With the wholesale removal of Disney, Star Wars and Marvel content from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, there had to be a reason and that reason was the arrival of Disney’s own rival streaming platform, Disney+. That said, as has been established by Netflix, just being a repository for former glories is not enough – you have to develop original content if you want to hang onto subscribers.
With this in mind, Disney launched ‘The Mandalorian’ over this Christmas. An intentionally potent cocktail of sustained, episodic visits to the Star Wars universe with a slew of new and familiar characters, The Mandalorian is Star Wars without the need for a saga. Deliberately small in scale yet high on production values, for many, this is a return to the drama of Rogue One and the aesthetics of the original George Lucas trilogy.
'The Mandalorian' is Star Wars without the need for a saga...
With a faceless bounty hunter making his way on the lawless rim of the universe, showrunner Jon Favreau has chosen to deliberately channel the spirit of Sergio Leone. Whilst the Mandalorian himself may not explicitly be Clint Eastwood’s man-without-a-name, the similarities in tone are obvious and yet curiously welcome. The helmet stays on, he’s an anonymous yet lethal presence who reconnects with compassion and yet is still fallible enough to make mistakes, thereby making him slowly endearing.
Kicking off with three stellar episodes to introduce both the world and its characters, ‘The Mandalorian’ takes an inevitable dip in pace as if to remind you that you are watching an episodic serial. Whilst episodes four and five’s speeder-bikes take their feet off the dramatic accelerator, the back end of the series delivers plenty of action and intrigue. Whereas celebrity cameos and stars lurking under stormtrooper helmets are de rigour in current Star Wars movies, ‘The Mandalorian’ delivers genuine delight and surprise in its castings as evidenced early on by Nick Nolte’s affectionately-voiced character Kuiil. Yes, that gravelly ‘48 Hours‘ Nick Nolte – I have spoken.
So, whilst J. J. Abram’s Rise of Skywalker flounders around to be both a remedy to Rian Johnson’s ‘The Last Jedi’ and a conclusion to the entire Star Wars franchise, Jon Favreau’s space western quietly goes about its business as a hybrid of Sergio Leone’s westerns and Joss Whedon’s ‘Firefly’. Which begs the question why am I reviewing a TV series in what is ostensibly a movie review site?
Each episode of ‘The Mandalorian’ is short. Weighing in anywhere between 30-40 minutes on average. The whole 9 episode series rings in at 314 minutes making it twice the length of ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker‘ and yet it is infinitely easier to understand, even with the burden of introducing mostly new characters and spearheading a new streaming service.
You see, ‘The Mandalorian’s launch right next door to ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker‘, was no accident. It was a surety bet to protect the existing fan base’s interest in the Star Wars franchise. Movie trilogies are expensive to develop and if the public doesn’t instantly gravitate towards the new characters (sorry, but Rey’s journey just was not as compelling as Luke’s) then Disney needed a feel-good alternative that would speak to the original demographic that grew up with the franchise in 1977.
So, even if Disney boss Bob Iger now sticks to his unwittingly obvious and opaque intention to park the Star Wars franchise indefinitely pending a reboot or (worse still) a reimagining, the all-important merchandising sales will be buoyed by the presence of ‘The Mandalorian’.
‘The Mandalorian’ isn’t here to save the galaxy, defeat the empire, harmonise ‘the force’ or flog streaming subscriptions. It’s here to save Star Wars itself (and that includes the movies) – and thank god because it’s doing a pretty spectacular job so far.