'The Mandalorian' and When 'Star Wars' Meets the Western

The Mandalorian - H - 2019
The series may offer the broadest ground-level look yet at what happens in the regions of space beyond the concerns of Jedi, Sith and political plans for galactic order.

One of the most anticipated projects coming to streaming service Disney + in November is The Mandalorian. The first live-action Star Wars series, the show takes place several years after Return of the Jedi (1983) and follows a Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) "gunfighter" across the outer reaches of the galaxy and through new hives of scum and villainy.

The trailer for the series, released Friday during Disney’s D23 presentation, promises a look that is visually in line with the original trilogy and a tone that appears to operate on less clearly defined terms of good and evil.

Created and written by Jon Favreau, and boasting the directorial talents of Taika Waititi, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rick Famuyiwa, Deborah Chow, and creator behind Star Wars: Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, Dave Filoni, The Mandalorian may offer the broadest ground-level look yet at what happens in the regions of space beyond the concerns of Jedi, Sith and the political plans for galactic order.

With an opening shot that perfectly establishes that the days of the Empire are over, the trailer shows blood-stained Stoomtrooper helmets mounted on sticks. This would typically be seen as a cause for celebration; after all, the Ewoks engaged in a similar ritual. But these helmets appear to be a warning sign rather than a symbol of victory.

The trailer hinges on the fact that just because the Empire has fallen, the war is not over. The period after Return of the Jedi and before The Force Awakens (2015) is one of the big gaps in the Star Wars timeline. Canonical novels and comics have scratched the surface of this time period, but this is a wild territory. The power vacuum left by the collapse of the Empire and the emergence of the New Republic appears to have created a galaxy in which order only stretches so far. The war may be smaller this time around, but it appears to be as equally important to establishing this universe going forward.

In an interview published by The Hollywood Reporter last week, Jon Favreau said, "I love the idea of the darker, freakier side of Star Wars, the Mad Max aspect of Star Wars. … The type of Star Wars that I'm inspired to tell is a smaller thing with new characters." And while The Mandalorian certainly looks a bit freakier and edgier than Star Wars fans are familiar with, there is still a recognizable core.

Star Wars has always had its roots in the American Western genre, itself heavily impacted by Akira Kurosawa's samurai films from which George Lucas drew inspiration. Jon Favreau's affinity for the Western isn't new either. When Tony Stark suits up as Iron Man and saves a group of villagers in Afghanistan, he's presented as the Western hero archetype. And Favreau's directorial efforts Cowboys and Aliens (2011) and the pilot of NBC's Revolution further show the filmmaker's affinity for the genre. The Mandalorian looks like an extension of these early efforts, now more honed and focused.

The teaser trailer for The Mandalorian carries this influence on its sleeve. Pascal's titular bounty hunter doesn't speak throughout the entire clip. That, and his lack of a name, are suggestive of Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name from Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy. Strip away the space ships and aliens and The Mandalorian seems to be, at its heart, in the vein of Western films and series that focused on a lone bounty hunter attempting to hold on to some form of code within outlaw territory. But of course, it's those space ships and aliens that create the feeling of something novel, uncharted and necessary for the expansion of this beloved property.

The trailer provides quick looks at Carl Weathers' Greef Carga, Gina Carano's Cara Dune and few of the show's alien characters, but setting and mood takes precedence over character introductions in this teaser.

One face, if you can call it that, familiar to Star Wars fans is IG-88, the droid bounty hunter introduced in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). A few shots show IG-88 appearing to work alongside the Mandalorian. Given the droid's history with Boba Fett, is it possible that Star Wars' most famous Mandalorian bounty hunter might play a part in this series as well?

In terms of the current canon, Fett's story ended when he fell into the Sarlacc pit in Return of the Jedi. But Lucasfilm has been interested in the fan-favorite character with a film set to be directed by James Mangold in development last year before the idea was scrapped. Given the visual similarities and shared profession between Fett and the Mandalorian, I expect there will be at least a reference made connecting the two.

There's not much exposition delivered in the trailer, and that blend of being grounded in the Star Wars universe while also being unsure of exactly where we are and what's at stake is part of the appeal. Werner Herzog's character delivers what seems to be the core idea of the series' first season: "Bounty-hunting is a complicated profession." No doubt the moral conflicts and lack of government oversight will make that complication an understatement as The Mandalorian ventures further away within this galaxy far, far, away.