An all-star cast.
Decades’ worth of “Star Wars” lore.
Disney’s deep pockets.
There was no question about the media giant’s aspirations for its streaming service, Disney+, when it launched early Tuesday morning with “The Mandalorian” at the forefront of several new original series: Go big — like $12.5 million per episode big — pull in half of Hollywood, stay on brand.
The premiere episode of the first live-action series in the “Star Wars” universe is a direct descendant of the big-budget film franchise in both tone and execution. It’s long on impressive special effects and alien shootouts, and short on a fresh story line beyond the usual unwitting hero with a mysterious family tree and a destiny that involves saving the universe (or part of it).
The first installment of the eight-episode sci-fi drama is replete with swaggering bounty hunters, grotesque aliens yukking it up in bars and a narrative that must make a lot of sense to “Star Wars” fans — because it’s seriously confusing to the rest of us.
I have no idea what the series is about, at least not yet. But it looked cool, like a trip to Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge without the long lines and screaming children.
Here’s what I do know: “The Mandalorian” takes place after the fall of the Empire but before the rise of the First Order. Per Disney, the character is “a lone gunman in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic.”
The new warrior who emerges in the wake of Jango and Boba Fett is a masked and caped bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) whose cold heart will be challenged by the greater good, and maybe even a creeping sense of compassion, on his new mission.
“The Mandalorian” starts out with business as usual: “I can bring you in warm or I can bring you in cold,” he callously tells a slippery creature he’s bringing in.
But on the job handed down by Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) and The Client (Werner Herzog), he discovers the target is far more complicated than a sleazy alien with gambling debts. After several gunfights and other laser-filled moments, the job brings him to a cradle. Inside is what looks to be a baby Yoda. But the timeline is all wrong for it to be the Yoda. So what exactly is happening here? Hard to say, but it’s damn cute when their fingers touch in classic “E.T.” fashion.
The feel of the series is blockbuster cinema — action-packed, predictable, entertaining — so it’s jarring when the first episode ends at around 35 minutes. The next chapter arrives Friday.
Taika Waititi also appears in episode one, though like Pascal, you’d never know it was him behind all the galactic combat gear. Giancarlo Esposito, Gina Carano, Emily Swallow, Omid Abtahi and Nick Nolte are among those slated to feature in forthcoming episodes.
Waititi also directs on the series, along with Rick Famuyiwa, Deborah Chow and premiere director Dave Filoni, while “The Mandalorian’s” showrunner is Jon Favreau.
The “Star Wars” series is one of several titles that launched on the streaming service Tuesday. Disney+, which costs $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year, also unveiled the semi-reboot “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” a live-action film remake of “Lady and The Tramp,” the charming docuseries “Encore!” about reuniting high-school theater troupes and, weirdest of all, “The World According to Jeff Goldblum.”
Questions about how all these services will compete were not answered Tuesday. (Each appeals to a decidedly different audience — while Netflix is still the sprawling everything-but-the-kitchen-sink service.) Still, “The Mandalorian” pulls no punches. It’s “Star Wars"/Disney right down to its weird sand creatures and blighted outposts, and a safe-but-entertaining start for the media giant’s exploratory mission into a largely untamed universe.