pascal’s character with a much-needed sense of humanity, one that will hopefully lead to a greater understanding of who he is and what he wants — outside of a loyalty to his tribe and desire to acquire more of the important metal that Mandalorian armor is made of.
In all, The Mandalorian series premiere is more proof of concept than it is a thrilling introduction to a new age of Star Wars content. That’s not to say it doesn’t have promise or intrigue, because it certainly has both. Still, it’s clear that Disney, Favreau, and director Dave Filoni were playing it safe to a certain degree, narrowing the series’ field of vision while hinting at a much larger scope in the offing. It’s a difficult balancing act to be sure, and one that was handled with about as much care as can be imagined. If nothing else, though, the best part of the The Mandalorian may be in that it stumbled into some unlikely real-world relevance, by putting its title character not at the mercy of the Galactic Empire, but at the mercy of the even more unforgiving galactic gig economy.
The Mandalorian continues Friday, November 15, exclusively on Disney+.