Every Tuesday, Nate from @natenightmoviereviews will be revisiting The Mandalorian starting at the very beginning.
Hello there, my name is Nate, and I really, really like Star Wars. So, when the “Guy at the Movies” offered me the chance to do a weekly revisit of The Mandalorian for his website, I jumped at the opportunity as if I was Anakin ignoring the high ground. Things worked out well for him, right? Regardless, over the next several weeks I plan to share my thoughts and opinions on this phenomenal series with those of you kind/bored enough to read them. I will be doing a deeper dive into the themes of each episode, and examining how those themes connect with the series as a whole, as well as to the rest of the galaxy far, far away. Having said that, I will be writing these pieces under the assumption that you have already watched the show. And if you haven’t, please go watch it first, because I am going to be spoiling the hell out of it. I hope you all come along for the ride, but don’t forget Obi-Wan’s famous quote; “who’s the more foolish – the fool, or the fool who follows him?”
Fun fact about me – the first two Star Wars toys I ever owned were Boba Fett and IG-88. They came in a Shadows of the Empire two-pack, along with a comic book. My dad knew that I was getting into Star Wars, but he didn’t know anything about it, so I assume he just grabbed whatever looked cool from the rack and brought it home for me. He chose wisely. Though they have always been very minor characters in the grand scheme of things, the possible backstories surrounding them has always fascinated me, and I played with those toys until the paint was peeling off. The reason I tell you this story now, is because I feel like Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni were playing with the same two action figures in the first episode of this show. Sure, they changed the names of the characters in order for them to have a clean slate. But, we all know that Din Djarin and IG-11 are really representing Boba Fett and IG-88. I like to picture Favreau grabbing his toys and saying, “Hey, what if Boba Fett and IG went on a mission together, and then Boba has to become Yoda’s babysitter or something?” That sounds like one of the silly stories that I would have made up when I was a kid. And, to me, that is a huge part of what this show is all about – nostalgia, and fun. Indeed, a nostalgia for the past is a prevalent theme throughout all of Star Wars, and it is immediately evident in the amazing first episode of the series.
Before we get into that, context is important. Think back to where you were when this episode first came out. Because how we experience Star Wars is part of the fun. Remember, “Chapter 1” dropped with the launch of Disney+. This felt like a big event at the time, it was very exciting for Star Wars fans all over the world (or at least those of us in the countries that got Disney+ on launch day). So exciting in fact, that Disney’s servers couldn’t handle the traffic, and many people were unable to watch the show for hours, or even days. Of course, this was also a pre-Covid time, so these first-world problems were a very big deal back then. We all just wanted to watch a show about a guy in a weird mask. Sadly, now we’re the ones wearing the masks – well, unless you’re reading this in Texas…
If you can’t tell yet, I believe Star Wars is supposed to be fun. Likewise, it is also supposed to mean something, or perhaps teach you something. As the creator himself, George Lucas, once said, “Star Wars is for twelve-year-olds.” Many people have taken this quote out of context, and angry middle-aged men felt as if they had wasted their lives. Yet, it is important to consider his words carefully, and think about what he was hoping to teach these twelve-year-olds. For instance, adolescence is a pivotal time in the development of one’s character, and the choices an individual makes can lead them down very different paths. As such, I will often be exploring the theme of choice as we dive deeper into the show. Because, I believe choice is personified in this show’s most popular character…
How have I gone on for so long without even mentioning Baby Yoda yet? He’s more than just a meme-machine, Grogu is the heart and soul of this show. Yes, he is very cute, but there is a deeper reason behind that cuteness. All those perfectly timed head tilts, blinks, and coos represent innocence and curiosity. At the same time, he has this unimaginable power inside of him. Therefore, he seems to be a perfect clean slate to work as a symbol for choice – not only for himself, but for Din, and for other characters as well. Coincidently, he is also the perfect plush toy (which I am currently snuggling with as I write). However, Grogu wasn’t the only groundbreaking piece of creativity to come out of this show.
A massive 360 degree video wall was used as a set for the filming of The Mandalorian. From now on, when I refer to it in my reviews, I will be calling it “the volume.” If you have not yet watched The Gallery on Disney+, about the making of The Mandalorian, I strongly suggest you check it out. The volume is an incredible piece of engineering that is revolutionizing the film industry. That being said, along with taking advantage of this groundbreaking technology, Favreau also uses many practical effects in the show. This contrast between the new and the old is a prominent theme throughout all of Star Wars. I’m not only referring to the filmmaking process, but also to in-story elements as well. Speaking of which, I guess I should probably start talking about the first episode now…
“Chapter 1: The Mandalorian” is written by Jon Favreau, and directed by Dave Filoni. Star Wars fans around the world have long been anticipating the live-action directorial debut of Filoni, and this episode did not disappoint. Filoni just gets Star Wars – perhaps more so than anyone else not named George Lucas. Afterall, Dave was mentored by George during the making of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and he has taken those lessons with him. Beyond that, he is a great storyteller in his own right, and an extremely talented artist. Sure enough, many of his skills are on display in this episode. There are so many beautiful shots throughout. Most notably, the final shot of the episode, which has since become iconic. Mando slowly sticking out his finger toward Grogu’s pod as the credits begin to roll is not only a character-defining moment, it also ends the episode on such a perfect note. Actually, in my opinion, this is a near-perfect pilot episode – it establishes the world, it sets the tone, it has a strong introduction to the main character, as well as to a few of the side characters, it sprinkles in some mystery, some great action set-pieces, as well as humour, and it ends on a cliffhanger. Best of all, it feels like Star Wars.
I am not going to be doing a step-by-step breakdown of everything that happens in the episodes. I just want to focus on a few themes, scenes, or characters that have greater significance. Let’s start with the title – “The Mandalorian.” So, what does it mean to be a Mandalorian? Or, to be the Mandalorian for that matter? These are questions not only for the audience, but for the Mando himself. Who does he want to become – in terms of his relation to being a Mandalorian, but also in his growing relationship with other characters – specifically Grogu? This will be a recurring theme throughout the series, and that theme really becomes highlighted in Din’s first meeting with the Ugnaught, Kuiil (voiced by the great Nick Nolte). As Din is learning to ride the blurrg, Kuiil says, “You are a Mandalorian! Your ancestors rode the great Mythosaur. Surely you can ride this young foal.” Great quote. On the surface, it simply means that Mandalorians are legendary warriors, practically mythical when it comes to their abilities (hence, the “Mythosaur”). Moreover, as Kuiil later says, he has “read the stories,” and, it is clear that Din is not measuring up to how others think he is supposed to be. At the same time, that is his ultimate goal – to be a great Mandalorian. Although, he does not yet fully understand what that means. This reminds me of Luke telling Obi-Wan, “I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father.” In many ways, Kuiil is Mando’s Obi-Wan. Granted, Din’s journey is very different from Luke’s, but there are deliberate similarities as well. This desire to live up to the greatness of the past is often a key theme in Star Wars. Whether it’s the Jedi Council, or the Mandalorians, the glorification of the past is prevalent. Without question, every character in this first episode seems to be affected by the past in some way. All that being said, the blurrg-back riding scene is not only significant for thematic purposes, but it also helps to build on the western vibe that the show is going for.
The western motifs are evident from the opening seconds of the series. The Mandalorian is a space cowboy walking into a space saloon. Furthermore, for nearly the entirety of the first season, Din is a man with no name. This is obviously meant as a reference to the famous Clint Eastwood character from the Sergio Leone trilogy. From the long wide-angle shots, to the big gun fight in the abandoned frontier town, it is hard to argue against this being a space western. And these motifs are all strengthened by the incredible score from Ludwig Göransson. Yet, there is something different about this space cowboy. While he is a badass, he is not the baddest ass. Nor is he nearly as morally ambiguous as he would like others to believe. He follows a code, and he also refuses to accept Imperial credits early in the episode. From a story-telling perspective, based on the audience’s previous knowledge of Star Wars history, his dislike for the Empire leans him toward the side of the good guys. He clearly has a moral compass, and his morality will be tested throughout the series – including in the final moments of “Chapter 1.” Additionally, Mando longs for community, we see this in his desire for a signet. This is important to him because he believes this to be an integral part of what it means to be a great Mandalorian. At the same time, this shows his longing to be a part of a clan or a tribe. He wants to belong. Found family becomes a theme throughout the show, and this is strongly hinted at in this first episode. Especially when it becomes evident that Din has suffered some severe trauma in his past – another prominent theme throughout all of Star Wars. The mention of the “great purge” provides intrigue into what exactly happened to Mandalore during the reign of the Empire. However, Din’s trauma extends even further back, all the way to the Clone Wars. The audience comes to understand why Mando hates droids, and it is because of what the Separatist battle droids did to his family when he was a child. The fear of droids is a part of the history of Star Wars. There is a reason the Mos Eisley cantina bartender doesn’t want droids in there. That fear stems from the Clone Wars. Din has that same fear and anger, which is why he wouldn’t take a ride from that droid in the landspeeder. The scene with the Armourer adds even more depth to the reason behind his hatred. When she is hammering the beskar, Mando has flashbacks, and seems to be suffering from PTSD. This is incredibly important thematically to this series. He clearly carries a lot of baggage with him, but we also learn that he is a foundling, and himself had to be rescued from a murderous droid. This clearly ties into the end of the episode when Din chooses to save Grogu from another murder bot, IG-11.
Portrayed by the brilliant Taika Waititi, IG-11 not only looks awesome, with his methodical, linear, and robotic style of fighting, but he is also hilarious. I find the idea of a droid that is programmed to kill, yet also has concerns about the protocols of killing, to be very funny. However, thematically, he plays an important role in this pilot episode. As mentioned before, he is a symbol of Mando’s past trauma, but he also comes to represent another prominent theme throughout all of Star Wars, and that is the idea of the mechanical versus the living. A very significant theme, and one that is personified in Darth Vader himself. Obviously, this theme will come up again as the series progresses.
Almost done. But before I finish, I would just like to comment on easter eggs. Some people think that these inclusions are merely fan service, and that they have no real narrative purpose. I tend to argue against that. There is nothing wrong with fan service, if it is done properly. Filoni isn’t including a gonk droid, or a flute playing Kubaz, or mentioning life day, just so nerds like me can take pride in catching a reference. These little things help to connect this story to the wider galaxy. And ultimately, that is my goal with these reviews. To help show that despite being a new story, with new characters, in a new part of the galaxy, in a timeline that hasn’t been explored much, this is still the Star Wars we all know and love. This is the way to do Star Wars!
Thank you for taking the time to read my unfocused ramblings. I will be back next week with an in-depth look at one of my favourite episodes of the series, “Chapter 2: The Child.”
I have spoken,