How "The Mandalorian" Mines "Star Wars" Mythology and Classic Story Tropes
Now that The Rise of Skywalker has come and gone, it’s safe to say that the twin suns have set on the Skywalker Saga. To say that many were (and still are) disappointed in the new trilogy is a Jabba-sized understatement! Star Wars fans are passionate about Star Wars, and rightly so. They’re not trolls or bigots for voicing their disappointment with bad filmmaking or displeasure with bad storytelling. They’re not toxic for wanting the Star Wars they know and love to be done right.
With the most recent trilogy, some felt that Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, and Disney played it too safe, relying recycled plot structures, virtue signaling, and lazy writing instead of simply crafting a bold, original story with compelling characters. Others believed that directors like Rian Johnson, director of The Last Jedi, flew too far from the heart of Star Wars, dishonoring its legacy, its characters, and fans in the process.
Regardless of source of their frustration, I think most fans are united in their agreement that Episodes 7, 8, and 9 lacked a cohesive vision and plan from the beginning. That’s a problem, and it showed.
However, that trilogy is done. The dust has settled, lessons have been learned (hopefully), and the powers that be at Lucasfilm can now chart a course to new places with new character and new stories with future movies, video games, and Disney+ series.
Thankfully, despite anyone’s disappointment with The Rise of Skywalker, all it took was eight episodes of the Disney+ flagship series, The Mandalorian, to prove that there are those in Lucasfilm who still love Star Wars, respect its fans, and understand what made the original trilogy such a universal, timeless classic.
With its beloved new characters, signature brand of practical effects and cutting-edge technology, and strong adherence to mythology archetypes, classic tropes, and signature Star Wars themes, The Mandalorian has quickly become the live action Star Wars series fans have been waiting for.
So how did Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, and the team pull it off, succeeding where JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson, I hate to say it, failed?
Here are a few ways The Mandalorian proves that “this is the way” for Star Wars moving forward.
SPOILERS AHEAD if you haven't seen Season 1 of The Mandalorian.
1. Assemble the Right Team
To start, Jon Favreau deserves every dollar he’s made as the showrunner of The Mandalorian.
As we saw with Ironman (2008), which launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 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 alum 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 for Star Wars’ rich 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 and lore than we give them credit for.
With any franchise, 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 didn’t try and reinvent the wheel, rather, they turned it to take us to new and familiar places. They didn’t try and create an entirely new galaxy; they explore more of the world George Lucas gave us. They also didn’t try and “modernize” Star Wars or make it more progressive or relatable to current generations; they simply had 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 either.
George Lucas never scoffed at archetypes or cliches. In his words, we shouldn’t avoid cliches. They're cliches because they work.
Star Wars has always borrowed from gunslinger archetypes and classic hero’s mythology, but it has also found ways to do so in a uniquely Star Wars way.
In many instances, the sequel trilogy just recycled plots from the original trilogy. That’s not playing within a familiar, established archetype. It’s simply lazy and redundant.
The Mandalorian uses the Western, which informed so much of early scenes from A New Hope, and focused on the gunslinger/bounty hunter/outlaw 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.
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.
3. Make 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 the 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 climate of a galaxy looking to free itself from the shadows of the Empire. It also hints at a world in disarray with warlords and new players emerging to fill the power vacuum left by Imperial forces around the galaxy.
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 once 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.
The Mandalorian was also raised by the Death Watch of Mandalore (The Clone Wars).
The biggest unanswered question, however, is centered around the origin of The Child a.k.a. Baby Yoda, who we've learned very little about thus far.
This will certainly be the mystery that drives the story moving forward. Beyond that, there is 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
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.
Furthermore, the use of puppets, prosthetics and practical effects makes The Mandalorian far more like the original Star Wars than the prequels/sequels overuse of green screen and SFX.
Jawas, Ugnauts, Trandoshans, Twi’leks, IG assassin droids, Pit Droids, Stormtroopers, and Mandalorian armor populate The Mandalorian in ways we have and haven’t seen before.
Creatures who were normally just background fillers in crowd scenes have become significant players in The Mandalorian.
Here, we encounter new characters in familiar creatures all trying to find their way in a post-Empire galaxy.
Star Wars is also a universe of interacting cultures. Technology will inevitably be shared, and in addition to seeing familiar creatures and locations (such as the Mos Eisley Cantina), we will often 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 the past and build on classic Star Wars tropes while still taking creative risks in the future.
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 stopping by. Only one more Star Wars post to go until Season 2 of The Mandalorian drops on Disney+ next Fall.
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