With world events being as they are, it can feel as though the typical cinema experience may not exist for much longer.
Streaming services are now eclipsing traditional studio outputs in terms of variety and creative bravery, and something as intrinsic to the cinematic blockbuster experience - 'Star Wars', no less - has successfully made the leap to television in Disney+'s 'The Mandalorian'. In fact, watching the first two episodes of the season, you'd almost wonder why they hadn't done it sooner.
For one, the inherently smaller stakes of television is fundamental to the success of 'The Mandalorian'. Our nameless, faceless anti-hero isn't interested in saving the galaxy, or righting the wrongs and injustices visited upon it. Instead, he moves from planet to place, place to place, all in search of a bounty and credits to survive. You might roll your eyes at the idea of how cliched it is that 'Star Wars' is going "dark and gritty", but the truth is that this was there from the very first movie.
After all, we meet Han Solo in a seedy bar, populated with scum and villainy. That dingy, burnt-out feeling extends itself beautifully over the two episodes, and you get the sense that this is the way 'Star Wars' could have been had Lucas opted to embrace the Western influences present in the franchise. The plot and dialogue is sparse, but it never feels like it's being done out of laziness or a lack of focus.
Quite the opposite, in fact. 'The Mandalorian' almost feels like a rejection of how densely layered the movies have been, and trades exposition and world-building for atmosphere and character. Pedro Pascal is able to project an aura of calm menace in every scene with a nudge of his helmet, and Taika Waititi's assassination droid has more personality than some of the stock characters in the sequel trilogy.
The opening episode, titled after the series itself, may feel curiously paced but it's really just about setting the tone for the series itself. It moves in a languid fashion, never once naming our titular character because it's not really necessary. Werner Herzog plays the also-unnamed client who tasks the bounty hunter with retrieving an asset of great importance and offering an exceptionally high price for their safe return.
If that feels like a stock story structure from '60s Western TV shows like 'Have Gun, Will Travel' or 'Gunsmoke', it's intentional. Jon Favreau's writing on the first two episodes evokes that minimalist approach to wordplay, opting for glares across dive bars and quick-draw shootouts instead. It's effective, because 'Star Wars' has until this point, been about the opera and the majesty of itself.
The second episode made available to us, 'The Child', introduces the wide-eared manifestation of innocence that swept the internet by storm several months ago, and still crops up as more of a meme than anything else. It might seem as though it's in direct response to the gritty nature of the show that it has something so desperately cute to bounce it all, but the fact is that the dynamic works a treat. Not only that, the tactile nature of it just emanates old-school sci-fi as does everything else in the show.
It's not all perfect, however. Undoubtedly, there are limitations in how 'The Mandalorian' approaches character and story, and it's definitely playing its cards close to the chest - maybe too close for some. Moreover, the mystique of the central character is punctured every so often with heavy-handed flashbacks that could have been handled better.
Still, these are minor complaints and the show has already swept up a huge audience abroad and will no doubt do the same here.