"The Mandalorian" is the Star Wars Series Fans Have Been Waiting For
If you’re a fan of Star Wars , you’re probably familiar and maybe even annoyed by some of the ongoing criticism surrounding the newest trilogy in the Star Wars franchise. To say that some fans were (and still are) divided by Episodes 7, 8, and 9 is a Jabba-sized understatement! But also let's not forget, fans were upset and divided by the prequels too, though I would argue they've aged better than most anticipated.
You can’t say that Star Wars fans aren’t passionate about Star Wars. That’s for certain. But at the end of the day, isn't that an artist's dream? A fanbase who cares so much about the work you've created and world you've taken them to, they're willing to speak up when things don't meet their expectations!
With the sequel trilogy, many felt that the final product lacked direction and even an appreciation for and understanding of what fans loved about the original Star Wars.
Some fans were convinced that Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, and Disney played it too safe, relying on recycled plots and nostalgia to carry their water instead of giving us a fresh but original new trilogy. Others believed that directors like Rian Johnson were too bold and flew too far from the heart of Star Wars (specifically with The Last Jedi), dishonoring its legacy and characters in the process.
Too much of the same? Too different? Is it just a damned if you do; damned if you don’t situation? I don't think so.
I don’t envy the creative powers and story group at Disney-Lucasfilm one bit. Okay, that’s not true at all. I am insanely jealous that their writers get to spend all day playing in a galaxy far, far away. They have the coolest job on any planet. But they've also been given the unenviable task of having to sustain existing fan passion while inviting new fans into the franchise.
As a storyteller, people will always have ideas and opinions about how you should write your story. Sometimes fan ideas and theories are really good. Sometimes they aren’t, but it’s not their job to tell the story, it’s yours. What was it that Julia Cameron said? “Most academics (like fans) know how to take something apart but not how to assemble it.”
You must respect your audience, of course. They’re the ones who read your books and go to see your movies. You must honor their investment, listen to their feedback, and do your due diligence in trying to understand why they love the product you're selling.
Writers don't get a pass for telling bad stories, but they also shouldn’t be bound to just give fans whatever they want either, no matter how angry or vocal they may get.
Regardless of how any of us may feel about The Rise of Skywalker or anything that came before it, George Lucas didn’t just write one story with A New Hope and his original trilogy. He created an entire galaxy of amazing creatures, incredible worlds, relatable characters, and brewing conflict to be explored in future films, video games, books, and television series. And now that world has been entrusted to the stewardship of others.
Some fans were frustrated by what felt like the new trilogy’s inability (or unwillingness) to explore all the Star Wars galaxy has to offer. But that saga is also over. Episodes 7, 8, and 9 were always going to connect to the six films and characters that came before them. They were always intended to be a continuation of those storylines. Whether they were successful or not is another matter entirely.
The twin suns have set on the Skywalker Saga. The writers of Star Wars can take the story to new places with future movies, video games, and Disney+ series. They aren’t bound to wrap up or expand upon original character arcs or plot points ( they probably still will at some point).
That being said, there are still worlds we haven’t visited, creatures and characters we haven’t met, and stories that haven’t been told that may have little to do with the Skywalkers. For this reason alone, I do believe that the future of Star Wars can be bright in the right hands!
Is there a way to create something that is both new and nostalgic? Can Star Wars tell an original story while still honoring what fans love about the original trilogy?
We now have our answer, and all it took was eight episodes of Disney+’s flagship series, The Mandalorian, to prove that the future of Star Wars can pick up where George Lucas left off.
To be clear, what follows is not just a review of The Mandalorian’s first season, just my analysis of how the new Star Wars series builds on the legacy of Star Wars in ways the sequel trilogy perhaps failed to while still trying new things.
Minor Spoilers Ahead if you haven't seen Season 1 of The Mandalorian.
1. Assembling the Right Team
To start, Jon Favreau deserves every dollar he’s made as the showrunner of The Mandalorian. The guy gets it.
As we saw with Ironman (2008) and the start of the MCU, Favreau knows how to step into an existing franchise with established characters, storylines, and rules, and still create something that feels both fresh and familiar.
The diverse team of insanely talented directors assembled to bring the world of The Mandalorian to life also seems to understand what Star Wars is, has been, and can be.
With Star Wars veterans like Dave Filoni, seasoned directors like Deborah Chow and Rick Fumuyiwa, Hollywood veterans like Bryce Dallas-Howard, and the zany wonder who is Taika Waititi, the creative team behind The Mandalorian demonstrated a childlike admiration and fandom for Star Wars mythology and a deep respect for its fanbase in their handling of each episode. And trust me, Star Wars fans know a LOT more about Star Wars mythology than we give them credit for.
You have to have storytellers and filmmakers who care about Star Wars and approach it with a sense of wonder, imagination, and play. Favreau, Filoni, Chow, Waititi, Howard, and Fumuyiwa’s individual styles are evident in their respective episodes but never intrusive or distracting. Each director lends their talents and voice to telling this chapter of the Star Wars saga in the most collaborative way possible,.
The Mandalorian reminds us how much fun we’ve had with Star Wars in the past while taking us to the more chaotic, lawless parts of the galaxy in the wake of the Empire's downfall.
With The Mandalorian, Favreau and his team aren’t reinventing the wheel; they’re steering it to both new and familiar places. They’re not creating a new world; they’re exploring more of the world George Lucas gave us. They’re not trying to make up new rules or change the game; they’re just having fun playing the game we’ve enjoyed playing for forty-two years, just in unique ways.
2. There are No New Stories, Just New Ways of Telling Them
As I mentioned before, The Mandalorian doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of its basic plot and premise, but it also doesn’t have to. Sure, The Mandalorian may borrow from classic Spaghetti westerns, Samurai tropes, and classic archetypes (heck, episode 4 of The Mandalorian is basically Mando meets the The Magnificent Seven), but it’s not like A New Hope invented the Hero’s Journey.
George Lucas never scoffed at archetypes or cliches, and why should he? In his words, "don't avoid the cliches. They're cliches because they work."
Star Wars has always borrowed from gunslinger archetypes and classic mythology, but it has also found ways to do so in a uniquely Star Wars way. Where the sequel trilogy is justifiably open to criticism is when it recycled its own plot and the plot of the original trilogy. At that point, it’s not about familiarity but redundancy.
The Mandalorian, however, gives us the western gunslinger/bounty hunter in a galaxy, far, far away. This is apparent from the first scene of the pilot episode.
Follow me: we open with a wide shot on a desolate planet and cut to a low angle looking up at our hero, a gunslinger and bounty hunter who’s tracking something (or someone). The bount hunter of few words walks into the town saloon. Local tough guys are there harassing patrons and quickly step up to assert their dominance over the new guy in town. Citizens cower in fear, sensing something is about to go down. The gunslinger quickly dispatches of the tough guys who prove to be all bark and no bite. He retrieves his quarry, delivers him to his clients, and collects his bounty. Next mission. Next bounty.
Sound familiar? As much fun as it is watching this plot play out in the wild west, it’s just as entertaining seeing the interchange between the Mandalorian and Quarren or Trandoshan ruffians. It’s why some of the earliest scenes in the Mos Eisely Cantina were so fun in A New Hope.
Familiar situations, a unique world, and unusual yet lovable characters.
We met the smuggler and scoundrel in Han Solo. Now we’re meeting the bounty hunter with haunted past and code of honor. Cliché and archetypical in the grand scheme of storytelling? Sure. But most stories are. The physics of rollercoasters hasn't changed much, but that doesn’t mean that each rollercoaster can be its own, thrilling ride, and that’s exactly what we’ve been given with The Mandalorian.
3. Making the Skywalker Saga a Lifeline, not an Anchor
The nice thing about The Skywalker Saga is that it established a central conflict to base future stories around. Whatever happens now, all we need to know is where our new story exists in relation to events from the Skywalker Saga. Pre-Empire (Republic), Empire (Rebellion), or Post-Empire (Resistance)?
We know that The Mandalorian takes place five years after the events of Return of the Jedi but before the rise of the First Order. That’s enough information to let us know where things stand in the political structure of a galaxy looking to liberate itself from the shadows of the Empire.
Events from the Skywalker Saga are referenced in The Mandalorian but they never dominate the story or overshadow its characters. Rather, they inspire and inform where they’re going.
For example, in The Mandalorian, we learn that…
Cara Dune (Gina Carano) is a former Rebel shock trooper who fought on Endor,
Kuill (Nick Nolte), like most Ugnauts (as seen in Cloud City), was formerly enslaved by the Empire.
Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) is a disgraced Imperial magistrate.
Din Djarin/The Mandalorian’s (Pedro Pascal) parents were killed by Separatist battle droids during the fall of the Republic.
He was also raised by the Death Watch of Mandalore (The Clone Wars), which will do doubt become more significant in later seasons.
The biggest mystery and unanswered question are wrapped around the origin of The Child aka Baby Yoda, who we've learned very little about thus far.
While I don't feel The Mandalorian needed to include the presence of The Force, I like that character and his role in the Mandalorian’s arc enough that I’m willing to wait to get answers about where he comes from and what Moff Gideon and the remnant of the Empire want with him.
There’s a ton of backstory that connects to previous subplots and narrative threads in Star Wars canon, but The Mandalorian is also its own story with its own characters and worlds to explore, and there’s a difference between connection and confinement.
The Mandalorian reminds us that the Skywalker Saga will always influence future storylines in the Star Wars universe, regardless of when they are set. But that doesn’t mean it has to be the anchor for everything here on out. Sometimes it’s nice to break free, provided we recognize and at times acknowledge where we’ve been.
4. Creatures Create Familiarity Just as Much as Characters
I understand that a television series is different than a film trilogy in the way stories are crafted and how characters are developed, but what The Mandalorian reveals about Star Wars is that fans don’t always need to see familiar named characters from the Skywalker Saga to still feel grounded in the Star Wars universe.
Other stories in the Star Wars universe have resorted to character cameos and subplots for good reason:
It makes sense for Chewbacca and Lando to show up in Solo.
The presence of Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader is expected for a story about the Death Star (Rogue One).
Star Wars: Rebels was always going to include known leaders of the Rebellion.
The Clone Wars was meant to fill in the gaps between Episodes II and III, which means showcasing the heroes of those stories.
While it’s always fun to see C3-PO and R2-D2 roll into frame, The Mandalorian proves that Star Wars creatures, planets, vehicles, and technology create a sense of familiarity just as much as characters we know and love.
And can I just say that the use of puppets, prosthetics and practical effects makes The Mandalorian far more original Star Wars than the prequels/sequels overuse of green screen and SFX. I have spoken!
Jawas, Ugnauts, Trandoshans, Twi’leks, IG assassin droids, Pit Droids, Stormtroopers, and Mandalorian armor populateThe Mandalorian in ways we have never seen before. Creatures who were normally just background fillers in saga crowd scenes or the expanded universe have become significant players in The Mandalorian. We find new characters in familiar creatures all trying to navigate the post-Empire galaxy in their own way.
Star Wars is a universe of interacting cultures. Technology will be passed around, and in addition to seeing familiar creatures and locations (such as the Mos Eisley Cantina), we should encounter vehicles and weapons utilized in past films.
Refurbished AT-ST’s, swoop bikes, tie fighters, X-Wings, jetpacks, and maybe a last second appearance from the darksaber remind us that we are still in a galaxy far, far, away, with its own shared mythos, culture, and history. For fans of Star Wars, that’s a lot to keep us hopeful and excited for the future.
So in summary, The Mandalorian has opened a major door for possible stories to exist beyond the Skywalker Saga and proven that you can honor nostalgia and build on classic Star Wars tropes while still taking creative risks.
You can travel to the far reaches of a vast galaxy without having to abandon it entirely; and if you respect the world that’s been created as well as the characters and creatures who inhabit it, fans will be more than willing to get on board and go where the storytellers lead them.
The only downside is, we’ll have to wait until next Fall to find out where that is. I just know, given what I’ve seen thus far, I’ll be there when Season 2 of The Mandalorian premiers, and if you’re a Star Wars fan, hopefully you’ll be too.
I have spoken!
Thank you so much for reading. Only one more Star Wars post to go until Season 2 of The Mandalorian drops on Disney+ next Fall.
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Until Today, Mandalorians! This is the Way!