ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Walt Disney Company's streaming service, Disney Plus, debuted today. Its highest profile original series is a drama set in the "Star Wars" universe called "The Mandalorian." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the first episode has both a nostalgia and new storytelling that fans want.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: "The Mandalorian" is your typical, tight-lipped bounty hunter; so tightlipped, in fact, when a quarry offers him money to let him go, he's got one chilling response.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MANDALORIAN")
HORATIO SANZ: (As Mythrol) There must be some mistake. I can get you more credits.
PEDRO PASCAL: (As The Mandalorian) I can bring you in warm or I can bring you in cold.
DEGGANS: Yeah. "The Mandalorian" is basically Clint Eastwood in a galaxy far, far away, which makes it a perfect linchpin for Disney Plus, the gigantic new streaming service aimed at keeping Netflix from becoming sole ruler of the TV universe. "The Mandalorian" brings a huge, Disney-owned franchise into TV's future with eye-popping special effects and lots of nods to the original "Star Wars" movies. Not so coincidentally, they're also available on Disney Plus. "The Mandalorian's" first episode unfolds like a Western set in space. Our taciturn hero turns over his bounties in a dive bar more than a little reminiscent of the Mos Eisley Cantina. That's where Han Solo once gunned down a different bounty hunter in the very first "Star Wars" movie. But when The Mandalorian gets paid by a character played by former "Rocky" star Carl Weathers, there's a problem.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MANDALORIAN")
CARL WEATHERS: (As Greef Karga) Did you catch them all?
PASCAL: (As The Mandalorian) These are Imperial credits.
WEATHERS: (As Greef Karga) They still spend.
PASCAL: (As The Mandalorian) I don't know if you heard, but the Empire is gone.
DEGGANS: Scenes like these drop information in small bursts. Here, we learn the show is set when the Empire served by Darth Vader is no more but before the rise of the bad guys in the recent "Star Wars" movies, "The First Order." Mandalorians are a special warrior race, like the original bounty hunter character in "Star Wars" lore, Boba Fett. Unlike many of the old movies, Disney Plus' "The Mandalorian" is a top drama with story mostly told in action. Creator Jon Favreau doesn't weigh down his plots with arcane politics or awkward romance. The story is set in motion when our hero takes a well-paying job and meets a pivotal character. It's a groundbreaking moment which could lead anywhere. Some of Disney Plus' other shows are a bit more pedestrian, including an unscripted series hosted by Kristen Bell called "Encore."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ENCORE")
KRISTEN BELL: These adults will get to reprise the roles of their youth...
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) It's a hard-knock life for us.
BELL: ...Because the 1996 Santee High School cast of Annie is reuniting for one more encore performance.
DEGGANS: There's also a scripted series about high schoolers putting on a production of High School Musical called "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL: THE MUSICAL: THE SERIES")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) People think a theater teacher's job is to put on a good show. And they're not wrong. But we're really in the business of saving lives. Give us your tired, your poor, your chosen last for dodgeball.
DEGGANS: Right now the selection of shows appeals mostly to kids with a new version of "Lady And The Tramp" and loads of child-friendly Disney programming. And there's an appeal for genre fans with lots of content featuring Marvel, "Star Wars" and Pixar projects. But the Disney Plus interface had lots of glitches this morning. I had some trouble logging in and accessing some features. Disney even sent a tweet admitting they may have underestimated the platform's mass appeal. "The Mandalorian," though, is a well-crafted, compelling series that's the perfect ambassador for Disney Plus - an old favorite wrapped in a new story that leaves you hungry for the next episode.
I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.