In the months before The Phantom Menace (the first and least boring of George Lucas’s trilogy of plodding Star Wars prequels) was released in 1999, there were stories of American fans paying in to cinemas purely to see the trailer, then leaving without watching whatever film happened to be showing.
Not all Star Wars fans are as annoyingly geeky, obsessive and insular as that. I know several grown adults who love the films, but underneath their Star Wars T-shirts, they’re fully-rounded individuals who live fully-rounded lives.
But let’s be honest: quite a few of them are like that.
Disney knows it’s these people who’ll be leading the charge to sign up for its new streaming service Disney+, which finally arrived here and in the UK yesterday, several months after its American launch, yet still a little earlier than was originally planned. This is the reason why The Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars series, is the flagship offering.
The first thing to be said about The Mandalorian is that it looks like a million dollars — plus the other $14m it’s reportedly costing per episode.
I watched the first two (the remaining six will drop weekly) on a laptop rather than a large-screen TV, and they were still stunning in HD. Even the end credits, which feature paintings of scenes from the episode, look classy.
The second thing to be said about it is that it’s quite short. The first episode clocks in at 39 minutes, the second at just 30. This comes as something of a relief at a time when so many series have too many episodes that drag on beyond the hour mark.
While showrunner/writer/director Jon Favreau, who set Marvel on the path to global dominance with the nifty Iron Man, throws in lots of fan service and callbacks to the original movies, you don’t have to be steeped in Star Wars lore to enjoy it, because the series unfolds on the outer edges of the movies’ rolling storyline.
It’s enough to know that the title character — played by Narcos and Game of Thrones star Pedro Pascal, hidden under a helmet that obscures his whole face — is a heavily-armed, heavily-armoured intergalactic bounty hunter.
He’s a man of relatively few words. Not surprising, really, since The Mandalorian is effectively a spaghetti western in outer space, and its hero a clone of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name from Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy (Pascal even does his best Clint-lite voice from under the headgear).
There are plenty of punch-ups and shootouts (bloodless, naturally, this being aimed at a PG audience), confrontations with shady characters, gloomy dive bars and near-fatal tangles with a variety of monstrous creatures.
The Mandalorian delivers his latest catches — frozen in carbonite, just like Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back — to his paymaster, played by Carl Weathers, who points him in the direction of a new, even more lucrative job for a different client, who goes by the name of, believe it or not, “The Client”.
He’s a sinister type, played by German film director Werner Herzog, whose bodyguards are stormtroopers. The Mandalorian is set after the events of Return of the Jedi, so presumably, they found themselves out of work when the Empire was defeated.
All our hero is told is that his target is “a valuable asset” and 50 years old. You can imagine his surprise, then, when he finally locates his quarry and finds its a tiny baby from the same unnamed species as Yoda.
Nobody watching will be surprised, however, since “Baby Yoda”, as the internet christened him, even though nobody is yet sure whether this is Yoda reincarnated, has been the source of countless memes already.
This, then, is where The Mandalorian is at.
It’s lively and entertaining with colourful characters, including a wise, porcine alien voiced by Nick Nolte and a droll bounty hunter that fans of the original films will recognise. Yet, for all the money and time invested, it feels slightly thin.