DirectorVarious, created by Jon Favreau, based on Star Wars created by George Lucas
Release Date(s)2019 (December 12, 2023)
Studio(s)Lucasfilm/Disney+ (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C-
Five years have passed since the Battle of Endor and the destruction of the second Death Star. The Rebel Alliance has defeated the evil Galactic Empire and begun building a New Republic in its wake. But in the Outer Rim, things aren’t quite so optimistic. The power vacuum left by the Empire is being filled by warlords, gangsters, and surviving Imperial forces—scum and villainy all—and none of them are particularly concerned with law and order. In the midst of such chaos, bounty hunting is a growth business, if not exactly a profitable one, as a Mandalorian named Din Djarin (better known as Mando, played by Pedro Pascal) knows all too well.
Traveling from one planet to the next in his battered ship the Razor Crest, Mando earns a living as best he can by taking jobs from Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), an agent of the Bounty Hunter’s Guild on Nevarro, and packing his hold with as many fugitives as he can encase in carbonite. But when Mando takes on a special commission from a mysterious client (played by filmmaker Werner Herzog) for an entire camtono of Mandalorian Beskar, he soon discovers that the target is a Force-sensitive child (of the same species as the late Jedi Master Yoda). And when it’s time to deliver this child to his client, Mando does the one thing a bounty hunter should never do… he develops a conscience.
Soon Mando is a fugitive himself, on the run with the child he’s now determined to protect, and he quickly finds himself cornered by every bounty hunter on Nevarro. Luckily, the hidden Mandalorian enclave on the planet comes to his rescue, allowing Mando and the child to escape in the Razor Crest and find sanctuary elsewhere in the Outer Rim. But it turns out that while Mando has lots of enemies, he makes a few new friends as well, among them an Ugnaught moisture farmer named Kuiil (voiced by Nick Nolte), a refurbished IG-11 droid (voiced by Taika Waititi), and an ex-Alliance shock trooper from Alderaan named Cara Dune (Gina Carano). And it’s not long before the child’s unique Force abilities begun to grow stronger… and Mando’s bond with the tiny creature much deeper.
Inspired in part by Kazuo Koike’s Lone Wolf and Cub, as well as Clint Eastwood’s ‘Man with No Name’ character in the Sergio Leone Dollars Trilogy, The Mandalorian was created by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Elf, Rudy) with the help of co-executive producer (and George Lucas protégé, now chief creative officer of Lucasfilm) Dave Filoni. The series feels pleasingly lived-in, as good Star Wars should, and it takes its time in developing its story and characters. The visual texture is right, the supporting cast is excellent, and the Bill Conti-infused score by Ludwig Göransson (Creed, Oppenheimer) adds a truly unique and inspired sonic palette to this universe. While nearly all the episodes are written by Favreau, the stable of episode directors for this first season includes no less than Filoni (Star Wars: Rebels, Avatar: The Last Airbender), Rick Famuyiwa (The Wood), Deborah Chow (The High Cost of Living), Bryce Dallas Howard, and Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Jojo Rabbit). What’s more, despite the fact that we really only get to hear his voice, Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones, The Last of Us, Prospect) is terrific as Mando. And my goodness, the child is perfect—an inspired creature creation that both recalls Frank Oz’s Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back, yet feels entirely new as well! While we don’t learn his name in this first season, by the end of its ten episodes it’s pretty clear that this kid is a critical piece of this franchise’s future (and a welcome one at that).
The Mandalorian is captured digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 4.5K) using Arri Alexa LF and Mini LF cameras, with Panavision Ultra Vista and Caldwell Chameleon lenses, and it’s finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio (with high dynamic range color grading) for its streaming exhibition on Disney+. It’s presented on physical 4K Ultra HD with HDR10 on a 100 GB disc. The image quality is absolutely fantastic, and a massive improvement over the Disney+ experience. With video data rates consistently in the 60-70 Mbps range, the result is much greater visible fine detail, a notably richer color palette, and a far more dimensional image overall. There’s none of the banding and artifacting sometimes visible in the Disney+ stream. Notably, the HDR experience on disc is more of what you expect from this format (the grade often appeared dim on Disney+), with deeply detailed shadows and more naturally bright and eye-reactive highlights. Honestly, the clarity is so good here—and the sense of depth so much better than streaming—that you can occasionally notice the ‘flatness’ of the StageCraft Volume walls more easily. But that’s a nitpick; a gorgeous 4K image is a gorgeous 4K image.
Primary audio on these discs is offered in English Dolby Atmos. And the good news is, unlike the compromised sound experience on the Disney+ stream, the uncompressed Atmos mix really shines. All the dynamics are present, with pleasing LFE and immersive use of the height and surround channels. The soundstage is nicely wide, with subtle atmospherics all around the listener. Dialogue is clean and readily discernible, movement is smooth and buttery, and Göransson’s score offered in pleasing fidelity. This isn’t an especially aggressive or blustery surround mix, but it serves the visuals well and (like them) is a big improvement over the streaming experience. Additional sound options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, as well as French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish.
Disney’s 4K Ultra HD Steelbook release of The Mandalorian: The Complete First Season features all eight episodes spread across two UHD discs. But there are no Blu-ray versions included—those are available separately—nor are there Digital codes. (Presumably, they’re withholding those to protect the value of the show on Disney+.) The specific episodes and bonus features included are as follows:
DISC ONE (EPISODES 1-4)
- Chapter 1: The Mandalorian (UHD – 38:49)
- Chapter 2: The Child (UHD – 30:59)
- Chapter 3: The Sin (UHD – 35:04)
- Chapter 4: Sanctuary (UHD – 39:02)
DISC TWO (EPISODES 5-8)
- Chapter 5: The Gunslinger (UHD – 32:53)
- Chapter 6: The Prisoner (UHD – 41:06)
- Chapter 7: The Reckoning (UHD – 38:20)
- Chapter 8: Redemption (UHD – 46:29)
- Remnants of the Empire (HD – 5:46)
- Forging the Covert: Part One (HD – 10:35)
The discs’ menus feature a slideshow of high quality 4K production artwork set to music. Unfortunately, there are only two special features in this set—Remnants of the Empire and Forging the Covert: Part One—both of them on Disc Two, and they amount to a little over sixteen minutes’ worth of content. These featurettes are certainly good and interesting—and they seem to have been created (or at least compiled from longer content) just for this disc release. The first offers a bit of context for the series’ position and setting in the Star Wars timeline, as well as its look, props, and a peek at its virtual production. The second features Favreau and Filoni talking about the origins and development of the series, with artist Doug Chiang and others addressing the design and performance of the child, Mando’s costume and props, the Razor Crest, and more.
Missing are the eight Disney Gallery featurettes on the making of this season—Directing (32 mins), Legacy (29 mins), Cast (26 mins), Technology (27 mins), Practical (31 mins), Process (19 mins), Score (23 mins), and Connections (38 mins)—that appear on Disney+, as well as the ILM Virtual Production (5 mins) piece found on YouTube. It would have been nice to have these included, perhaps on a separate Blu-ray bonus disc. But the upside is that the actual episodes have all the disc space for maximum quality. You do at least get a set of three concept art cards in the Steelbook packaging, which features custom artwork by graphic designer Attila Szarka.
The Mandalorian represents a breath of fresh air for the Star Wars franchise, depicting corners of the galaxy less populated by Jedi, Sith, and Skywalkers than heretofore imagined (a little in the mold of Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One). And if you’ve enjoyed the show on Disney+, trust me when I say that you haven’t seen or heard like this yet. This unexpected but welcome physical 4K Ultra HD release from Lucasfilm and Disney delivers The Mandalorian in premium A/V quality with lovely Steelbook packaging. It certainly isn’t cheap, but if you’re a fan it’s definitely recommended.
- Bill Hunt