Ever since the release of The Force Awakens, the first Star Wars film produced by Lucasfilm under the ownership of Disney, the famed franchise created by George Lucas has seen itself go through an interesting period. Previously a franchise that raised its head every once in a while, either after a sixteen year gap, with each film coming out three years after the previous entry and then disappearing again, with rumours of Lucas making those mythic sequels coming and going, Star Wars has found itself in the position of being a series that has become a more constant presence in our lives but also one that invites much debate and fan controversy.
Fan controversy is not something new related to the series, of course, given the reactions that greeted the prequel trilogy, a reaction that has since been replicated even more bitterly with the sequel trilogy and the divisive bitter arguments that have erupted over the creative decisions made by Rian Johnson and JJ Abrams, particularly with The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker.
You either loved them or thought they were heresy, and in some cases, fans who loved The Last Jedi hated The Rise of Skywalker, and some who hated the former were more in awe of the latter.
It’s an interesting environment with which Disney+ have launched The Mandalorian. The series premiered last September and instantly worked its way into the affection of many on social media who took the character with the unofficial title of Baby Yoda and turned the little critter into a memeable superstar.
The series, and the Disney+ streaming service it’s part of, have finally arrived on the shores of the UK and other European territories, doing so with an impressive creative pedigree; created by Jon Favreau, with episodes directed by Deborah Chow, Dave Filoni, Bryce Dallas Howard, Taika Waititi and Rick Famuyiwa, the series is the first live action television series based on the franchise, although not the first that ever went into development as the unmade Star Wars: Underworld was heavily into the writing process but famously never produced.
The Mandalorian’s status as the first live action Star Wars series makes it an enticing prospect; what will a live action Star Wars be like?
A lot like Star Wars it seems, but also different than what you might think as well. What Favreau and his directors have done here, at least on the basis of these first two episodes, is to craft a superb work of visual storytelling that looks and feels like Star Wars, but which has a tone that is different to what has come before.
There are shades of the western genre here, but also of the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, apt given that the latter was a huge influence on Lucas when he first started to write the script for what would become A New Hope; the first chapter runs for forty minutes, with the second at thirty three, and they manage to feel like gorgeously mounted short films that play in the larger Star Wars universe, simultaneously connected by story and yet almost like little short films of their own that know how to show but not tell.
There is dialogue here to be sure, but writer Jon Favreau and directors Dave Filoni and Rick Famuyiwa know when not to have it be used as a crotch to overexplain things to the audience; the second chapter goes at least ten minutes or so at the very start with nary a word spoken.
It’s a bold creative choice that genuinely makes this feel like the most original Star Wars in a very long time. It does utilise some fan service, yes, and obviously the inclusion of a creature the same species as Yoda filled with cute cooing and gaggling noises cannot help but inspire an emotional reaction from the audience, but the story telling itself is dense in the most wonderful way.
Very little is explained in ‘Chapter One’ and the audience is left to figure out the character and this part of the Star Wars world for itself; bounty hunters have always been a constant presence in the Star Wars movies, most famously through the iconic Boba Fett, a Mandalorian also, but they’ve always been at arms-reach, a grittier darker side of the universe that has always been there but never shown in too much detail while the stories, at least on the silver screen, have put more emphasis on the Skywalker Saga and the fantasy adventures of Luke and Rey, Han and Leia, epic tales of lineage, family and destiny.
The Mandalorian might eventually find itself facing those themes at some point in the near future, but as for right now it embraces Kurosawa and westerns with both hands, opening with our title character collecting a bounty, picking up another job and getting into a few scrapes along the way. The storytelling manages to be simultaneously simple in its execution and yet dense enough for us to know that things are being kept from us that we know there are complexities here that means things aren’t as simple as they are being shown, with hints of backstory that we know will be further explored in the future.
It can almost make you feel lost in a challenging way, but challenging is something a lot of Star Wars appears to be ignoring when it comes to the feature film side; Favreau and the very talented team of directors he has assembled here have taken a somewhat more experimental approach, relying on visual storytelling and expecting the audience to keep up in a way that makes this one of the most intriguing Star Wars to date. Like The Last Jedi, it seems to be interested in seeing what it can do with Star Wars rather than having the franchise and expectations of it demand what it should do, and on the basis of these first two episodes, the wait for each new episode (the series is being released weekly) will be enticing and very exciting.
This is the way.