The face of Disney+ is hidden inside a helmet — and the degree to which you can accept The Mandalorian‘s thus-limited expressiveness may dictate your enjoyment of TV’s first live-action Star Wars series.
Having made its debut on Tuesday morning (provided you were able to get the brand-new streaming service up and running) and with new episodes rolling out every Friday (starting Nov. 15), The Mandalorian is set after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order — that is, somewhere between the big screen’s Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Nestled within a helmet made of fine Baskan steel, Pedro Pascal (Narcos, Game of Thrones) stars as the titular gunslinger, whom we at first meet in the course of saving someone from a shakedown — only to to see him then reveal that he carries a “bounty puck” for the blue-skinned being. A thrilling sequence follows in which the Mandalorian must wrest his personal spacecraft from the grip of a mammoth creature, all while making sure his squirrelly bounty doesn’t skedaddle.
From there, we meet Greef Carga (Rocky‘s Carl Weathers), who is sort of the Bellus Haardy to Mando’s Killjoy (in a comparison a dozen or so of you out there might appreciate). Greef cheats “Mando” (a nickname I choose to adopt) a bit on his fee by using Imperial credits, but proceeds to point him to a major, albeit off-book, potential payday, by chasing someone down for Werner Herzog’s enigmatic character. In the course of that assignment, we meet Kuiil (voiced by Nick Nolte), an Ugnaught who warns the bounty hunter that others before him have only perished in their greedy quest, as well as a trigger-happy IG-11 bounty droid (voiced by MCU director Taika Waititi).
The nature of the high-value target being sought by the Mandalorian — revealed in quiet but dramatic fashion at episode’s end, and not to be spoiled here — speaks to a larger Star Wars mythology and thus brings with it some questions we can only hope the series will touch upon.
Even before that, the Easter eggs are aplenty, from spit-roasted Kowakian monkey-lizards (a la Jabba the Hut’s chittering sidekick) to one of those eyeball-on-a-stick gatekeeper droids that guarded Jabba’s palace. Yes, this is very much set in the Star Wars universe, but like Rogue One and Solo, it is a different sort of beast, operating far, far away from the trappings of mystical Jedi mumbo-jumbo and what not. So if you’re hungry for that specific flavor of space saga, The Mandalorian not entirely sate you.
Visually, The Mandalorian looks no less than fantastic, filled edge-to-edge with rich set details and cinematic, otherworldly vistas. The visual effects are top-notch for TV, to be sure, though the animated jog of the Blurrgs and the matting of the first landspeeder offered to Mando were jusssssst a bit jerky. But for the most part, the creature effects — and there are many — are a far cry above anything else seen on the regular on the small screen.
Ultimately, as noted above, your level of engagement may ride on how vested you can be in a character who will, reportedly, never remove his helmet (unless you count the harrowing flashes from a childhood that haunts him). Left with mostly just his voice to act with, Pascal gives Mando some hints of snarkiness, if not humor; by and large, he comes off as a business-first ballbuster. (And truth be told, no one wants a quippy Mandalorian.) Weathers and Herzog fit comfortably into this world in their brief intros, and it’d be great to see more of Nolte’s Kuiil.
The characters played by Gina Carano, Emily Swallow, Giancarlo Esposito, Ming-Na Wen and Omid Abtahi did not appear in this first episode, which ran a lean, but almost terse, 40 minutes. Again, Episode 2 and all others will premiere on Friday mornings, starting this week.
THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: This may not be the exact Star Wars series you’re looking for, but it may be an E-ticket ride, nonetheless.