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The Mandalorian review: Disney Plus hunts the wild side of Star Wars

Spoiler-free: The engrossing first adventure for the Star Wars Boba Fett-style bounty hunter will suck you into his grimy world.

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Scene from Disney's The Mandalorian

The Mandalorian draws us into a murky world.

Disney

Organ trafficking, space toilets and Werner Herzog's filthy Stormtroopers. The Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars episodic TV show, started streaming on Disney Plus Tuesday, and it presents a side of the galaxy far, far away we've only glimpsed in the movies: the criminal underworld. 

The premiere episode introduces us to the titular bounty hunter as he seeks out his prey at a remote cantina on an icy world. Playing the taciturn manhunter, Pedro Pascal has wisely learned to wear a helmet since his Game of Thrones days, but violence is never far away as the Mandalorian coolly dispatches some space scum. 

Here are my immediate spoiler-free thoughts on the first episode, which is the live-action directing debut for Clone Wars and Rebels creator Dave Filoni

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He likes these odds.

Lucasfilm

Space western

Masterminded by Jon Favreau, the show smoothly introduces us to the dusty frontier worlds and shadowy cantinas the Mandalorian inhabits. We get enough mentions of familiar Star Wars terms and worlds to feel comfortable, but the tone reminds us we're in uncharted territory. There's some subtle use of shaky-cam throughout the episode, and clever use of light and shade to set the mood.

The Mandalorian himself is a man of few words, but says just enough to make us feel a connection with him, and empathy too. There's a degree of fondness in his brief interaction with bounty hunter guild boss Greef Carga (Carl Weathers), swiftly followed by a tense encounter with a crew of filthy Stormtroopers led by the mysterious Client (Werner Herzog, with his signature severe accent). The change in temperature between these scenes is palpable, giving the show a fun sense of danger. 

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Kuill turns out to be a quirky Ugnaught.

Lucasfilm

Strange new characters

We all love the wackier side of Star Wars. It's embodied here by Ugnaught character Kuill, a chatty member of the piglike race of workers seen on Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back, voiced by Nick Nolte, and assassin droid IG-11, voiced by Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit director Taika Waititi.

This pair bounce off the Mandalorian nicely, showing different sides of his character as he works with them.

Real stakes

This episode is mostly quiet, but we get a few bursts of action. The Mandalorian gets into a bar fight straight off the bat, and appropriately for a Western-influenced story a major showdown is always in the cards.

Since these are unfamiliar characters, we can't feel certain that anyone (beyond the Mando himself) will make it out. It's pretty thrilling, since it never felt like Han Solo or Poe Dameron was going to get taken out with a random blaster bolt from some goon in the movies.

Fresh musical landscape

Composer Ludwig Göransson wisely decided not to mirror John Williams' beloved score for the movies. Instead, the show's music sounds closer to Ennio Morricone's work on classic spaghetti westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The episode also uses silence effectively, so we can enjoy all those quirky Star Wars sound effects too.

Major mysteries

We won't spoil anything here, but the episode introduces a pair of fascinating mysteries. One relates to the Mandalorian people, and the other to the Client's bounty -- the latter of which will make Star Wars fans' jaws drop.

There's a lot of choice on Disney Plus, including brand new shows The Imagineering Story and Marvel Hero Project, as well as Christmas movie Noelle and a reboot of Lady and the Tramp. Meanwhile, the second episode of The Mandalorian hits Disney Plus on Friday, Nov. 15, and it can't come quickly enough.

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Originally published Nov. 12, 4:48 a.m. PT.