Cuing up the first episode of “The Mandalorian,” the big-ticket offering in Tuesday’s launch of the category-killer streaming TV service Disney Plus, it’s impossible not to recall that great run-along-now line from “Arrested Development’s” Lucille Bluth: “Here’s some money. Go see a Star War.”
As Lucasfilm’s first live-action “Star Wars” television series, “The Mandalorian” will cost you $6.99 a month — which is surely just an introductory fare for the first of us clones who get in line. I opted for the yearly plan ($69.99, thanks).
“The Mandalorian” is very much in keeping with a Star War — visually intriguing, amusingly adventurous and light on its feet, a space-western comfortable with the tropes of cinema culture and common reference points. This is clear the moment the Mandalorian himself (Pedro Pascal of “Narcos” and “Game of Thrones”), in his Boba Fett get-up, enters a grimy backwater saloon filled with creature criminals and demonstrates that he’s the fastest draw around — it’s cowboys and aliens.
The episode acquaints us generally, though certainly not deeply, with the Mandalorian’s busy and often violent work as a bounty hunter — so busy, alas, that it’s not clear if or when we’ll ever see him take off his helmet.
It’s set during a reconstruction era in an even farther away part of that galaxy far, far away, after the collapse of the Empire but before the rise of the fascist First Order (in other words, in that void between “Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens”). With civil war as “Star Wars’ ” continual backdrop, the series suggests that it might make time to explore the notion that an entire galaxy can ever really be ruled. What about all the planets the war never gets to?
We see the Mandalorian deliver his deepfrozen cargo and collect the bounty, where he informs his client that he doesn’t take Imperial credits anymore. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Empire is gone,” he says.
The same client offers the Mandalorian a lead on a newer, riskier job, which sends him to the lair of another heavy — sorry, with “Star Wars,” one never really knows who anyone is until there’s an action figure on the toy shelves. This guy is played by none other than the dutifully doleful German filmmaker Werner Herzog.
That’s one nice thing about “The Mandalorian”: As conceived and written by Jon Favreau (the actor/director, not the political podcaster), the series immediately shows signs of a sharp sense of humor about itself, which has always been a key ingredient to any successful “Star Wars” outing. Favreau and company also have great fun sprinkling their scenes with all the little gizmos and weirdos that let fans know we’re in good hands, that the child within is still being served. In addition to the oddly satisfying sight of one of Jabba the Hutt’s preferred species of lap monkey being fricasseed on a rotisserie spit, there are landspeeders, R2 units and, at long last, a “Star Wars” toilet.
The Mandalorian’s new gig leads him to another planet, where he meets a pig-snouted rancher played by Nick Nolte. After a bit of bronco-bustin’ involving alligator-cows, the Mandalorian ends up in a shootout, where he encounters an IG bounty hunter droid (voiced by actor/director Taika Waititi) pursuing the same target. Hoots and hollers from fans will surely greet the episode’s big reveal of who (or what) the target is.
Rejecting Netflix’s binge model, Disney Plus will parse out the remaining seven episodes between now and Christmastime.