Star Wars has always been the most valuable blockbuster franchise in history, and it is going to continue growing until the end of time. Starting out as a space opera from original creator George Lucas, the Star Wars franchise incorporated more styles and genres of filmmaking as time went on. After Disney’s acquisition, it became obvious that they were going to pour every ounce of their creative energy into seeing what they can do with the resources they’ve been giving and continually adding in the Star Wars franchise. The question became less about “What kind of a movie is Star Wars meant to be?” and more about “What kinds of movies and shows can we make within the Star Wars universe?”
This is predominantly evident in the two spin-off movies that Disney has released within the past few years. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was Disney’s attempt at making a war movie using the Star Wars universe. You can make the argument that Star Wars has always been a war movie franchise, but this spin-off truly incorporates elements of war movies in a way unlike any of the other films. We get introduced to a bunch of new characters as the movie goes on, all with the same goal of obtaining the Death Star plans from behind enemy lines. And as expected, every one of them dies by the end, even the two main characters. This is why the movie doesn’t work; Star Wars has always been about its memorable characters, ones whose legacies transcend beyond one film. Introducing a bunch of new characters and tossing them to the curb when all is said and done makes this the most forgettable movie in the franchise. It’s a good war movie, but not a good Star Wars movie.
Solo: A Star Wars Story suffers from a similar problem, albeit to a lesser extent. In addition to the movie’s one-off characters, even the already-established characters in the franchise feel like they were wasted. There was hardly any development to both Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, and the movie rushed to establish Han’s main elements: Where he got his blaster, how he met Chewbacca, how he acquired the Millenium Falcon, etc. A Han Solo origin story would have made for a really interesting movie, but instead we got Han and the gang trying to pull off an ultimate heist with little to no connection to the main storyline. It may have been a decent heist movie that had sprinkles of Western-style filmmaking, but it too does not work for Star Wars.
So when it comes to creating original side stories in Star Wars, Disney is so far zero for two. At this point there wasn’t anything they could do to get fans both old and new to be excited for new content in the Star Wars franchise. But the release of Disney+ allowed them to venture into uncharted territory for the franchise: creating captivating stories that lasted longer than a feature-length movie. There was still Star Wars: The Clone Wars, an animated series that initially premiered on Cartoon Network and eventually made its way to Disney+, but now Disney could take their massive budget and creative output into making a cinematic television series. This was the beginning of The Mandalorian.
The first ever live-action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian was created by the multi-talented filmmaker Jon Favreau. Favreau had dabbled into combining Western and science fiction when he created Cowboys and Aliens in 2011 prior to taking on a bigger role at Disney, which made him the perfect person to spearhead the project. He’s a really big fan of two genres of film: westerns and samurai flicks; he even revealed in an interview that Howard Hanks’ Red River and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai were some of his favorite movies of all time. In addition, Kurosawa’s movies were a huge inspiration to George Lucas when he first created Star Wars.
It’s pretty obvious that, as a fan of both westerns and samurai movies, Jon Favreau was going to draw heavily from these two genres in his creation of The Mandalorian. This show does a really good job at combining these two while incorporating sci-fi elements typically expected in a Star Wars project. It is really interesting considering that the basic themes in westerns and samurai films contradict one another; western movies are all about establishing order in a lawless land, while samurai movies involve a member of that already-established order breaking away from them and becoming a rogue. However, The Mandalorian’s place in the Star Wars timeline makes marrying the two opposing genres’ themes easy. The show takes place several years after Return of the Jedi. The Empire, the biggest source of law and order in the galaxy, has collapsed entirely, and the Rebellion is struggling to maintain peace in the farther reaches of this galaxy. Between the numerous factions who are at odds with one another, the worlds that The Mandalorian takes place in are basically the wild west (especially considering how barren most of these planets are).
The Mandalorians are the only group of people shown in this series that come close to serving as the peacekeepers. They even have their own code and rigid way of life, much like the samurai did. The titular character (who will be referred to as Mando going forward) draws much inspiration from the main characters in samurai movies since he is a part of this organization, but he is also a vagabond. He’s not afraid to go against his own code if it serves the greater good. This is most evident in his decision to save The Child (a.k.a. Baby Yoda) from The Empire after accepting a bounty to turn him in to them. He is a combination of the standard main character in both western and samurai movies.
Mando is the most mysterious character ever created in the Star Wars franchise. Very little is known about his background, and his face is always concealed by his signature helmet (except for THAT one moment in the Season 1 finale). He’s a blank slate, and this makes him a perfect main protagonist for this type of show. If he was in a feature-length movie, he would have been the most bland and one-dimensional character presented, but as the focal point of an entire series, he has the potential for some interesting character development. And who can forget about The Child? He is but another cute opportunity for Disney to market to everyone of all ages. But unlike Babu Frick and the porgs, The Child actually has a purpose in the overall story. Mando comes to understand that he needs to bring him to the safety of the Jedi in order to help create a new world order, and this is what drives his course of action throughout the whole series. If we’re not counting any of the sequel movies, these two are the most memorable Star Wars characters that Disney has created.
The Mandalorian will not be Disney’s last venture in Star Wars, FAR from it. Nor will Disney stop experimenting with seeing what they can try and fit in the Star Wars universe, whether they want to try and make a horror movie or mafia flick if they really wanted to. But The Mandalorian delivers exactly what Disney needs to keep doing with Star Wars. Literally every movie that has been released involves the Skywalkers and their friends in some way, shapes, or form. Personally, it’s tiring to constantly be reminded that they exist no matter how important they are. Let us see new stories away from the main action with brand new characters, especially knowing how far Star Wars will go in time. And most of all, give these fantastic creators like Jon Favreau all the freedom in the world to do whatever they want with Star Wars. The payoff will be tremendous if they do.
Season 2 of The Mandalorian is still ongoing and is available to stream on Disney+.
(Cover Photo: Lucasfilm/Disney, TechRadar)