Here I am, talking about a series way later than everyone else. Only really because the final episode of the Mandalorian only hit Disney+ here in the U.K. a couple of days ago, and I didn’t want to especially go out there and steal the damned show. I love Star Wars, and was willing to wait an extra few months to see the series as legitimately as I could.
I’m shocked at how I managed to avoid as much information about this series as I did, leading up to now. Well, except for baby Yoda, although that was unavoidable to people living in the deepest reaches of Wild Space. But having seen it all now, this show feels like the closest live action thing I’ve seen that truly evokes that same sense of storytelling that made me love the old Expanded Universe so much.
This is a drum I’ve bung before and I’ll bang every time I can: Star Wars is at its best when it’s acting as a platform. Unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars doesn’t benefit from being this complex, interwoven web of narratives. Star Wars is a living, breathing galaxy in which trillions of lifeforms are living their lives, most of which care nothing about the grand conflict of good and evil going on the other side of the galaxy.
The Mandalorian is live action Star Wars media I’ve seen that really does feel like a truly stand-alone narrative, one with no direct connection to any of the movies. It’s disconnected and telling a totally self contained story that not only builds on certain established aspects of the old lore, while also being a fun action show in its own right.
Which is exactly what the series desperately needed to be. I’m not going to be quite as negative as some and say that Rise of Skywalker tainted the well when it came to Star Wars or anything, but the Mandalorian was the perfect contrast to the movie in that it just got away from anything involving Skywalkers, Solos or Palpatines.
To reiterate my point point in my review of RoS from last year, the biggest problem that mode had from a franchise perspective was how much it back-pedalled and seemed content to simply pander to the more nostalgia driven aspects of the older movies. And Star Wars is so much more than that, it did nothing to push forward, it was a product that promoted stagnation of the brand.
The Mandalorian, despite what anyone might think of it as a stand alone series did what RoS should have done and push the envelope, try new things and keep contributing to that ballooning narrative. It’s always been the best aspect of the series for me personally, and between this series and the final episodes of the Clone Wars, we’re finally getting a front row seat to the very best thing about the franchise, being served to a mainstream audience.
The trick to doing this of course is to provide something both familiar, but also different. Which actually works perfectly given the rules of how things work in the established lore. IG-11, Baby Yoda and The Mandalorian himself are all characters that heavily evoke other, more well known characters from the franchise. Yet have nothing to do with them, but they’re familiar enough that the casual fan will perk up and pay attention.
Droid templates and alien species are easy visual shorthand to make you feel a certain way about a character. To some people, this series might as well be the Boba Fett series, even though more invested fans know that it’s anything but. Yet, that cross visual language needs to be there to keep the series present as Star Wars, especially when telling such a different story.
Which isn’t to say that series like the Mandalorian can’t cross over with the other media within the franchise in the future, but I’m just happy this first series had the guts to go and do what RoS was too afraid to do; stand on it its own.
It’s funny, I’ve spent all the time talking, and I’ve hardly mentioned what I thought about the Mandalorian itself. But at this point, I feel like that’s a moot point. The series wasn’t bad, had it been a disaster than that would have been the primary talking point in this post. Instead, this series just needed to be above average in order to act as a proof of concept, showing that a series set in the Star Wars universe didn’t need to be a grand tale of good vs. evil.
While it may not have been for everyone, the fact that it’s done as well as it has means the door has been opened for us to get even more series set in the Star Wars world with nothing to do with Jedi, Bounty Hunters or Smugglers and be pleased with it. I, for one, enjoyed the slower, more solitary pace at which the series developed.
I’ll finish by echoing what I said three years ago while praising The Last Jedi. To continue forward and grow as a franchise, Star Wars needs to discard the trappings of its own nostalgia, more importantly, it needs to cast aside the vocal critics whose enjoyment of the franchise is dependant on chaining it down and forcing it down a very narrow creative scope.
Star Wars has the potential to be something much grander than that, it has been before already. And it needs to be brave, take risks and do it all again on this new platform and on this larger scale, or else we’re doomed to seeing the same three movies over and over again until the end of time.