A month or so after wrapping up the release of its first season, it’s fair to say that The Mandalorian lived up to the hype. Baby Yoda? Amazing. Taika Waititi‘s episode? A highlight of anything Star Wars, ever.
And though the waits for some may have been painful, the move away from the “series dump” did the new Disney Plus streaming platform a lot of favours – it was all everyone was talking about for seven weeks or so, rather than just the first week of release. And you can bet they are banking on repeating that success with all the original Star Wars and Marvel series yet to come.
What I loved about watching The Mandalorian, is how much it reminded me of reading Star Wars novels as a kid (generally now part of the “Legends”, non-Canon universe), where you’d meet characters within the universe who exist on the outskirts of the main “Skywalker Saga”. You revisit planets you came to know in the films, and characters and other details are mentioned – someone like Jabba The Hutt may even pop in. But it’s all about the infinite world that can exist, and thrive on screen or in print – without running the risk of sullying memories of the characters we love.
While Rise of the Skywalker saw Abrams return to his strategy from Episode VII – relying on nostalgia to make the film work – series showrunner Jon Favreau took a different approach with The Mandalorian. Taking inspiration from other serials like Star Trek, Firefly, Farscape and just about any sci-fi series you can think of, Favreau seemed to focus on one thing and one thing only: introduce Star Wars as a live action series for the first time and make it truly great.
By the end of the series, you’ve enjoyed a four hour saga that both told a captivating story through its eight episodes, and also had great individual storylines within each – taking its episodic formula seriously, with Favreau writing five of the episodes. And after the “was that it?” response to the end of Episode IX, from some fans, Favreau’s approach to the first season of The Mandalorian ensured a “oh now, THIS is it” response from fans and non-fans alike.
Having also launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man, it’s no wonder he’s done a great job here; the series doesn’t just take us out of the Skywalker saga, it establishes what’s possible beyond it.
But all this is not to say Abrams’ much loved nostalgia doesn’t play a part in the series. But, like those novels I grew up with, it’s in the locations, like Tatootine, or the title character himself inspired by Boba Fett. There’s mentions of “Hutt” and some clear indications of the timing of the film (as in Rogue One). But there’s no grand plan to make everything connected to everything else as fanatics have enjoyed clawing over on forums for the last 5 years, as the latest Star Wars trilogy was released.
And because of that, just like the response of Star Wars in 1977 took everyone by surprise, it feels like everyone was truly surprised by the first ever live action Star Wars series and the programme by which they’ve launched the Disney Plus platform.
Given the secrecy behind it all, Disney surely had a good idea they were onto something special. You probably heard the studio chose not to merchandise the show for Christmas – a move which cost the studio a reported $2.7 million dollars in potential revenue from “Baby Yoda” (officially known as “The Child”) dolls alone. Those playing at home may remember that the exact same thing happened when the first ever Star Wars film was released. History has a habit of repeating itself. But that time it was genuinely due to the fact they didn’t expect the film to be the smash it would be become. This time, they knew Baby Yoda would be the talk of the town, and they didn’t want any toy releases to ruin the reveal. Which was a masterful move by the team behind the show. Even as it was going, and I was hearing all about Baby Yoda, I couldn’t fathom just how central the character was.
Here’s hoping they learn from the success of the approach and continue to de-prioritise Baby Yoda dolls (though I would like a matching Amy Sedaris doll please), recognising that the strength of Star Wars as a franchise has always been its extended universe, rather than retconning or re-introducing characters we already know.
This may seem to be taking a pre-emptive stab at the Obi-Wan series starring Ewan McGregor – but more it’s encouraging those who continue on the franchise to dig deeper. The Mandalorian has proven that it will work in a way that Star Wars proved all the way back in 1977, without the merchandise available on the shelves. And there’s something so refreshing about that in the age of Disney’s rule over the Empire.
Here’s hoping for more of it. And 100% more Taika Waititi.
TL;DR: Jon Favreau has launched Star Wars’ live action foray into the episodic world, as successfully as he launched the MCU, and we’re here for it.
Disney Plus is available now in Australia, through which you can stream all 8 episodes of The Mandalorian. For more details head to disneyplus.com. A second season of The Mandalorian will be released in October 2020.