“The Mandalorian” Season 1 – For Disney+, This is the Way

Image result for The Mandalorian poster

    “The Mandalorian” is the first thing to come out of the new Disney Star Wars that feels original. There are all the trappings of Star Wars but it doesn’t feel tied back to any prior lore and is a solid series as is. It doesn’t need the rest of the Extended Universe to be good and that is where the strength of it really is. This is a space western that explores the life and story of a bounty hunter in this universe and Jon Favreau and handles this amazingly well. There is a beautiful simplicity to the great westerns that this show captures perfectly. For non-spoiler thoughts the only cons that stood out were the cliche writing tropes that happened sometimes and I had a few issues with the final episode. Also, this show is super quotable. You’ve probably already heard “I have spoken” and “This is the way” from the popular culture around you. It was wonderful being part of the experience of it all with everyone.

The show was created by Jon Favreau in collaboration with Dave Filoni, Kathleen Kennedy and Colin Wilson.

The story follows the Mandolorian bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) on his bounty assignments as his life is changed after he discovers one of his bounties is not what he’d thought it would be.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is what makes the world. It feels completely seperate from John Williams’s score and sets the world apart as a western. Ludwig Göransson is truly a master of his craft. I want to check out his other work now. The soundtrack is a big reason I’d watch the credits at the end of each episode, besides the cool concept art that came with it.

The World – This world takes place within “Star Wars” but has none of the major characters. The major antagonist is Moff Gideon who leads a remnant of the Empire but as far as we can see, doesn’t even have a Star Destroyer and his army seems to be made up of mercenaries. This is a world where the Mandalorian people have been nearly wiped out and our protagonist is part of a hidden group in the sewers of a planet. The New Republic is also nowhere to be seen showing that it is a new government and they have never really had an organized Navy in the way the Empire did. The world is beautiful, raw and works.

The Supporting Characters –  The supporting cast of “The Mandalorian” is a big reason this show works. You have Kuil played by Nick Nolti who is the Mandalorian’s (Mando / Din Djarin) first mentor and helps him become the father figure to “Baby Yoda.” His other ally is Cara Dune played by Gina Carano who is Mando’s fellow warrior. There is also his sometimes boss Greef Karga played by Carl Weathers who is in charge of the Bounty Hunters Guild. All of these characters who appear multiple times get development and lore. There are smaller characters like Mando’s former criminal co-workers who he ran with and of course enemies like Moff Gideon who we meet too. All of these characters give life and nuance to the world and show us who Mando is in how he interacts with them.

The Mandalorian – Our protagonist Din Djarin the Mandalorian is a character who tells us so much in his silence. He doesn’t talk much and demonstrates who he is from his actions. We see this when he saves Baby Yoda from the imperial remnant, his defense of a village from raiders and his willingness to give people a chance, even if they betray him. Pedro Pascal is excellent in the role. This is a character ruled by trauma from the Clone Wars when droids killed his parents, and dealing with that hate and distrust is his main arc beyond caring for others again. He never stops being a Bounty Hunter but he finds a way to keep to the good within that code. It is extremely well done and I can’t wait to see where future seasons go.

Okay:

Imperial Remnant – I have a few okays listed because the ideas work in some ways and don’t work in others. For example the Imperial Remnant. The Empire has so many stormtroopers killed and they are the but of jokes, but they also manage to destroy most of the hidden Mandalorians and can be threatening when there is a need. I can’t call them a pro because Moff Gideon hasn’t won on screen yet and we don’t know how powerful this remnant of the Empire is.

Unearned Happy Ending – The ending wasn’t bad, I was fine with it but it could have been better. We have heroic sacrifice, which I appreciated…but Moff Gideon never gets the chance to be a real threat and his Imperial Remnant never feels effective. I’m not putting as a con because I did like Mando and his friends fighting against the Moff, it was just way too happy. Moff is defeated in his Tie-Fighter (but survives) and after Greef just declares victory. It felt short sighted and making the episode happy rather than taking in both the loss of IG-11 and Kuiil.

This is a show that has so much promise. It isn’t perfect but I do consider it great. It had enough characters I cared about, the feel of the world is one I want to spend more time in and the fact that there is more story to tell has me intrigued. My personal hope is that it doesn’t tie itself to closely to Disney’s new lore in episodes 7-9 as I’d like this to be a show that someone who isn’t into “Star Wars” could pick up and enjoy and follow all the way through. I don’t know if this will happen, but that is the hope I’m holding onto for this series. This is a story that doesn’t need any prior lore to keep it strong and I’d like it to stay that way moving forward.

Final Score: 9 / 10

“Narcos” Season 1 Retrospect – Colombia, Politics, Drugs and a Powerful Story

Narcos Poster

     Netflix just keeps making gold…”House of Cards,” and “Daredevil” are already two of my favorite shows and now I must add “Narcos” to the list…though the fact that it didn’t end after this season is troubling. We are caught up to the year that historically Palbo Escobar died…where does the series go from here if it is going to take the 10 episode format? Do Murphy’s and Pena’s story really have that much steam left? Their arcs felt complete at the end of the story. Suffice to say though, season 1 is great with one of my few criticisms only being the ending.

     The series was created by Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro and directed by Jose Padilha.

SPOILERS ahead

     The story involves the Rise and Fall of Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) and the drama within the Medellin Cartel and the DEA agents Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal) and what they and the Colombian Government do to bring him and the Cartel down.

The Pros: The History – The history that takes place through the 80’s of the politics and drama between the political groups and gangs in Colombia is fascinating, especially in relation to United States involvement as it is the United States backing of Pinochet which lead to the drug trade being exterminated in Chile but spreading over to Colombia when “Cockroach” escapes to the Escobar’s and sells them his trade helping them start their Empire. We also have the war between the Colombian Government and the Cartels and the United States and the different Communist movements in South America…it is fascinating and awesome and made me want to read and study more.

The Cinematography – The cinematography captures the beauty of Colombia and the dark underbelly of the gangs and the corruption in the government as well as the grey line our characters are always walking.

The Soundtrack – Pedro Bromfman did a wonderful job incorporating traditional and modern Colombian music to make this show truly about Colombia. We get personal moments and the gritty reality of all our characters through his amazing art.

The Characters  and Organizations – The characters are all flawed and have to make hard choices and the organizations have clear goals as well and all are a mixture of fear and idealism in order to meet their ends.

The CIA  and U.S. Government – The CIA is great as we have a military guy who is all about catching the communists but another agent played by Richard Jones who is always helping our guys go after Escobar and the Cartel. It shows how complicated it is especially as they walk a grey line of looking after their own interests but not losing the goodwill of the people. Ambassador Noonan is the one who has the most difficulty with that given the United States’s legacy in Chile next store.

The Communist Rebel Groups – The rebels are all based in idealism but are presented as being cut off from the reality of the people as they are willing to kill innocents to meet their end and still claim the high ground. This eventually leads to one of the leaders surrendering to Escobar to protect his men that the Cartel are killing off. M-19 is the one that gets the most airtime as their kidnappings bring the Cartel against them though Pablo Escobar eventually defeats and uses them to his own ends.

The Colombian Government – The government is in the Cartel’s pocket for a long time until the option of extradition comes up where the caught drug deals will be sent to a U.S. prison rather than the vacation and influence they’d have in a Colombian prison.

President Cesar Gaviria – Cesar is given a lot of tough choices and we see him eventually make peace with Escobar letting him make his own prison so that the bloodshed will stop. He isn’t a coward though and we see him avoid an assassination attempt and always walk among the people, calling the Cartel out for their crimes. He is definitely flawed but you see a man faced wit the dilemma of losing sovereignty and granting the U.S. more power or letting the Cartels have more power but have sovereignty respected.

Colonel Herrera – Herrera deals with the Escobar at first but becomes a mortal enemy after this rise as he becomes obsessed with him after an assassination on his wife and himself at a cafe. This eventually leads to him setting his men on Pablo’s cousin, ending in his death.

The Medillen Cartel – The Cartel is fascinating and the gangsters are complicated monsters as we see them humanized and love and lose and make hard choices in order to survive and to grow their business.

Gacha – Gacha is unhinged and is fun to watch as Pablo Escobar is able to keep him in line even as his killings of the politicians and prostitutes is slowly getting the government to act. He is the one who is all about taking what he wants, though he has a son (who is a monster like him) who he loves. He is eventually taken out by Pena.

The Ochoas – The Ochoas make a deal with the government and Cali Cartel to leave Pablo isolated which eventually leads to Pablo’s cousins death and makes it so the sister is no longer connected to the Escobars. They win in a way as they get the prison deal they wanted and stay under the radar.

Pablo Escobar – Escobar drives the story as we see he and his cousin but the Medellin Cartel making them some of the richest people in the world. Their bond is  core connection and it is after Pablo’s cousin is killed that he loses it and eventually kills the men he put in charge of the Cartel leading to an eventual assault on the Prison he made for himself in order to keep the government off his back. He rises and in the end his love of Colombia and desire for power and respect lead to his downfall as his escape from his prison cannot prevent him from the death that is already in the history books.

The DEA – The DEA like Escobar are the main drivers of the story as we see Murphy and Pena have to make difficult choices and sometimes act on their own and for or against one another in order to stop the Cartels.

Javier Pena – It is great seeing the Red Viper again! Pedro Pascal is one of my favorite actors and I’ve missed him since the only season he was in “Game of Thrones.” He plays a womanizer in this but he has a good heart as he looks after all of those he has a relationship with, even if it means his job and life. It is this love of the people that a lot of them reject as they see him as a DEA Gringo who only cares about American interests and not those of Colombia. He proves that assumption wrong on multiple occasions. He was my favorite character in this.

Steve Murphy – Holbrook does a good job as the mustached 80’s cop who gets hardened by Colombia and addicted to the chase and war. In the end it is his home as he is driven at taking down the Cartels as he no longer cares about his life and we see his detachment from his wife as she wants to return to the States while for him, this War is all he has as home and he has nothing in the States to go back too (his partner having been killed by the Medellin Cartel prior).

The Cons: Women Sidelined – Women are very much on the sidelines in this with a reporter being the few women with power. I get that this reflects the society, but even Pablo’s mother’s influence isn’t really shown. The exception I can think of is Connie Murphy but even she feels like a side quest to the main narrative and is only really in the story because of her marriage to Steve and she isn’t needed to drive the story.

Leaving the Story Open – Escobar should have died at the end and the point about violence always being there could have been. In the end Escobar wasn’t the point of the story, the point was Colombia and how it had shaped our characters are Murphy sees it as home even after his partner sold him out to the Cali Cartel to catch Escobar. This theme is powerful but is undercut by Pablo’s escape and not death in the final from the Search Bloc.

I recommend this story, it is overwhelmingly good and the few cons don’t take away from that. It is gives Colombia respect and also goes into quite a bit of depth with all the different players in the game that the Governments and Cartels played. I’d highly recommend checking it out, even as I’m worried about what Season 2 might bring.

Final Score: 9.3 ./ 10