Disney+ launched yesterday to much fanfare, and the first thing most subscribers ran to watch was The Mandalorian, the site’s marquee original series. The first Star Wars live action television show (I know, what took so long?), has been pretty well received so far, with fans being attracted to its Wild West vibe, plus that huge cliffhanger (which we’ll get to later). Created by Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and with enough stunning visuals to indicate that we’re in the Star Wars universe, it’s clear Disney poured tons of money into this, but there are some things money can’t buy, and the series’ biggest flaw threatens to take the whole thing down. While there are a few things worth critiquing, I speak, of course, about the fact that the series’ title character, played by Pedro Pascal (Narcos), never takes his helmet off.
Considering that Disney+ didn’t screen episodes in advance for critics (to preserve that cliffhanger I mentioned), I can only speak about the first episode. We meet The Mandalorian in that episode, and he’s a tough and stoic bounty hunter. He’s all business, ready to throw down to get to his mark, but a man of few words. Let’s get something straight, the character never takes his helmet off the entire episode - it’s mentioned early on that his kind almost never do, he’s pretty monosyllabic, only speaking when something absolutely needs to be said, and his voice is pretty automated, so that any life it might have had has been leached out. He’s our protagonist, but he has no personality, no way for us to connect with him. Even his body is completely covered in armor, so that even body language is taken out of this equation.
It seems that the series is hoping that The Mandalorian is badass enough that we’ll overlook everything else, but audiences need someone to care about and root for, and that’s not happening here. It should be noted, that Pascal is an incredibly charming and charismatic actor, just go watch his performance as Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones, but he’s so boxed in here he doesn’t get the chance to try to win us over. The character does get fleshed out a little bit, with a flashback to a childhood trauma, but it’s not much to go on.
Beware, Spoilers Ahead
The other thing that gives us a hint at what kind of a man this person is, besides for a gruff bounty hunter, is what he does right at the end of the episode. When he and a humorous droid named IG-11, voiced by Taika Waititi (who is honestly the best part of the episode), finally reach their mysterious target, they discover it’s a baby. The same rare species as Yoda, the baby is 50 years old, as the species ages so slowly. IG-11 is ready to kill it as per his orders, but the Mandalorian shoots him in the head to stop him. While it previously seemed that the bounty hunter didn’t have much of any morals, doing anything to complete a job, it appears that there is one line our protagonist won’t cross. He won’t kill a baby. It’s the only sense of humanity we get from him all episode, and it gives us something to root for.
The question is: is it enough? Is this enough to connect us to the character and have us care about him? Well, that depends. As the Mandalorian goes rogue, and is forced into increasingly dangerous situations to protect this baby Yoda-like creature, it may be that we’ll continue to get to know him on a more human level, under the helmet. Perhaps, if this image of the all business, never takes his helmet off, bounty hunter breaks down more and more, episode by episode, we’ll become invested in him, and his mission. But, if the series remain dedicated to this stoic armor covered persona, I predict that viewers are going to rapidly lose interest. The series needs to create a layered and complex individual for us to follow, it’s just unclear at this point whether that’s going to happen, and the fate of the entire series hinges on it.