When it comes to popular media, Star Wars has dominated mightily for decades. But one of the last frontiers that the Star Wars media universe had never really explored was live-action episodic television. Sure, there have been multiple animated series–acclaimed ones at that–but could that same galaxy that gave us Jedi warriors, scheming politicians, droids, and fantastic creatures be translated successfully into a fully-realized television program? In comes The Mandalorian, an ambitious project created by Jon Favreau and given a special infusion of fan attention by Dave Filoni, that set out to accomplish two major goals: 1) Take the epic scale of the Star Wars franchise and move it to TV and 2) Show that Disney+, the Mouse’s ambitious foray into pure streaming media, meant real business in an overcrowded market.
Did Disney succeed? Did The Mandalorian set out to do was it was meant to do? With a sprawling and rollicking first season under its belt, now is the time to go back and look at The Mandalorian with a fresh eye. Members of The Beat team–all Star Wars fans of various types–came together to process the inaugural season of The Mandalorian to see if the show lived up to the hype.
AJ Frost: Hey all! Thank you for joining me for a round table for the just-completed season of The Mandalorian, the premier launch title for Disney+. It’s been a wild ride to see so much Star Wars lore explored and expanded over these eight episodes. So, what were everyone’s first impressions? Have you been satisfied with the story so far?
Gregory Paul Silber: I liked it much more than I expected! It’s thoughtfully written with some great new characters and solid action, especially for TV. I also like that it bucks some frustrating trends in streaming television.
Billy Henehan: How much did I like it? I’m jumping at buying a Baby Yoda pin from Yesterdays as I type this. 10/10
Avery Kaplan: I can’t believe they kept Baby Yoda under wraps until the first episode went up! My biggest complaint is that my Friday mornings will seem empty until Season 2 begins.
Billy Henehan: Yeah! It was nice to have that sense of surprise again and not be spoiled by the merchandising, as can happen with so many shows and movies with toy tie-ins. The downside being I have to wait until Spring for my Baby Yoda toy.
Gregory Paul Silber: It’s hard to overstate how cute that little Muppet is but I love how much more there is to him than (what should soon be) a megahit toy. Waiting until the end of the first episode to reveal him was a nice bit of misdirection that this would be more than a hyper-macho sci-fi cowboy shoot-em-up.
AJ Frost: Beyond the toys (and the potential for toys), what struck everyone as the signature aesthetic moment that got them interested in going on this journey with Mando and his new charge? I guess my question is: Did this feel like Star Wars or did it feel like something totally different?
Billy Henehan: It felt like Star Wars right from the start for me. But I think I may have been all-in from the moment Werner Herzog appears on-screen. When it comes to guessing who is going to guest star in Star Wars, I don’t think he’d crack the top 100 of anyone’s list. To me, that casting really set this show apart from previous Star Wars projects and had me wondering who else Jon Favreau has lined up for the series.
Avery Kaplan: IG-11 [voiced by director/writer Taika Watiti] sold me. The uncanny way he moves while taking out all of the adversaries in the first episode really sold me. Plus, Taika is such a great voice actor!
Gregory Paul Silber: Not that I was there in 1977, but I don’t think we’ve gotten an aesthetic like this in Star Wars since A NEW HOPE. It certainly feels more like a western than anything set in that universe since, but on an even broader level, it’s refreshingly grimy. Dirty taverns! Dusty droids! IG-11 sold that aesthetic to me too. He’s the most stereotypically retro “beep boop affirmative” robot I think Star Wars has ever had.
AJ Frost: I’m glad you all brought up IG-11 because his character brings up a quirk from the first part of the season: we would only meet a character for a few moments and then they would disappear. It’s something that bothered me, probably because the Disney Hype Machine marketed the hell out of certain characters, and then they’re gone in minutes? Seemed like a ruse. But I’m glad that characters like IG-11 and Cara Dune stuck around for multiple episodes.
Avery Kaplan: Agreed. In retrospect, I think marketing IG-11 and Cara so hard was essentially a misdirect for Baby Yoda, who ended up being the second biggest part (aside from the Mando himself).
Taimur Dar: Not to turn this into a bash of The Rise of Skywalker, but Mandalorian was much, MUCH more satisfying experience than the final Star Wars movie. The quiet complexity of Mandalorian was so engaging than the barrage of ideas and characters in Rise of Skywalker.
Gregory Paul Silber: I guess I managed to avoid most Mando marketing somehow–even though Rise of Skywalker marketing was inescapable–because I didn’t know anything about IG-11 or Cara Dune until watching the episodes.
Taimur Dar: Also have the praise Taika Waititi not only as the voice of IG-11 but also as the director of the Season 1 finale. The opening with the two Bike Scout Troopers just standing by awaiting orders is the kind of pure comedy gold that we’ve seen him inject in the MCU and now Star Wars. His episode runs the full gamut of emotions like a typical Waititi movie.
AJ Frost: I feel that the strength of The Mandolorian comes from exploring the larger Star Wars universe but without being tied to any particular part of the saga. It feels weird to call this a low-stakes show, because in so many ways it isn’t. On the other hand, as an audience, we have a blank slate with these characters and can put any emotion onto them. Do you feel that this a strength of the show, or a fault of some kind?
Taimur Dar: I definitely view it as a strength, particularly if the aim is to be as new and viewer-friendly as possible. Obviously they’ve locked in the Star Wars fans, but there are probably going to be viewers who haven’t watched the cartoons or the plethora of various media in the last decades. It’s the inevitable problem of having a shared universe, but one Mandalorian manages to balance.
Avery Kaplan: Definitely seems like a strength to me. The Star Wars universe is so vast, it makes sense to me to expand beyond the Skywalker family… and I’m always partial to seeing more of the wretched hives of scum and villainy.
AJ Frost: Definitely agree with you there, Avery.
Hussein Wasiti: I’d say the strengths of the show lie more in the craft and direction than in other elements of the show. I love the relationship between the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda but beyond that, I didn’t have any other particular emotional attachment.
AJ Frost: Can you elaborate? What worked best for you? What worked the least?
Hussein Wasiti: Ultimately, I admire the show more for its boldness than its actual execution. The show is such a cultural freight train and the fact that it’s essentially an episodic, stand-alone show about a space cowboy and his baby blows my mind. As for what worked the least for me, the middle section of episodes, I think episodes four through six, were a little muddy. The Tatooine episode had my brother and I looking at each other every so often like, “Is this actually happening?” And not in a good way. I think the finale was the strongest episode without question. It had the best action sequences and, emotionally, it worked really well for me. The journey of IG-11 from this murder-bot to deadly baby nurse is so great and I think his extreme transition helped Mando come to realize that people can change, and so can their responsibilities.
Billy Henehan: I agree that it’s a strength, but part of that strength comes from how good a job the storytellers did with the project. In less capable hands, The Mandalorian could have been written off as “not mattering” because of the lack of direct connection to the Skywalker saga. It’s nice that this show thrives on quality and not a sense of “we need to watch this thing to understand a small piece of the new movie.”
Gregory Paul Silber: I think it was a strength too. With genre fiction in general these days, there’s a tendency to have world, universe, or even multiverse-threatening stakes with every story. It’s not always necessary. Not just because smaller stories can still be appealing, or that more intimate concerns can still be compelling drama, but because sometimes it’s an even better way to play into universal themes.
Billy Henehan: To drive the point home on how well done a show this was, just look at who was into it. This crossed over well past the confines of Star Wars fandom. Relatives and friends of mine who aren’t into Star Wars were rushing to watch each new episode. “This is the way,” and “I have spoken” were heard a lot at my family’s Christmas gatherings, and not just from the Star Wars fans in my family.
AJ Frost: Yeah, I think this was probably the first piece of Star Wars media that not only crossed lines within the fandom, but even general audiences who are skeptical of Star Wars embraced the show. Maybe not embraced it wholeheartedly, but certainly where one specific character is concerned. Before I steer the conversation to “Baby Yoda,” I wanted to hear everyone’s thoughts about some of the criticism the show received, mainly that some episodes–especially those in the middle of the season–didn’t go anywhere or were “boring.” What does everyone think?
Billy Henehan: I have heard that sentiment and strongly disagree with it. I really liked the middle episodes, especially episode 6, “The Prisoner.” Not to be dismissive, but I wonder how many of those people are paying more attention to their phones than to the show during those quieter parts.
Gregory Paul Silber: I think the pacing and structure of other streaming shows may have broken some audience’s brains. It’s a TV show! It’s okay if it’s episodic. Just because it’s streaming doesn’t mean it has to be a 10-hour movie. Not every event needs to play directly into the overarching narrative, and quiet moments can be good! It’s a story, not a video game.
Billy Henehan: Me: “I’m going to bring on some angry comments.” Greg: “Hold my beer.”
Gregory Paul Silber: Controversy creates ca$h!!!
Avery Kaplan: I’m definitely a fan of the middle episodes. Look, if Amy Sedaris channeling Ripley is wrong, then I don’t want to be right!
Billy Henehan: I agree. Amy Sedaris was fantastic, as usual. As was Ming-Na Wen. It’s been a while since I last watched Agents of Shield and I forgot what a badass she is.
Taimur Dar: I love that episode if only to see some peaceful Sand Raiders for a change. People are theorizing that the mysterious figure who looms over Fennec Shand’s body at the end of that episode is Boba Fett. Any thoughts to that cliffhanger?
Avery Kaplan: I kind of assumed that was Moff Gideon, foreshadowing his arrival at the end of the season.
Billy Henehan: I hadn’t heard that theory, but I’m all for it. I am an unapologetic Boba Fett fanboy. And it makes sense, since it’s Fett’s signet The Child has in the last episode. I assumed after that we would see Boba Fett’s return in season two.
Gregory Paul Silber: If it’s Boba Fett, I hope it’s somehow acknowledged in the show that he’s way less interesting and cool than a baffling portion of the fandom seems to think he is. I’d want Mando to kick his ass.
AJ Frost: Before we go to explore any more cameos or Easter Eggs, we have to address the baby elephant in the room. “Baby Yoda,” “The Child,” “The Asset,“… whatever you want to call him, what is your reaction to what must be the most breakout Star Wars character… ever?!
Billy Henehan: BABY YODA FOR PRESIDENT 2020!
Gregory Paul Silber: He’s so cute that it’s a major plot point! The entire trajectory of the show changed because Mando was like “he’s too cute, I can’t give him to that creepy Nazi.”
Taimur Dar: It’s a familiar Lone Wolf and Cub story trope we’ve seen time and again, but Baby Yoda really resonates for me through Mando and the trauma he went through as a child. Knowing that you understand why he’s trying to spare this child the same pain he went through. A friend of mine, who went through her own form of trauma growing and came out the other side stronger, is due with her first child and she is ecstatic about being a mom.
AJ Frost: I like the Lone Wolf reference, Taimur. It really seemed that the creative team of the show wanted to place Star Wars in a new context and with a different influence. This is probably the most expansive Spaghetti Western ever filmed, right?
Billy Henehan: Agreed. The Kazuo Koike and Sergio Leone influences are there for all to see, and I’m not complaining. I like that The Mandalorian had the feel of a Western without resorting to having Mando walk around in a duster and leather boots.
AJ Frost: Billy, and the rest of the crew, what did you all think of the casting and creative choices for the show?
Billy Henehan: I couldn’t have been happier with the casting. Pedro Pascal surpassed his Game of Thrones performance in my mind in a role where we couldn’t see his face and he had minimal dialogue. Carl Weathers, Nick Nolte, Werner Herzog, Taika Waititi, Amy Sedaris, Ming-Na Wen, and Jason Sudeikis were all great additions to the cast, as were the actors I was less familiar with heading into this, like Gina Carano and Emily Swallow. I know everyone is obsessed with The Child, but man, Emily Swallow’s performance as The Armorer could not have been cooler.
Avery Kaplan: I have to agree with Billy, I thought it was really well cast, both in terms of the main & supporting cast. I was especially impressed by Gina Carano and really hope we see more of Cara Dume next season. I also liked that we only ended up seeing Pedro Pascal’s face under the mask for a few seconds — and fairly unceremoniously, at that. This is the Way.
Gregory Paul Silber: No complaints about the cast from me either. Can we just take a moment to appreciate how weird it is that Werner Herzog of all people would be on a Star Wars show? I can’t believe he agreed to it for any amount of money, but he knocked it out of the park. I can’t imagine anyone else in that role.
Billy Henehan: Yes! I was taken out of it completely when he first spoke, saying “Is that Werner Herzog?” to my wife. But man, he was great, and I agree, I can’t picture anyone else in that role.
Avery Kaplan: And his line readings are (unsurprisingly) instantly iconic. “Bounty hunting is a complicated profession” and “I would like to see the baby” have both immediately entered my personal lexicon of Star Wars quotes.
Billy Henehan: I will be using “I would like to see the baby” in a heavily accented voice every time I’m visiting the parents of newborns going forward.
AJ Frost: I agree that the casting was excellent. But no love Giancarlo Esposito as Moff Gideon? His episodes were highlights of the season for sure, and he’s set up to be an excellent villain going into season 2.
Avery Kaplan: Where did he get the Darksaber? I can’t wait to find out (and hopefully watch Mando take it back)!
AJ Frost: That twist made my jaw drop!
Gregory Paul Silber: I don’t think we’ve seen a villain like him in Star Wars before. No grand pronouncements or dramatic threats, just frighteningly to-the-point. That monologue he gave during the standoff, with an “okay, here’s how this will go down” tone, was so intimidating in its straightforwardness.
AJ Frost: Gus Fring in space just sounds like a badass spin-off (or comic series), honestly.
Taimur Dar: That reminds me we got another Breaking Bad alumnus, comedian Bill Burr, who played one of Saul’s bodyguards, in Mandalorian. I would never have expected him to appear in any kind of Star Wars related project. But he was great in that Ocean’s 11 heist episode.
AJ Frost: It’s funny, because I think he’s stated that his opinion on Star Wars is not the highest, to say the least. Before we sign off, there was one more major aspect of The Mandalorian that I wanted to highlight: the music! Ludwig Göransson’s title theme for the show will probably be remembered for its unique tonal qualities and pure epic-ness! What’s everyone’s thoughts on the music?
Avery Kaplan: I find myself humming the theme at random moments, which in my opinion is the best praise I can give a score. I like music that sticks with you!
Gregory Paul Silber: It’s impossible for any composer on a Star Wars project to escape John Williams’ shadow, but Goransson still did a great job helping to shape this show’s aesthetic identity. If Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross hadn’t scored HBO’s Watchmen this same year I’d say The Mandolorian had the best score of 2019. Actually, third best, because any year a Star Wars movie comes out with a score by John Williams, that’s the best score of the year.
AJ Frost: Alright everyone. What are your final thoughts on The Mandalorian Season 1? And what are your hopes for Season 2?
Billy Henehan: The Mandalorian season 1 is perfect for fans of Star Wars and those new to the universe. It’s new viewer and casual fan-friendly. I’m hoping to see the return of Boba Fett in season 2, in a way that really brings home Boba Fett as a badass, to counteract his unceremonious “death” in Return of the Jedi and young Boba portrayal in Attack of the Clones. It would also be cool to visit other places in the universe that we haven’t seen since the Empire fell. I loved finding seeing Tatooine post-Empire in season 1 (those trooper helmets on spikes!) and would like to briefly catch up with places like the forest moon of Endor, Coruscant, and Bespin.
Avery Kaplan: As far as season one goes, it was really neat to see everyone and their mother (often literally) come together over how much they loved that muppet! Baby Yoda was a legitimate cultural phenomenon and it was fun to see and take part in the ongoing conversation around him. I think a big part of this was the choice to release episodes one at a time, which I am extremely pleased they chose to do. As for season 2, I’m hoping for an appearance by Doctor Aphra!
Gregory Paul Silber: It’s a refreshingly intimate take on Star Wars, and I look forward to it leaning further into what made it work in season 2—namely thoughtful historical/political commentary (I got real post-WW2 Eastern Europe vibes from the first episode forward), tight action, memorable characters, and of course, Baby Yoda. I want more women in season 2—the lack thereof was one of the most frequent, and valid, complaints about season 1. I would also love to learn more about the Mandalorians as a religion and culture. And the Force must be with Avery because I hadn’t considered Dr. Aphra but she’d be perfect for this show!
Taimur Dar: Obviously, the big story beat we’re waiting to drop is seeing Baby Yoda’s parentage and details of his alien race revealed. That’s essentially their “fireworks factory” to use a Simpsons reference. Surprisingly, I am in absolutely no rush for any reveals or answers. I just want more Mando/Baby Yoda father/son moments. Mandalorian really is about the journey and not the destination. Fully expecting the real name of Baby Yoda’s real name to go viral within minutes the episode is released.
Hussein Wasiti: Baby Yoda 2020! Despite my qualms about the muddy middle section of the season, I find a lot to like in this show as it brings Star Wars back to its episodic, genre-soaked roots. It’s a treatise on the pulp and eastern origins of Star Wars which is what I find most fascinating about the show, other than Baby Yoda who is an international treasure. The Mandalorian’s journey throughout the show is a great arc, and one that I think is representative of a universe post-Empire. There is so much cold and so much trauma, and he finds hope and redemption in the baby. If you haven’t checked it out yet, five great episodes of television await you.
AJ Frost: Thank you, everyone, for taking this time to chat. The Mandalorian Season 1 was a wild and special experience. The future of Star Wars, at least on television, is as solid as beskar!
The entire first season of The Mandalorian is now available to stream on Disney+.