As I write this, it’s in the early morning hours of Tuesday, November 12 — launch day, for those of you who’ve been keeping score, for Disney+. Having already signed up for the service before today, I decided to log in a little while ago to check on the status of the launch (as there’d been conflicting information reported about when the whole thing would finally go live), and I found a pleasant surprise — about an hour ago, Disney+ was ready on the web for me to log in. I specify “about an hour ago,” because I immediately did what I suspect many of you will who’ve been waiting for today’s launch:
I dived straightaway into Episode 1 of The Mandalorian. The following will be my initial impressions, so I’ll go ahead and get the requisite *SPOILER* warning out of the way. I’ll try not to ruin certain things (and I’ll refrain from spoiling a huge WHOA moment in the final minutes of the show, one so big you’ll immediately realize why Disney wanted to preserve this surprise for as long as possible). But let me go ahead and tell you right off the bat — Disney has fired a seriously impressive opening salvo for its entry today into the so-called Streaming Wars.
Oh, and before you listen to me ramble, I’ll go ahead and give a tip of the hat to some of my fellow night owls and Star Wars fans who’ve likewise stayed up late to check out the service and specifically The Mandalorian and who came away similarly impressed:
I tried to make some notes throughout, so I’ll present these as a collection of thoughts that came to me while I watched. First, let me note right off the bat that for a new streamer that was as hotly anticipated as this one — with the stakes so high for Disney to get this right, given that CEO Bob Iger has pointed to Disney+ as no less than the future of the whole company — I had zero problems logging in and immediately starting to stream. No sign-in problems, no streaming interruptions of any kind. Everything worked great.
There’s not a lot of exposition in this episode (with the next up, Episode 2, scheduled to be available on the service this Friday. That’s right, no Netflix-style bingeing here, sorry folks.) But that lack of exposition is to be expected, right? This episode is only about 40 minutes long and is not a full-length movie, which is why in my opinion it was great to be able to just dive right in and intuit everything.
The backstory is really filled out in the quiet moments and in the small interactions. You know 90% of what you need to know about the Mandalorian, a stoic bounty hunter with a Han Solo style of deadpan humor, in the opening minutes of the show. When he dramatically saunters into one of those wild and wooly Star Wars cantina-style settings that make you feel like you’re in some bizarre corner of the galaxy. When he knocks a few skulls together and grabs his quarry. That’s when you quickly start to realize why he’s there and what he’s all about.
I mentioned the sense of humor employed by the Mandalorian (portrayed by actor Pedro Pascal). It was also nice to see the show balance a fine line of functioning as a kind of Wild West drama that happens to unfold in space, mixed with some of the zanier and sci-fi elements of Star Wars. For example, after the Mandalorian has secured his bounty in the opening moments of the show, we then see the prisoner, bound, seated beside the Mandalorian in the cockpit as they fly away. He asks lots of nervous questions. “I like your ship, she’s a classic … pre-Empire, heh heh? … Is it true you guys never take off your helmets?” And then he nervously confesses that he really has to take a leak, in so many words.
He wanders around pretending to look for the bathroom, stumbles on some weaponry and then some of the Mandalorian’s other bounty he’s collected that he’s encased in carbonite … and then suddenly the Mandalorian himself appears standing behind the nervous guy, and promptly encases him, too, in carbonite. Which is one of a bevy of Star Wars throwbacks you’ll note throughout this episode if you’re a big fan of the franchise — great touches that remind you of famous moments in the movies, even down to the little things like those black garbage can-looking droids you’ll remember from Jabba’s palace to the Mandalorian at one point engaged in a fierce gun battle while trying to hotwire a door (reminiscent of Han Solo trying to do the same thing on Endor).
By way of wrapping things up, let me return to that battle I just mentioned. As the episode winds down, the Mandalorian finds himself embroiled in a gunfight that looks fantastic, fighting alongside a bounty-hunting droid. The way they’re both seriously outgunned, with some of the bad guys shooting from on high — it’s a dusty scene that reminded me a little of the way the classic outlaw film Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid looked, in that climactic setting at the end of the movie. The Mandalorian, while blasters are firing all around him, also has to keep demanding that his partner droid not initiate a self-destruct sequence (which he’s programmed to do when his annihilation seems to be at hand).
They survive the gun battle, and then there’s more of that deadpan humor (“You’re not so bad, for a droid” … “Agreed.”)
Two more quick points
- Werner Herzog shows up in this episode for all of, like, five or so minutes going from memory, and he manages to give a menacing, incredible performance in that short span of time as an unnamed “client” of the Mandalorian.
- The ending will knock your socks off and guarantee you’ll want to watch more of the series. Immediately. Along those lines, here’s the release schedule for the rest of Season 1, as far as when the episodes will be live on Disney+:
Episode 2: Friday, November 15
Episode 3: Friday, November 22
Episode 4: Friday, November 29
Episode 5: Friday, December 6
Episode 6: Friday, December 13
Episode 7: Wednesday, December 18
Episode 8: Friday, December 27