Minor spoilers from Season One of The Mandalorian are ahead...
It’s been years in the making, and just like that, our first season of live-action Star Wars television is officially over. And boy oh boy, did that go by faster than a Razor Crest or what?
Was it the must-see television show of the fall season as many predicted? Or was it much ado about nothing? After eight chapters now in the books, I think I can safely say that the show has turned out to be more than anyone could have hoped for. In short, “Star Wars: The Mandalorian” is a bona fide, old-fashioned, rip-roaring smash hit.
Already the show, along with the Child (can’t forget him), has become part of the cultural zeitgeist in a way I don’t think anyone could have predicted. And more importantly to the benefactors, it helped launch the Disney+ streaming service by becoming must-see appointment television, trending higher with each new chapter.
The decision to forgo the “binging” method, popularized by Netflix, and go to a more traditional weekly format was clearly the right decision. This beast just grew and grew, with an audience demand over 100 times the average TV series, and it kept the conversation going by trending each week as opposed to all at once. Yes, the show, and everyone’s favorite green baby, has indeed cast a large spell.
And it’s amazing to think that it’s still months away from legally airing in Great Britain (and other territories), the franchise’s largest market outside of the United States, not that they haven’t been spoiled at this point. So, even though the season has wrapped up for many of us, expect a second wave of Baby Yoda madness this March.
Looking back, it may have seemed like an overly ambitious, risky proposition, especially timing it with the launch of a new untested streaming service. But, at $15 million per episode, and with the most popular IP in history, it was kind of a bargain. And we’ve seen now with our own eyes what $15 million gets you nowadays, especially in the hands of someone who knows what to do with it.
And what is that exactly? Well, The Mandalorian is a sometimes good, often great, and occasionally spectacular TV series, that while most of the time follows the rules of a long form show, breaks a few as well. One of those “broken rules” and a predominant point of discussion early on (second to baby Yoda), was the episodic run times. The length of the chapters in minutes varied from 31 (Chapter 2) to 48 (Chapter 8) including credits and seemed to have folks a little concerned at first.
It didn’t take long for us to settle in and if you ask me, shorter is better, especially if the alternative is longer episodes that drag on without adding anything meaningful to the narrative. This show seems adept at efficiently telling balanced and emotionally resonant stories using whatever runtime is necessary. I suppose they believe in the old adage, better to leave an audience wanting more, right?
Looking at the season in its entirety, we’re now able to provide a little bit of perspective on the success or failure of it. The successes are many, with Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, and a revolving door of directors crafting incredibly dense yet coherent western yarns, tailor-made to fit most any Star Wars fan’s sensibility.
The failures are fewer and more difficult to spot, and many of them I suspect will erase over time as we get more context and layers added. Some, such as the performance of Jake Cannavale, can be reduced to a blip on the radar, and will be forgotten over time, if not already.
Otherwise, Favreau’s ability to not only capture the show’s intent, harness it, and then project it outward, shows a deep understanding and reverence of what Star Wars truly is, and in many ways is the opposite of storytelling alchemy. His “something from something” style feels refreshingly honest in this day and age where audiences are being faced with an endless array of cynical mystery box TV. This style of storytelling asks a lot from its audience, who for most part, are simply looking to escape.
No, this show is appealing because it proves that keeping it simple, if done well, still works. Favreau isn’t interested in artifices or sleight of hand; he takes you along for the ride, keeping pace with the show’s lead, in this case Din Djarin. And where other creators might attempt to wow their audience with flattery, in turn underestimating their intelligence, The Mandalorian earns its stripes the old-fashioned way, with straightforward coherent storytelling.
He trusts the general audience’s ability to follow a story told correctly, that isn’t derivative but is familiar enough that you’ll recognize it; it’s still Star Wars after all. Indeed, the show settles into a sweet spot, where it doesn’t feel contrived, which of course it is, but rather unfolds in a more unpretentious way.
Favreau has tapped into a wellspring of not only sentiment, but a type of craftsmanship few possess. His decision-making ability is very good, and this is never more evident than in his partnering with Dave Filoni. We know The Mandalorian really began back in 2007/2008 when Favreau was making Iron Man and Filoni was making The Clone Wars, both using Lucasfilm facilities. They struck up a quick friendship, relishing in each other’s projects, and a year or so later, Pre Vizsla made his first appearance along with the Darksaber.
Now, there’s simply no way you can convince me that the seeds of The Mandalorian weren’t planted during this time. And while Favreau would go on to make some rather large films; it seems Mandalorians were never too far from his mind. Fast forward several years, Favreau runs the idea for a new show by Kathleen Kennedy, who mentions that Filoni has been eager to try his hand at live-action Star Wars. They decide it would be the perfect linchpin series for Disney+, and the rest they say, is history.
And this idea that the show will be used to see how hand-picked directors fare in this galaxy far, far away, in-turn auditioning them for a series of their own, seems like too big a gamble to me. But if it’s true, and is the reason we’ve got Deborah Chow, then I’m all for it. Of all the folks attached to this series so far, her contribution cannot be understated.
But it’s clear this show isn’t test footage or patient zero for something bigger and better down the road. No, this show is of the highest quality and whatever your opinion is on its specific content, tough to argue the craftsmanship on display. It really does look like a show that’s been ruminating in Jon Favreau’s head for quite some time, it’s very universal.
Look, it's clear I’m in love with this show and I absolutely can’t wait for Season Two next fall. But please, if you are one of the few left who hasn’t seen it, don’t take my word for it, watch it immediately. I suspect you’ll like it very much, and when you do watch it, send me an email and let me know what you thought! Good or bad.
In the meantime, here’s some of what our ForceCast+ roundtable guests had to say about this historic first season…enjoy!
Jon Hopkins (Psychosocial Cinema podcast)
What makes this series so special is how it was presented to us on Disney+. Appointment based viewing has been on the decline unless you are someone who frequents regular cable programming. And what the Mandalorian gave us was a reason to gather around the TV on Fridays and partake in this lone adventurer's quest to protect an asset nobody knew they wanted to love, but ended up doing so immeasurably.
They really managed to spark a lot of interest and whichever way you slice it, for a new streaming service to opt for this method, that's pretty damn cool. Even more important than the release cadence is Disney’s long overdue position of placing powerful, creative women behind the camera, telling deeply affecting Star Wars stories.
When you take these elements, and boy, there are more, you get something that is both wholly unique and Star Wars all at the same time.
James Burns (LRM Online)
Things will never be the same for us Star Wars fans, and why should it? If The Mandalorian has taught us anything, it’s that change can be good. I believe we have just witnessed the future of our fandom in this show, and I’m excited to see where it takes us.
For the first time in a long time, the fandom seems unified by something. We've all set aside our pitchforks and torches in exchange for the Mandalorian creed; we are witnessing history in the making.
This is indeed the way.
Brad Jost (Jurassic Park Podcast)
There’s been a new feeling in the air since last November when Disney+ premiered. Ever since the streaming age began, we had all hoped for a service where we could access all the Disney content out there in one spot, and now, we do.
The success of Disney+ hinges on the success of its original content, and The Mandalorian is the cornerstone of that content. It's the FIRST live action Star Wars television series and the FIRST entry into the Disney+ model of dramatic television storytelling. It's a bit historic if you ask me.
Since its debut, The Mandalorian has reached levels of success the likes of Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, and The Witcher have hit. It's already become wildly influential, with a little help from Baby Yoda, but the Child isn’t the only thing great about this series.
It’s great because it subverts the tropes laid down by Star Wars content in the past. We've seen tough bounty hunters before, along with Tusken Raiders, Jawas, Astromechs, and different uses of the Force. The Mandalorian takes what we know about these ideas, subverts your expectations, and gives them much more contextual life than ever before.
The show is about breathing new life into tired concepts such as seeing Jawas brutally fight back, or Tusken Raiders communicate in a way we’ve never seen before. Just those two brief instances alone, bring so much more context to these species, perspectives that we haven't gotten anywhere else.
We can only hear the Jawas say "Utinni!" so many times before we need to move onto something else, and The Mandalorian has moved us, big time.
It’s truly special.
Bill Sheehy (Skywalking Through the League podcast)
I must be honest; I had almost no interest in The Mandalorian when it was first announced. To me, it seemed like a missed opportunity to not do something related to the Jedi, one of the main reasons I love Star Wars. Now, we didn’t know it at the time, but as Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni revealed more and more about the series, they were showing us the future of Star Wars.
From moment one The Mandalorian proved one thing to me, you can tell compelling live-action Star Wars stories without the Jedi as a central focus. It was a tough pill to swallow for me, but it turns out the galaxy is way more than just Skywalkers. And after 42 years, it’s clear now that we need to see more stories like The Mandalorian to be told.
It manages to retain that same swashbuckling sense of adventure that the originals had, while being something completely new and different. This is truly the way.
Mark Von Ohlen (Topps/Star Wars Authentics)
The Mandalorian ended up being my favorite part of Star Wars this year. Even with a gigantic blockbuster movie and a stellar video game, The Mandalorian rose to the top of the charts with engaging storytelling, excellent stunt work, believable special effects, and a cast giving it their all each episode.
The show is great for people who have never seen Star Wars but also rewards long term geeky fans like me with Easter eggs and callbacks. I legit screamed at the TV when I saw Werner Herzog reveal the “ice cream maker” and when Giancarlo pulled out the Darksaber. While those things won’t resonate with the more casual fan, just about everything else in the series does.
We have all new characters with complicated motivations, lots of high-energy adventure with numerous new locations to explore, and exciting guest stars to meet along the way. And while “Baby Yoda” may steal every scene he’s in, Pedro Pascal is a FORCE in this show. He conveys so much emotion through minimal movement and dialogue. It’s a real testament to his abilities as an actor that his character is so compelling.
And the rest of the main cast is terrific as well, especially the creepy AF Werner Herzog, who you know from the beginning has nefarious plans for The Child. Taika Waititi is a delight as IG-11 delivering so much humor and charm that you forget he’s just a gigantic Festival pole with a gun. Nick Nolte may have given us the second best catchphrase of the series with “I Have Spoken” while Emily Swallow (the Armorer, who also kicks major butt, especially in the season finale) takes the top spot with “This Is the Way.”
All of them are great, though Gina Carano as the badass Shock Trooper and new best friend (and she’s from Alderaan!) may be my favorite. The finale bringing most of the main cast together for one huge mission was a smart move showing how big this new galaxy can be. And that scene of Jason Sudeikis punching Baby Yoda may have united the entire fandom in a common goal of calling the Bounty Hunters’ Guild to enact retribution.
The show works best when it’s OUTSIDE the Star Wars we know so it can subvert our expectations. But how cool would it be to see Katee Sackhoff return in a live action version of Bo-Katan? How about Tiya Sircar returning to the role of Sabine Wren?
Whatever Season 2 brings, I’m ready for more.
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