HEAT VISION

How 'The Mandalorian' Found the Future of 'Star Wars'

The Mandalorian - Publicity Still - H 2019
Disney+
By the end of its first season, the Disney+ series had taken what it needed from pre-existing lore to create something that was at once new and well-worn.

As Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker closes off one chapter of Star Wars, the conclusion of the first season of The Mandalorian and official announcement of the second serves an important purpose: Showing just how to build out a new area of a galaxy far, far away to explore without losing the old fans.

In one respect, The Mandalorian is a curiously cautious enterprise in the way it approaches its characters. Every one of the primary characters in the show — with the exception of Cara Dune and Greef Karga — is purposely designed to visually resemble pre-existing characters with in-built fan bases from the original trilogy of Star Wars movies, but the show, equally purposefully, refuses to use the original characters being visually echoed.

It’s a way to take advantage of audience nostalgia without risking anything — if fans don’t like the treatment of IG-11, so what? It’s not actually IG-88 from The Empire Strikes Back. If they’re not into the Mandalorian himself, at least it’s not the memory of Boba Fett that’s being disgraced. For those involved in the show, it’s a win-win proposition: all the benefit of that “Hey, I had that action figure!” with all of the plausible deniability required against accusations of ruining someone’s childhood.

There’s more to this approach than the most cynical reading, however, not least of which being that the aesthetic cloning of pre-existing characters for the new creations allows for a re-population of the fictional galaxy in a way that’s immediately accepted by fans — after all, they “read” right, visually, because they’re already familiar — and automatically believable. If there’s an IG-88, doesn’t it follow that there are 87 other IG models? Why shouldn’t we see other Mandalorians, Stormtroopers or even Ugnaughts running around the galaxy?

And, while those characters are in the foreground, other ideas and concepts can get quietly rooted in the background. The Mandalorian introduced a number of planets, aliens— the mudhorn! — and concepts for the first time, and expanded upon others barely explored previously. (Who knew the Jawas liked eggs before this?) Using the familiar as camouflage, The Mandalorian quietly established new elements of Star Wars mythology under the radar, ready to be picked up and expanded at a later date.

Judging by the structure of the first season, those areas might just be explored at a later date; despite what it appeared to be on first glance, The Mandalorian proved to be more serialized than it seemed, with only two of the eight episodes not tying in directly with the central storyline by the end of the season. (And, really, who doesn’t think that Mayfeld’s crew aren’t likely to show up again at some point in the future?) It was another element of the stealth nature of the show, building its storyline as sneakily as it built out the world it needed. As above, so below, at least thematically.

By the end of its first season, The Mandalorian had taken what it needed from pre-existing lore and iconography — from the movies in the latter case, from the lesser-known animated shows in the former — to create something that was at once new and well-worn, just as the original Star Wars felt four decades earlier. After 11 live-action movies and multiple animated series, there is all manner of material left for new creators to play with as the larger franchise moves forward, using the same game plan as the Disney+ hit. Perhaps the key to the future of Star Wars has been in the past all along.

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