“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Those words, spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars about Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine, have passed into legend. They heralded the arrival of arguably the movie’s most iconic moments, the scenes where it mutates into a Sergio Leone-loving Space Western. Few remember what Kenobi said next: “We must be cautious.”
And cautious is exactly what the Star Wars franchise has been since then, returning to the Mos Eisley template fewer times than you might think. Mos Espa, the Tatooine spaceport in The Phantom Menace, offered pratfalls and podracing rather than tense Western standoffs. The Force Awakens and Rogue One had their desert planet moments, but both focused on those planets’ stormtrooper occupations at the expense of the scum-and-villainy underbelly. The first Star Wars movie to go full Space Western, Solo, was also the first Star Wars movie not to make its budget back at the box office.
Kenobi’s caution was warranted, then. But now here comes The Mandalorian, which doesn’t so much double down on the Sergio Leone homage as concentrate it, crush it into powder and snort huge fat rails of it. Check out the Mexican standoff in the trailer above and tell me I’m wrong. (As we learned at Disney’s D23 conference Friday, the Disney + service is also getting an as-yet-untitled series starring Ewan MacGregor reprising his role as Kenobi, which may yet up the Space Western ante even further.)
The Mandalorian, coming to Disney+ in November, has been as wary of revealing itself as a gunslinger in the corner of a cantina. At Star Wars Celebration in Chicago in April, we saw a few scenes from the Jon Favreau show — but the footage was blacked out for those watching on the livestream.
The official trailer had to wait until D23 less than three months before launch. It’s a rare case of reticence in the history of Star Wars trailers, which usually start their hype engines nine months or more in advance. Still, what we saw in both instances was enough to tip us off to the Extreme Western mood of the show.
The trailer opens with Stormtrooper helmets on spikes — showcasing the fact that we’re five years beyond Return of the Jedi, and a state of frontier lawlessness has settled over the Galaxy Far, Far Away.
Big Bad Emperor Palpatine has departed the scene. The Rebellion’s New Republic has not yet established itself. Local moguls rush in to fill the vacuum, everyone wants to use the ladder of chaos, Littlefinger-style, and consequently there’s never been more work for bounty hunters like the titular character, played by Pedro Pascal.
Later in the trailer we see a character about to be sliced in two by one of those dilapidated and futuristic (future-rustic?) dilating doors. This is another signal: The Mandalorian is not your father’s cute and cuddly Star Wars. As in that one shocking moment where Kenobi sliced the arm off a Mos Eisley Cantina patron, there will be blood.
Amping up the adult angle is Giancarlo Esposito, who takes his chilling villainy from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul and inserts it in a different kind of desert world. Same goes for Pascal, who was by far the best representative of arid Dorne in Game of Thrones. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if Gus Fring and the Red Viper walk into a bar, now’s your chance.
Pascal may not have enough of a chance to shine at the hero this time, given that we haven’t seen him once take his dented helmet off in the footage or the trailer. If that’s a thing for the whole show, we may have a problem here. Sure, Karl Urban kept his helmet on for the entirety of Dredd, but at least he had a visible chin to work with.
As if overly keen to remind us that we’re still watching Star Wars, the trailer also includes much else of what you’d expect from the franchise: someone rides a large, grumpy lizard alien like a horse. IG-88, the bounty hunter droid voiced by Taika Waititi, spins around with multiple blasters. A blue Twi’lek woman is dragged away to some unknown fate, as in Return of the Jedi. Spaceship lasers (fired at the Mandalorian’s ship, the Razor Crest) go pew pew.
But don’t let that fool you. Look instead at the vast vistas of desert landscape, the weathered face of Carl Weathers in space cowboy regalia, the sheer amount of in-Cantina action. Listen to the tumbleweed soundscapes and the gravelly voice of Werner Herzog, who plays a former Imperial officer longing to restore the glory of the Empire. (In the footage from Celebration, Herzog delivered a long lecture on frontier morality.)
In short, we’ve got Space Western tropes up the wazoo. This could be cool stuff at series length, especially with the diverse writing talent on the show. Or it could feel overstretched, a thin pastiche of the great Western movies.
Should you get hyped up yet? No. Listen to Obi-Wan, you will: be cautious.