Star Wars: The Mandalorian series. Episodes 1-7.
Initially I wasn't going to subscribe early to Disney+. But then they showed the trailer for The Mandolorian. There was absolutely no thought process after that. I waited a week to let 2 episodes queue up, then subscribed and watched the first 2 eps back-to-back. I've now watched all 7 of the aired episodes, so what do I think? I'll list my top 5 surprises and bottom 5 'cons' so far. I was going to post this earlier but never did, thus I kept watching more episodes and this blog entry grew longer than it should have.
The Mandalorian immediately won me over with eps 1-3. After that, I enjoyed episodes 4-6 to lesser degree. I started to fear it wasn't going anywhere and that the episodes were one-off's. Then, episode 7 re-introduced key characters and progressed the storyline, with surprises and tension! Episode 7 "The Reckoning" is my favorite of all the episodes.
5. A fresh story set in the Star Wars universe with plenty more details of familiar creatures, planets, and races from the OT era that weren't a main part of the Rebels/Empire/Skywalker story. The story occurs chronologically about 5 years after the events of Return of the Jedi -- the fall of the Empire, when Death Star II was destroyed along with dark sith lord Emperor Palpatine and the turn of Darth Vader back into Anakin Skywalker before his own death. This story does not concern itself with Rebels vs the Empire, or Jedi, or even the Force. These things exist but are not the focus of the characters. It's SW universe but a fresh take and given enough weekly episodes to breathe a bit.
In many ways, The Mandalorian is successful at looking and sounding like it was filmed at the same time as the original 3 films. We're getting more details on the side-stories. Bounty Hunters. Cantina hangouts. An AT-ST, which is no longer a minor enemy when used by marauders against farmers. Familiar droids, beasts and races. We get to know an actual Ugnaught! I liked Nick Nolte's Ugnaught character Kuiil and his amusing manner of concluding his speeches: "I have spoken. " Allll-righty then! We got Jawas and their Sandcrawler. We got to see aliens of the same species as Bounty Hunter Bossk! And seeing IG-11 was great ... after seeing the trailer (and thinking this was IG-88, the Bounty Hunter droid from TESB), I was surprised he was a potential ally to Mando. I enjoyed seeing IG-11's return in a later episode.
4. Music and art. I really love seeing the hand-drawn art of various episodes scene at the end of each episode! Marvel MCU films have done this too to great effect. The first time I remember seeing this idea was back in Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi) in the intro credits. I can still remember sitting down in the theater and hearing the Spider-Man music gear-up and ... OMG is that the uber-realistic art of Alex Ross?! I love the classic Atari 2600 box art for the same reason, it adds all good qualities to the end product. I enjoy watching the end-credits of Mandalorian, waiting to see what paintings they'll show.
3. Filling out more details of the Mandalorians. I don't know what is / is-not Star Wars canon anymore. Mandalorians were in the XBOX game Knights of the Old Republic , which took place 1000 years Before the Battle of Yavin - 1000 BBY. In the game, Mandalorians seemed to have no qualms with taking off their helmets to show their faces. But that isn't the case in the show's era.
Mandalorians were in the animated show Star Wars Rebels, which takes place before Star Wars: A New Hope (Ep4). In this series, one of the rebels was a young female Mandalorian by name of Sabine Wren. We got history of the planet Mandalore and its people. Is that still considered 'Star Wars Canon' ? I'm not sure, but in this show, The Mandalorian is called "Mando" for short. He doesn't ever remove his helmet in front of others. He isn't entirely ruthless and certainly he isn't invincible in battle, although quite skilled. He has a history, a story to tell. He's following the rules of Mandalorianism. "This is the way!" I like the character even though I thought he'd be different. He has all the expected weapons - disintegrator, rope, flamethrower ... but no jetpack yet!
2. Guest actors. For some reason is kind of dig the Cara Dune character and the actress. That's one tough woman. She wears no helmet, not much armor either ... really? I remember when Gina was on American Gladiators as Crush, she was a jaw-dropping Amazon. Then she was a kickboxing fighter. MMA? I never watched it. But I'm glad she's finding tough-guy film roles because she really looks the part. Also I liked seeing Chubs / Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), he's always a welcome sight. "you gotta tap, tap, tap it in, Happy". Nick Nolte is also always good, and even Clancy Brown showed up dressed as the big red alien muscle in episode 6. Others I forget their names but recognize their faces.
1. The Child! Every now and then, somebody just nails a character or concept perfectly in a show. In this show, it was the surprisingly well-kept secret and the introduction of The Child ("baby Yoda" as the media dubbed him). Seriously, weren't we all stunned when we discovered in Episode 1 that the 50-year-old bounty was a very young child version of Yoda's species! His adorable cuteness knows no bounds as he wordlessly (but not always quietly) observes the goings-on. I really enjoyed seeing him act as a curious little child, by pressing ship buttons (he's reprimanded by Mando ; then he does it again! HAHA) . Or, “BabyYoda” tries to Force-heal Mando's wound (he is prevented, due to Mando's ignorance, then put back in crib. The indignity!). “BabyYoda” sees the Razor Crest’s joystick ball-mount and wants to play with it (denied! put back in crib again!). “BabyYoda” is there in the background, sipping his cup of bone broth, observing Mando VS Cara Dune struggle (and inadvertently interrupting the fight. HAHA!). The he is playing with a frog, which he swallows whole! I think the cutest scene was watching BY being turned over for the bounty to the Client. BY shoots a desperate child look to Mando, looking and squeaking in desperation as he is turned over to the ex-Imperials. Oh man. That one broke my heart for a moment. But he also shows some seriously strong Force levitation powers, I think it put a chill into Mando's and the Ugnaught's spines. "What was that?" "I don't know". When you finally get to watching episode 7, BY’s Force powers are shown to even greater degree, and for a brief moment he adopted a rather frightening disposition that seemed more Palpatine than Yoda!
CONs. Some very minor nit-picks here, since there aren't any major problems with the show.
5. Episode length is short. This isn't really hurting the show. But the episodes end so quickly with 30 to 40 minutes on average, and that includes the introduction and end-credits.
4. Episode 4 bone (broth) of contention: when Mando and Cara Dune realized there was an AT-ST with tremendous firepower, why didn't Mando use his ship, the Razor Crest? It is a former military craft. Surely the ship of a Mandalorian bounty hunter could destroy one AT-ST? However, Mando states that there isn't anything on the planet powerful enough to shoot out the AT-ST's legs... so they devise a trap. It was still a fun stand-alone kind of episode. But the question still rolls around in my brain.
3. Episode 4 - another 'mmmkay' moment - why does the attractive and skilled female widow find herself so immediately attracted to Mando? He could be a Bossk-style lizard inside that helmet. He could have any number of bad traits that she hasn't seen yet, she's only known him days. I guess she did try to take off his helmet to get a good look at him.
2. The Force? In this group of characters, it appears nobody is familiar with The Force. Even the ex-rebel Cara Dune. But didn't the Rebels always say, "May The Force be with you" ? Even Han Solo said it in the first film! Maybe Shock Troopers didn't say that.
1. Weak middle of season 1. Episode 4,5,6 were stand alones - fun to watch to but I started to lose interest, because there seemed to no longer be a story-arc . It seemed each episode was Mando and Child trying out a new location to hide out / make money. Take Episode 5 - The Gunslinger. Cool episode title. And I appreciated returning to Tatooine, and it was nice to see Ming-na Wen show up. But this was the weakest storyline with some of the weakest performances so far in my book.
My Mandalorian Episode rankings: 7 = 1 > 3 > 2 > 6 > 4 > 5.