I wasn't too sure what to expect from The Mandalorian. I'd heard pretty good things and, on the face of it, a Star Wars story set largely in the outer rim, amongst alien cultures, and focused on someone outside of the whole Jedi/Sith dichotomy is right up my street. But I also knew about "Baby Yoda" going in and was well aware that the shadow of Boba Fett could make the whole show little more than tedious fan service. Luckily, it far exceeded my expectations and gave me something very different to either option.
Instead, The Mandalorian is a Western. In fact, the show I'd most liken it to is Firefly; it shares a lot of the same DNA. An antihero, working on the fringe of the law, evading both government prying and the tendrils of various criminal or near-criminal (what else do you call a Bounty Hunters Guild?) syndicates by teaming up with an unlikely bunch of outlaws, outcasts, and weirdos. Throw in the fact that you're in the outer rim, so the landscapes and cultures are clearly technologically advanced but also patched together from scraps and outdated parts, and place it in the uneasy period between two major galactic wars for tension and yeah, sounds like Firefly, only more broody.
Not to knock the broodiness. Far from it, the titular Mandalorian is extremely interesting in no small part because of the brooding silences. Here, it almost parallels The Witcher in giving us a reluctant hero who would rather just be left in peace but can't quite help do the right thing. Much like Geralt, that gives the nameless hero a much more nuanced outlook and keeps the tension high as you're never too sure what he might do next. Pedro Pascal plays the role perfectly and manages to create a character that allows for a surprisingly strong emotional connection, considering you can never see his face. Quite how he emotes that well with subtle body language is a real testament to his acting chops.
And then, of course, there is Baby Yoda (or Baba Yaga as it was known for a few weeks to try and avoid spoilers 😂). I was a little annoyed at first, feeling it would be better to keep the Jedi clear of the story completely (not least of all because it just serves to consistently hit this weird note where everyone in the Star Wars universe seems to have forgotten who the Jedi were, even though their centuries-long rule only ended half a generation ago), but the little guy won me over. Part of that was the decision to make him a puppet (even when CGI, he's animated to feel like a puppet, which is a nice touch), which weirdly makes the character more charming and emotional. The other part was to make him just a touch evil. The first time the baby actively kills is a little shocking and – even more weirdly – instantly made me like the character a whole lot more.
Not the show isn't filled with likeable-unlikeable rogues. That's kind of the thing here. But to its credit, I really came to enjoy all of the side characters. Taika Waititi is expectedly brilliant as a slightly too deadpan assassin droid, whilst the simple wisdom of Kuiil made his death surprisingly poignant, and both Cara Dune and Greef Karga (the head bounty hunter) ended up being really fun characters. I'm pumped for the appearance of Giancarlo Esposito as Moff Gideon too (I really enjoyed him in Revolution back in the day), particularly with that Black Sabre reveal. I haven't watched enough of the Clone Wars/Rebels side of the galaxy far, far away to really know the significance of that weapon, but even I have heard tales about it online.
So the actors were great, the plot was surprisingly nuanced and fun, the set design was brilliant, and the pacing was both leisurely and yet progressive – ideal for that Western vibe. But I'd be remiss not to also mention the art direction. Individual scenes were beautifully choreographed and filmed, but the end credit sequences were just stunning. It really elevated the show from a solid and highly entertaining adventure to something quite special and I'm really looking forward to see where they go next.