The Mandalorian: Disney + series is a total blast
Star Wars returns to its Wild West roots
Boba Fett has four lines of dialogue - five if you're generous enough to include a Wilhelm scream as he falls into a massive gullet - and he remains an icon of the Star Wars franchise. Not even dissolving inside a giant, static tummy, the most mortifying way for any feared bounty hunter to die, has eroded his mystique, although he'll never know that, being a puddle of acid inside the Sarlaac.
The Mandalorian is not Boba Fett (nor his cousin, brother, his auntie's friend's former postman, no excruciating unifying connection), but is undeniably cut from the same Man With No Name cloth. Obviously there are the cosmetic similarities; both wear a helmet with sloping panels which I mistake for their eyes, like how I forget the white patches on a killer whale's head aren't its peepers. Thankfully, director and writer Jon Favreau has limited the number of killer whales in the series to avoid further personal confusion.
What Favreau has so artfully recognised in creating this series is how to utilise the recognisable contours of Fett's armour (Fett culturally appropriated Mandalorian attire, another of his crimes) and construct a brand new character inside it. 'Speak softly and carry a big stick,' said President Theodore Roosevelt and while a big stick wouldn't be much use in a bar teeeming with blasters, The Mandalorian does speak softly, while carrying a big rifle. When he speaks, which isn't often. The character communicates with a slant of his head or shift of his frame and Pedro Pascal, who plays the anti-hero, is adept in projecting bad-ass intent with the merest tilt of his helmet. Actions speak louder, and more characterfully, than words for this blaster-slinger.
The Wild West aesthetic of the series wheels back to our first trudges across Tatooine in A New Hope, that first excursion into Mos Eisley, and the menace of scum, villainy, and electro-jazz bar bands. Those dusty spots, on the fringes of imperial reach. Just the place for a bounty hunter, a gray hat among white and black hats, to ply his or her trade. The Mandalorian exists in a post-Return of the Jedi era, the Empire laid low by the Rebels and their Ewok allies, those bipedal honey badgers. A chaotic and lucrative time, returning vast swathes of planets to frontier lawlessness - a mood straight from the very first film.
Where Favreau's series flourishes rather than falters is drawing in these elements of the past, as he uses them as garnishes rather than baking them into a reconstituted stodge, even more unpalatable than Yoda's broth, served as the main course. Familiar, but with a twist, like the presence of bounty hunters similar to those gathered at the command of Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. But, unlike the latest film, none of the story requires a series of post-release press releases explaining who is what and what each scene means - if you recognise an aspect of the extended universe it's a fun wink, rather than crucial to your understanding of the entire plot. Such is Favreau's command of this arm of the Star Wars galaxy, he's able to inject humour, actual functioning jokes into the script, to prevent the story from caving in under the weight of the franchise and expectation. In lesser hands, we never would have Werner Herzog hissing instructions as a wealthy and corrupt client, and we would all be poorer for that.
For the first time in live-action works since Rian Johnson began to untether the films from their own cyclical repetition, there is a sense of new worlds pushing beyond previous limits. Risk-taking, just like The Mandalorian himself would, although he'd be careful enough to stay clear of the Sarlaac.