The Mandalorian on Disney Plus: 10 things I learned from the Star Wars show

Let's dive into the premiere episode -- no spoilers! (At least at the beginning.)

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
5 min read

Star Wars just broke new ground with the saga's first live-action episodic TV show. But even though The Mandalorian is made for the small screen, that doesn't mean it lacks big ideas. So what can we learn from the premiere episode, available to stream on Disney Plus now?

Here are 10 things I learned about Star Wars and about the mysterious Mandalorian in episode 1 of the show. I'll avoid major spoilers to start with, and I'll clearly signpost when I get into the big spoilers farther down.

This is not Star Wars

There are no Skywalkers or space fleets or noble Force-wielding elders here. Instead of princesses and history-changing battles, the Mandalorian deals in death and treachery -- and above all: cold hard cash. 

As a signal that this show is something different, it goes straight in at ground level with the title character trudging across ice. We don't get the mythic opening text crawl or even the familiar once-upon-a-time caption -- because this isn't a bedtime story. Still, I'd like some kind of fanfare or title sequence so The Mandalorian can properly announce itself.

This totally is Star Wars

That opening graphic with light shining across the masks and droids gave me chills, I admit. But what really got me was how much The Mandalorian feels like it lives in the Star Wars universe -- which is a particularly lived-in universe. I love how the bar door zips open with that stop-motion jerkiness, I love the physical prosthetic characters, and that wipe skimming across the screen with the moving landspeeder.

I also love how big, bitey creatures are never far away, and as for the hydraulic whine of the spaceship door? Chef's kiss emoji!

It's a wretched hive of scum and villainy

One of the earliest memorable scenes in the whole Star Wars saga is when Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi go for a drink in a town the aging Jedi labels a "wretched hive of scum and villainy." This is the moment when the saga opens out to reveal the teeming populace of the galaxy far, far away. Luke wanders among assorted aliens of all different shapes and sizes, all speaking different indecipherable languages and ready to strike deals or disintegrate each other at the drop of a hat. That scene provides the template for The Mandalorian, which begins with a riff on the cantina fight.

But while the main films quickly soar off into space opera territory, The Mandalorian makes itself comfortable in the dark and dank corners of the cantina, and of the galaxy's criminal underworld. The evil Empire may have been toppled, but no one here's celebrating -- the only thing that's changed for these cosmic lowlifes is that their Imperial currency is worthless. 

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No gleaming spaceships in this part of the galaxy.


He's the man(dalorian)

From the moment the Mandalorian with no name appears silhouetted in a doorway as a spaghetti western-style musical motif plays, it's clear this guy's a badass. He never takes off his helmet, he fearlessly faces the gunsights of stormtroopers and mercenaries, and he has an array of wonderful toys from a flame gauntlet to a grappling hook. Hell, he kills a guy with a door.

Interestingly, however, the character has his own personality and is -- perhaps ironically -- more than a clone of Boba Fett. He's tough and laconic, but also honorable. And he has a callow, impatient streak that suggests this Mandalorian is still young. And he may even have a soft side under his hardhat...

Werner Herzog owns

Werner Herzog as the Client in The Mandalorian
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Werner Herzog as the Client in The Mandalorian

The Imperial medal around the Client's neck hints at his past.


This is a guy who literally made a whole documentary about how terrible the internet is, and here he is appearing on a streaming site. Werner Herzog is a mass of contradictions, with a brilliant accent. I have no idea who thought up the idea of casting Herzog as the Client or how they persuaded him to do it, but his appearance is absolutely perfect and I can't wait to see more of the whispering auteur.

And so does Taika Waititi

Aside from directing Thor: RagnarokTaika Waititi delivered some of that Marvel movie's biggest laughs by voicing the CG rock-based gladiator Korg. So it would have been nice to hear him given a bit more vocal range than the monotone of a bounty droid, even one with suicidal tendencies. Still, he gets a few laughs even from IG-11's robotic voice.

Waititi will also direct later episodes when the show continues each week, and they're bound to be excellent. Let's hope there are more Waititi-toned automatons on the cards too. 



The Mandalorian is not a man alone  

As soon as he completes the job, the Mandalorian goes to visit... another Mandalorian. This mysterious matriarchal armorer teases a link to the history of the race, suggesting that our hero has a higher calling than simply roaming the galaxy roping bounties to line his pockets. But what happens next? If he's bringing money back to the tribe, are they saving up for something in particular?

Look out for clues...

One of the first things we learn about the Mandalorian is that he doesn't trust droids. And keep your eyes peeled for more clues to his personality and backstory: He flies around in his pre-Empire Razorcrest ship. He was once a foundling. He was locked away by protective adults when things started blowing up. And his signet hasn't been revealed yet, whatever that means.

For a deeper dive into the details of this episode -- and each new installment revealed every Friday from Nov. 15 onward -- check out our premiere episode recap.

The Mandalorian's helmet
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The Mandalorian's helmet

What secrets lie beneath that helmet?


West is best

The Mandalorian continues the grand Star Wars tradition of paying homage to the western genre, with its dusty deserts and shadowy cantinas and bounty hunter shootouts. And the final showdown seems to owe something to a specific film: The Wild Bunch, a bloody 1969 epic directed by troubled westerns director Sam Peckinpah. In the blood-spattered final shootout, gunfire streaks across the arches of a sun-scorched pueblo before an oversized Gatling gun-style cannon comes into play. The scene also calls into mind the climactic shootouts from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and gritty neo-western The Way of the Gun.

What do all three films have in common? They end badly and bloody for the film's dubious heroes. So while the Mando triumphs in this throwdown, you can't help feeling violent fate is just one step behind... 

Yoda baby is yodorable

Totes adorbs this one is, hmmm!

Yes, it's a baby Yoda, which will no doubt launch a thousand Christmas wish lists when the inevitable plush toy hits stores.

Sadly, the cuteness was slightly marred by the fact I had to stop and think whether Yoda was the last of his kind, and whether this was some kind of incredible revelation rather than just a random cute baby. 

That's the trouble with continuity references -- they distract you because you're wracking your brains trying to remember complicated lore rather than enjoying the moment. So it's a good thing The Mandalorian doesn't layer on the references too thick -- nor does it go for the obvious hook of linking to Boba Fett too soon. Instead, that finale gives me some serious Lone Wolf and Cub vibes...

But enough pondering. It's baby Yoda! D'awwwww!

Watch this: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - Official Trailer (2019)

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Originally published Nov. 12.