In 2019, the “Star Wars” franchise entered the world of live-action television with the premiere of “The Mandalorian” (2019–), a space Western series that catapulted its star, Pedro Pascal, to international fame. Pascal, who previously had a one-season arc on “Game of Thrones” (2011–19), has quickly become one of the biggest names in Hollywood over the last several years. His career is currently at a high point as he stars in two of this year’s most-watched television series: season 3 of “The Mandalorian” and season 1 of “The Last of Us” (2023–), a post-apocalyptic drama on HBO.
Pascal was born in Chile in 1975, but his family fled the country soon after his birth due to the aftermath of the 1973 military coup. He discovered his love of acting in America, graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1997, and he spent more than 15 years taking small roles in TV shows while he pursued a career in theatre. His breakthrough television role was Oberyn Martell in the fourth season of “Game of Thrones,” and just a year later, he was cast as Drug Enforcement Administration agent Javier Peña in the hit Netflix series “Narcos” (2015–2017).
Flash forward to 2023, and Pascal is one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. It’s remarkable for anyone to reach this level of popularity 25 years into their acting career, but Pascal makes it look easy. Since the premiere of “The Mandalorian,” he’s also starred in several films, playing a villainous businessman in “Wonder Woman 1984” (2020) and a Nicolas Cage superfan in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (2022), an action comedy starring Pascal and Cage that has seen a recent resurgence in popularity thanks to a clip that’s been circulating on TikTok. He hosted Saturday Night Live in February, where he poked fun at the Internet’s obsession with him in a sketch that featured a series of fancams — edited montages of popular celebrities. In March, he appeared on an episode of the YouTube talk show “Hot Ones,” and he recently starred as a detective in a series of ads for “Merge Mansion,” a mobile game known for their over-the-top marketing campaigns.
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Pascal without acknowledging the success of his latest series, “The Last of Us.” Based on the hit 2013 video game, the series takes place in 2023, 20 years into a global pandemic: The planet has been ravaged by a mutated fungus that infects humans and turns them into bloodthirsty attackers, and civilization as we know it has been destroyed. The series follows Joel (Pascal), a smuggler who has managed to survive the pandemic, as he travels across the United States with a teenage girl named Ellie (Bella Ramsey). “The Last of Us” has become one of HBO’s most-watched shows, with nearly 5 million viewers tuning in for the premiere in January.
Although video game adaptations have a reputation for failure, “The Last of Us” is one of the best TV shows of this year so far, with a well-crafted story and compelling characters that even those who haven’t played the game will appreciate. Created by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann (the game’s co-creator), the series has surprising emotional depth for a story set in a post-apocalyptic world. Every episode is visually stunning, with sets and costumes that ground viewers in the alternate reality of the series. Pascal and Ramsey have incredible chemistry, and their complex father-daughter relationship is a joy to watch. Given the series’ action-heavy narrative, many characters come and go in just an episode or two, including Joel’s partner Tess (Anna Torv), rebel leader Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) and Ellie’s friend Riley (Storm Reid). The best guest performances come from Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett, who play a pair of survivors in episode 3, a heartbreaking standalone story that is perhaps the strongest installment of the entire series.
Pascal gives a top-notch performance in “The Last of Us,” which wrapped up its first season on March 12. A few weeks earlier, season 3 of “The Mandalorian” premiered on Disney+. That means that for two weeks, audiences could choose between two different action-adventure series starring Pedro Pascal as a no-nonsense hero journeying through a sci-fi world with his surrogate child. In “The Mandalorian,” the sci-fi world is the “Star Wars” universe, and Pascal plays Din Djarin, a bounty hunter traveling the galaxy with Grogu (the artist formerly known as “Baby Yoda”). After parting ways at the end of season 2, the pair have now reunited.
Season 3 begins with Djarin’s journey to his home planet of Mandalore as he seeks to redeem his past mistakes and once again become a Mandalorian. Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), another Mandalorian in exile, joins Djarin and Yoda in their adventures this season. “The Mandalorian” continues to impress with captivating cinematography and entertaining action sequences, and this season has featured some wonderful new characters and standalone stories. However, as the season barrels toward a conclusion, we’ve yet to see the series’ main antagonist, Moff Gideon, from whom Djarin stole the Darksaber at the end of season 2. With just two episodes left, let’s hope Gideon will return to the story in this week’s installment. You’ll just have to keep watching “The Mandalorian” to find out what happens — and after this season ends, only time will tell where Pascal’s career will take him next.