'The Mandalorian' and When 'Star Wars' Is an Experiment
If The Mandalorian unconditionally succeeds in one thing, it’s something that Lucasfilm and Disney have already demonstrated in the current era of Star Wars — that the famous "galaxy far, far away" setting of the franchise allows for far more variety of stories to be told than would be immediately apparent from the early movies in the series.
The original trilogy of Star Wars films is, for the most part, straightforward when it comes to genre, purposefully patterning themselves after adventure pics of old, with a purposeful mix of derring-do, sword fights and a dash of romance to keep the attention from wandering for anyone in the audience who’d prefer to see more of the kissing stuff. Despite the title, they’re pretty far from war movies, and for all the suggested danger of The Empire Strikes Back, there’s very little feeling of true risk on show: They are exciting — perhaps thrilling is a better word, more fitting with the movie serial of it all — but essentially safe viewing experiences, which is part of their appeal.
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Given the many ways in which the first Star Wars films are the model for the Disney era of the franchise, it’s somewhat of a surprise to consider that the current era has seen the franchise purposefully push itself outside of that genre comfort zone to the extent that it has with its primary output. (For ease of use, “primary output” here is defined as “Star Wars stories made by Lucasfilm, as opposed to farmed out to comic book publishers, video game companies or prose publishers.)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was, for all its faults, the first Star Wars movie to actually feel as if the second half of the franchise title wasn’t an exaggeration. Solo: A Star Wars Story had remnants of the comedy movie it could have been in what finally made it to the screen. And The Mandalorian is, very clearly, a Western dressed up in the alien costuming of the larger Star Wars mythology.
It’s a curious thing to watch, and an exciting one to some degree, as the powers-that-be seem to be experimenting in front of the audience to see where the boundaries of Star Wars as a property actually are. Certainly, if Rogue One suggested one limit of what fandom would accept — especially in terms of just how dark the storytelling can actually go, with the entire crew perishing for the cause — then The Mandalorian feels like the slow discovery of another line, stripping the franchise of almost everything familiar with the exception of occasional visual cues and seeing what’s left.
For a property as valuable as Star Wars, it’s been a surprise to see such experimentation done in public, not to mention presented as completed work, as opposed to happening in the background before being refined and reworked ahead of its onscreen debut. That everyone gets to watch the process unfold in real time, though, is an unlikely pleasure and a treat for those wanting to peek behind the curtain, even when the result is… well, Solo.
That, ultimately, makes an unexpected argument in favor of sticking with The Mandalorian as it continues. Even if the show didn’t necessarily wow you immediately, who knows where the series — and the franchise — is going to end up going next, and what new shapes it might twist itself in along the way? As Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ends one era of the property, viewers have the chance to watch the next one being build in front of their eyes, on a weekly basis. Really, what true fan could say no to that opportunity?
by Alex Ritman