Back in the day, when I was a new member of SFWA, we issued the SFWA Handbook, and in it we advised all SF writers to avoid the “space western.” It might be popular on TV (Star Trek was called “Wagon Train in space”) but the genre’s print editors weren’t interested.
It’s still popular on TV as evidenced by the acclaim for The Mandalorian on Disney+. John Favreau, the writer and showrunner, has dipped into both the western bounty-hunter genre and the Japanese ronin films for inspiration. The title character is a masked bounty hunter who does a good imitation of Clint Eastwood’s voice and wears a cape instead of a serape.
In the first three of the eight episodes we’re treated to a saloon shootout, some alien bronco busting, a desert town shootout, and the successful capture of the objective: a fifty year-old alien child you have no recourse but to call “Baby Yoda” (he’s not) who is terminally cute. By the end of chapter 3 the Mandalorian has decided to take the child under his wing, which lands a price on his head and sets all the other bounty hunters after him. (John Wick, anyone?) I watched him stride along with the floating basinet beside him and said, “Lone Wolf and Cub.” My daughter and grandson were watching with me but had no idea what I was talking about.
Episode 4 is a cut-down version of The Magnificent 7 (or Seven Samurai). I say “cut down” because there are only two gunslingers (The Magnificent Duo?) – the Mandalorian and the hot but very scary Gina Carano. I could go on but I won’t. I must, however, mention the arrival of Gus Fring in the guise of Mof Gideon, and the very cool salute to the finale of The Wild Bunch in episode 8.
I’m not complaining about the homages (?) because I had fun identifying them, but going forward I hope for more original plotting. I do see a problem with the Mandalorian religion forbidding him to show his face to another human being. It’s a big drawback in that it’s so distancing. This character is carrying the series but the helmet makes it very difficult to engage with him. Even old Mount Rushmore Eastwood gave us something as the Man with No Name (he could do a lot with a squint).