The Mandalorian doing its own thing while still embracing the Star Wars lore makes it an interesting watch for both franchise fans and new viewers alike
Comparing the success and the importance of The Mandalorian to that of the MCU’s Iron Man would not be far-fetched. With two confirmed spin-offs (a show about the exploits of Ashoka Tano and Rangers of the New Republic) on its way, The Mandalorian has done for Disney+ what Iron Man did for the MCU. However, unlike the MCU, the Star Wars universe was already fleshed out and still functioning despite recent setbacks with the sequel trilogy.
Ever since the release of A New Hope, Star Wars has managed to transport moviegoers to “a galaxy far far away” on one adventure after another with every movie. While some movies have been better than the other, there is no denying the importance of these movies as cultural artefacts that have defined generations of popular culture lore, created a fanbase that is both supportive and toxic, and established an empire selling merchandise.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses in the Star Wars universe. The problem with being such a huge cultural behemoth is that after a point of time it becomes difficult to resist feeling bloated with all the fans’ expectations and the franchise’s own ambitions. And clearly the chinks in the armour had started to show quite early, with the release of The Phantom Menace. What Star Wars needed was a fresh start for a different generation of viewers. With the recent Star Wars sequel trilogy, there was a promise of a new beginning, a new direction, but ultimately it seemed like an attempt to exploit the success of the original trilogy while for the most part being indifferent to the prequel trilogy.
Watch: The Mandalorian | Season 2 Official Trailer | Disney+
This is where The Mandalorian really excels — it does its own thing while still embracing the lore. Here are 7 more reasons why The Mandalorian is better than the recent Star Wars efforts.
Rugged hero in a chrome package
Din Djardin a.k.a Mando or the eponymous Mandalorian is certainly the best part of the show. Underneath the shiny armour of beskar novelty there is a familiar charm — the lone, mysterious hero. The cinematic tradition of Hollywood and beyond is filled with this archetypal hero whether it is a gun-strapped drifter played by Clint Eastwood or John Wayne or a katana-wielding Toshiro Mifune (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo), or the more recent John Wick. These heroes have always found a place in the viewer’s heart.
The Mandalorian embraces the archetypal hero and does one better — it gives the viewer the opportunity to see Din Djardin grow out of his armour (even literally when he takes off his mask). The viewer gets to see the reluctant yet warm paternal side of the bounty hunter. It makes some of the most humane and emotional moments in any recent Star Wars effort.
While the original Star Wars trilogy gave us some iconic protagonists in Luke, Han, Leia, and of course, the antagonist Darth Vader, the rest of the Star Wars movies have had a little luck creating a memorable protagonist (with the exception of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequels) even though Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo are pretty good characters on their own. However, Finn and Poe don’t really get much room to grow and somehow Rey and Kylo still find themselves under the shadow of the Skywalker-Solo family dynamics.
Fun for both Star War fans and non-fans alike
The first season of The Mandalorian does a great job at making Star Wars fans feel at home as well as inviting the viewers to hop onto the Star Wars bandwagon. There is enough for everybody. The Mandalorian lore is quite deep in the Star Wars canon, and there was risk of appealing only to hardcore Star Wars fans. However, in adopting the familiar western tropes, the archetypal hero figure, detailed world building, likeable characters, series format and great action set pieces made for a great viewing experience for both old and new fans. While both the sequel and prequel trilogies targeted newer fans with more or less similar tactics and did well, the gateway into Star Wars universe that The Mandalorian provides for the lay person is way simpler and effective.
For the movie nerd in you
It is no secret that George Lucas’s original trilogy was inspired by Hollywood westerns and Japanese samurai films. And that clearly showed in the homages it pays to the films of Akira Kurosawa and others. However, as the Star Wars universe exploded into the imagination of moviegoers and the lore became denser, the movies that followed (except for The Last Jedi) became more self-referential and less indebted to the classics. The Mandalorian changed that and reminded the viewers just how much of Star Wars imagery and themes are rooted in post-modernism. The show doesn’t try to hide how it has been influenced by the Lone Wolf and the Cub series of films. The show has paid direct nods to Yojimbo, The Wild Bunch, Seven Samurai, For a Few Dollars More and many more classics. Finding out these references is indeed a treat for cinephiles.
Leaner, meaner, breezier
It is understandable that comparing a show with eight episodes plus another season with movie trilogies is not fair. While The Mandalorian does benefit from the show format, the movies certainly had a bigger budget, production value, larger canvas and a lot more time. However, the sequel trilogy seemed to struggle to bring the multiple character arcs and plot points together from a cohesive storytelling perspective; having multiple voices and a seemingly non-existent plan for the trilogy didn’t help either.
The Mandalorian on the other hand focused primarily on the two main characters, Mando and the Child (Grogu), while also giving recurring characters ample moment to shine. The new-adventure-per-episode approach worked in its favour and helped keep the screenplay tight and point of view largely singular. The humour and thematic simplicity further made it a breezy watch at an average of 40 minutes per episode.
Innovation — This is the way
The Mandalorian has brought game changing innovation to the TV show format with ILM’s StageCraft — it offers virtual photorealistic backgrounds with the possibility of real-time in-camera editing during shoots, decreasing the cost and time allocated for on-location shoots. The new technology has enabled The Mandalorian to look like a big-budget movie even with a budget way lower than every sequel trilogy movie, which falls in the $200-350 million bracket. This, however, does not suggest that the show’s VFX or production design is better than the movies. We know that is not possible. But what the show runner John Favreau and team made possible with limited budget and introduced a pathbreaking technology, opening new possibilities for future projects certainly, puts The Mandalorian a notch above the other recent Star Wars products.
Perfect score for Mandalore
This in no way means an affront to the iconic scores of John Williams or the scores that followed in the later movies. The themes and motifs of the later movies still relied a lot on Williams’ original, but that’s understandable as they were part of one long saga and using a familiar score made sense. However, with The Mandalorian, Star Wars was more or less breaking away from the Skywalker saga and sort of democratizing the fight against the remnants of the Empire. The score of the space bounty-hunter show delivers in that respect. It is not only fresh but also in keeping with the western theme of the show. In fact, this is the most western a Star Wars score has ever been.
The adorable muppet
The first thing that strikes the viewer about Grogu, the Child, is that its movements are starkly different from other non-human creatures on the show. This is because to give a direct nod to Jedi Master Yoda of the original trilogy, the creative team decided to use a muppet model instead of going the CG way. Not only does this decision fetches high nostalgia points but also makes Grogu more adorable.
Moreover, Grogu is perhaps one of the best merchandising possibility for Star Wars in recent memory, with Hasbro reporting a 70% spike in toy sales due to Grogu and the larger success of The Mandalorian.
(This story is published by Ankur Animesh Surin)