When Disney released the first episode of The Mandalorian in 2019, it was almost universally well-received. Featuring brand new characters, a spaghetti western feel (from both the story and the soundtrack), and wonderful set designs, it was a unique and strong entry into the Star Wars universe. So it’s little surprise that a manga adaptation would eventually follow. But while volume one is a tight adaptation of the beloved first episode of the series, it lacks the feel and excellence of its source material.
Readers of this manga—even those who haven’t watched the original series—already know about the “surprise” that viewers encountered at the end of episode one back in 2019. The manga decides not to hold this reveal tight-lipped, instead featuring images of “The Child,” Grogu, on its cover and opening pages. Thus it begins by connecting him with the titular character and establishing that their relationship is at the heart of the series.
But the bonding will have to wait as the volume leads us through an initial bounty, which shows how business-minded “Mando” is and how competent he is at his work. The next bounty, however, is more complicated, scoring him a down payment of Beskar, a metal that is held dear by Mandalorians, and leading him on a mission that is meant to assist a remnant group of imperials.
The story itself is fascinating. After the fall of the Empire, bits of it remain, still asserting control over certain sectors of the universe. The Mandalorian works in these less-lawful parts. A gun for hire, he is neither good (the former rebels) nor bad (Empire), allowing for an interesting tension that culminates in a decision he makes as the volume ends.
The portrayal of that decision, though, also speaks to the weakness of the adaptation. There is tension in the final showdown scene, for instance, but it’s not as visceral as in the original series. The violence and sudden action of that showdown aren’t replicated as well on the illustrated page, and so the volume kind of just moves along, presenting an interesting story without much excitement.
Even worse, the scenery often feels shipped in. As frequently as we see cool panels, like Mando’s bounties in carbonite, there are many others that show a landscape with hardly any elaboration at all. The scenery is a great part of what invokes the western sci-fi feel of the show, but that tone barely exists in this manga adaption. I still felt the wonderful atmosphere of the series, but that was because visuals from the series and Ludwig Göransson’s score were running through my head; those who haven’t streamed the show will be out of luck.
On a less critical note, I thought it was interesting how the volume so quickly seeks to humanize Mando. The mangaka, Yusuke Osawa, has a bit of freedom to do this since we as the audience already know Mando’s kinder side, but is it the right choice? I think the very slow peeling back of The Mandalorian’s mask is the better one, and while the manga series surely will go down that route to match the TV show, I would’ve preferred it happen even more slowly, creating a colder feel in volume one and more strongly emphasizing the main character’s middle moral ground.
So is Star Wars: The Mandalorian: The Manga a complete failure as an adaptation? I wouldn’t say so—it remains compelling because it’s almost 100% aligned with its parent. But in light of how successful and thrilling many other Star Wars manga (also released by VIZ) have been, including Lost Stars, The Legends of Luke Skywalker: The Manga, and Leia, Princess of Alderaan, it’s disappointing that this one, which may have the best source material of all is more or less average. Unless it shows some of the same creative energy as its original incarnation did on the screen, this series will go down as more a collector’s item or curiosity than the masterpiece it itself could—and should—be.
Star Wars: The Mandalorian: The Manga is released by VIZ Media. Volume one releases on September 12th.