The premise of and creative team behind The Mandalorian, the new live action Star Wars series, seem both very safe and very risky; a story set after Return of the Jedi with familiar original trilogy aliens and atmosphere showrun by the man who effectively launched the MCU, Jon Favreau. On the other hand, it centres on an aloof character who never shows his face or gives his name and who, in the first episode, has few interactions with other characters that aren't business transactions. Mainly, the first episode works and works well but with the absence of vulnerable character moments it may not feel as though it gains quite the traction one expects from prestige television nowadays.
The show's been likened to a Spaghetti Western by critics and by members of the creative team. The Mandalorian armour was first made famous by Boba Fett in the original trilogy, a character George Lucas based on Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name in a trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns by Sergio Leone. Boba's father, Jango Fett, was named after Django, a popular character in a long series of Spaghetti Westerns before he manifested as Jamie Foxx for Quentin Tarantino. Any movie or series based on the mysterious bounty hunter would inevitably have shades of Spaghetti Western. The Mandalorian lacks the heights of weirdness and brutality that made Spaghetti Westerns so remarkable, though. There's no Franco Nero dragging a coffin through the desert or Giuliano Gemma tauntingly aiding a garrulous gang of Mexican bandits accompanied by a strange Ennio Morricone theme. Pedro Pascal successfully conveys some warmth through that helmet but he's not as eerie as Boba Fett, as amusing as Ringo, or mysterious as the Man with No Name. He may be closest to Charles Bronson's character in Once Upon a Time in the West. Unlike Boba Fett, Pascal's character, Dyn Jarren, has a clear reverence for Mandalorian culture which we can see when he has a new piece of his armour ritually forged from a lump of precious metal he collects from a client. It would be nice if this comes along with a personal code like that exhibited by western heroes.
The supporting cast is great. Werner Herzog improbably plays a man who seems like he might be a former Imperial. Nick Nolte plays a character who seems loosely based on the tavern owner from Yojimbo (a film that served as inspiration for A Fistful of Dollars). It's great casting. The presence of Carl Weathers is also a nice touch.
The first episode is directed by Dave Filoni, best known as the supervising director of Clone Wars, a show on which, coincidentally, Jon Favreau voiced a traitorous Mandalorian. Rebels, a follow-up cgi series created by Dave Filoni after Disney acquired Star Wars, demonstrated pretty decisively that whatever element made Clone Wars so great, it wasn't Dave Filoni (I suspect it was George Lucas). Filoni does an adequate job directing the first episode of The Mandalorian but he's vastly indebted to cinematographer Greig Fraser, the same cinematographer that gave Rogue One such a memorable look.
So Favreau has, in some ways, a self contradictory mission; he's made a character who can be the mystery that Boba Fett can no longer be but he needs this character to be the emotional anchor of a series. I'll certainly be watching to find out how he well he succeeds.
The Mandalorian is available on Disney+.