'The Mandalorian' and the Quieter Future of 'Star Wars'

The Mandalorian Still 6 - Disney+ Publicity -H 2019
Courtesy of Disney+
Disney will soon put the franchise's films on hiatus as it heads to TV for a number of shows the studio hopes will serve as a palette cleanser.

Lucasfilm took its first steps into a bold new era of storytelling on Tuesday via the launch of Disney+ and the first live-action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian. The show, created by Jon Favreau, takes place shortly after the events of The Return of the Jedi (1983) and the collapse of the empire and follows a lone bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) tasked with a mysterious mission that challenges his moral code. The eight-episode weekly season, with a second season already in production, is the first of three announced live-action Star Wars series heading to Disney+. A show focused on Obi-Wan Kenobi will see Ewan McGregor return to the role and will take place between Revenge of the Sith (2005) and A New Hope (1977). And another series focused on Rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) will take place before Rogue One (2016). The Mandalorian not only gives us a look at a time period in Star Wars chronology largely unexplored outside of a few novels and comics, but also gives us an idea of what to expect from Star Wars going forward as Lucasfilm slows down its film output and focuses on series.

Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of The Mandalorian in terms of how it differs from the films is how quiet it is. It’s not that the series is missing the familiar sound effects of blaster fire, spaceships and automated doors, but that they are commonplace within this world. The Mandalorian is a streaming event, but it’s not an event equal to the movies. The quiet, occasionally meditative nature of this series, punctuated by Ludwig Goransson’s score, isn’t a bad thing. The Mandalorian isn’t the epic space opera caught between a struggle of good and evil that Star Wars films have been defined as. It’s part Western and part Samurai film, subgenres that have long found themselves linked. Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name Trilogy, and Kenji Misumi Lone Wolf and Cub films, based on the graphic novels of the same name, seem to serve as the series' primary reference points, and The Mandalorian is calm in its approach to exploring the galaxy.

The premiere episode, directed by Star Wars Rebels creator Dave Filoni, has traces of Rogue One  and Solo (2018) in terms of its action and interest in moral gray areas, but the scale is even smaller than those films. Despite the intimate nature of the series, the first episode does a lot in terms of world-building, with George Lucas rather than J.J. Abrams being the guiding force. From a Kowakian monkey-lizard, like Jabba’s pet Salacious B. Crumb, roasting on a spit, to an IG droid (voiced by Taika Waititi), The Mandalorian depicts a number of the alien races and species that have been conspicuously absent in the sequel trilogy. There’s even a reference to Life Day, making Star Wars’ first foray into television, the Star Wars Holiday Special, canon-ish. Because it doesn’t have the massive expectations that come with the films, The Mandalorian feels more free to play around in the corners of the galaxy and established canon, rather than be solely purposed with heading towards a story that has to be wrapped up in three entries.

This smaller-scale Star Wars feels refreshing, and like a necessary palate cleanser amidst the grandiosity of the films. In fact, it feels like the direction the films that carried the “Star Wars Story” label should have always gone in. Rogue One and Solo could have both benefitted greatly from a less truncated narrative and more time spent with the characters. There’s room to grow in The Mandalorian, and even with the 40-minute runtime of the first episode, nothing feels rushed. Rather, there’s a deliberate patience that permits every scene the chance to stand out and for the marriage of a tone that’s both edgy and cutesy that finds a balance, ultimately feeling very similar to Lucas’ original trilogy.

The Mandalorian does not exceed or replace the experience of seeing a Star Wars film, yet that feels entirely like the point. As Lucasfilm tries to stave off Star Wars fatigue, The Mandalorian provides Star Wars fans with just enough of what we love to keep us invested and just enough mythos-building and mystery to make the show seem like a necessary addition to canon. But, if this first episode is an indication of what to come, The Mandalorian doesn’t burn us out and overextend itself by trying to compete with the movies. Should future Star Wars series on Disney+ manage the same, while employing their own cinematic reference points and subgenres, then Lucasfilm may have found a way to keep Star Wars in the conversation on a weekly basis without fans, those casual and hardcore, feeling overwhelmed by their frequent trips to a galaxy far, far away.