Favreau and Filoni do this subtly, in design choices, in the characters they le slip in and out of the story, in a name dropped here or a particular helmet there. They hide Easter eggs for the loyal to find and pore over together without distracting from a story that unfolds for everyone at the same pace. That pace, by the way, is perhaps the most important aspect of The Mandalorian. It takes its time. It’s in no hurry and it has nothing to prove to anyone. We get the sense that while they’re happy for us to go on the journey with them, the story would still happen if we stayed home on Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s moisture farm. It is a show that respects its audience’s intelligence and our innate human love of a tale told well.
In a television landscape that looks more and more like long-form cinema, where all episodes must drive the action of the season- and series long arcs forward and plot twists are more important than characters, where all that action must be dramatic and there can be no silence or stillness, in a streaming milieu where a full season will drop at midnight and is built to be as crushable as a can of summer ale, where the audience is targeted, hooked, and held hostage by a formula built for binging, The Mandalorian feels like breaking free, like finally coming up for air.
That’s not to say it isn’t crushable, that there aren’t explosions and blaster fights, that no thought was given to merchandising or marketability. Of course it’s all those things this is Disney, after all, and “Baby Yoda” follows in the time-honored, adorable footsteps of Yoda, Ewoks, Porgs, R2-D2 and BB-8 before him. Of course its creators want us to like it, watch it, and buy it. That’s how they keep it going. But The Mandalorian isn’t only or even mainly concerned with popularity, which, given it was the very first original series available on Disney+, is nothing short of a miracle.
Set five years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the story is about a Mandalorian bounty hunter named Din Djarin who travels primarily between impoverished fringe planets to track down and turn in anyone with a price on their heads. A loner whose beliefs require he never let another living being see his face, Din has a relatively ambiguous moral compass, a very particular set of skills, and a soft spot for the helpless a and hurting. The locations he frequents are often forgotten backwaters, communities trapped between the New Republic and the fallen Empire, simple folk trying to eke out an existence with what little resources are left when the armies, marauders, oligarchs, and temperamental wildlife get done with them. It is an atmosphere based on old Westerns in which our hero (or anti-hero) roams the outskirts of civilization, having adventures and helping desperate villagers.
The formula is timeless. It is the knight errant, the noble samurai, the dime novel gunslinger. Each episode, the Mandalorian encounters a new place, a new group of characters, sometimes because he’s passing through and sometimes because he needs supplies, repairs, information, or help. These new characters also need something from him usually help or protection, but sometimes some unsavory errands and he either agrees to assist or strikes a deal. He completes his end or he doesn’t and then they complete their end or they don’t. He can either move on or he can’t. Sometimes he rides a speeder into the sunset like a cyberpunk Paladin or the Hulk. The catch is, of course, that on one of those bounty hunting jobs across the galaxy, the Mandalorian discovers that his target…is a child. The Child, actually the now infamous Baby Yoda, a little green moppet (and Muppet) with Force powers and an Empire after him.
Did I mention the Mandalorian has a soft spot for the helpless?
Without giving anything else away, suffice it to say our hero blows up (sometimes literally) his own life and livelihood to protect this child, and ends up on a dangerous quest to ensure the safety and happiness of his new ward.
Outside of the occasional Monster of the Week romp in shows like Supernatural, the now-retro episodic television style of the Western that The Mandalorian most resembles was largely left behind in the ‘90s outside of prime time procedurals. It was a necessity when syndication and a lack of recording ability meant shows avoided major character growth or lasting plot twists so that an audience member could miss several episodes and then jump in again at any point. But as with their combination of practical effects and new tech, Favreau and Filoni once again found equilibrium by cherry picking the best of the classic formats and marrying them with the plot-driven season arcs that make up the marrow of the modern TV series. Yes, each episode is sort of a standa lone adventure—a heist this time, a jailbreak next, a spaceship chase after that—but each hour we spend with Din Djarin and The Child is one that reveals more to us of their mysterious backstories, of the machinations of the galaxy around them, and of the ways in which their beautiful father/ son relationship is changing them both.
As with The Force, The Mandalorian seems to be finding success in balance.
What The Mandalorian is doing is by no means new. Artists especially artists in television and film often conflate novelty with quality and get caught up looking for The Next Big Thing. This is not the way.
A thing doesn’t have to be new to be good, but a thing done well will always feel new.
This is the way.
In the credits of the second season finale of The Mandalorian, it was revealed that there are six—six! new Star Wars Expanded Universe shows coming to Disney+, including shows about fan favorite characters Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Ahsoka Tano. With so much television being pumped out at once, it would be easy for the quality to suffer. We can only hope that Jon Favreau leaned how to manage a multiverse from his time with the MCU, and that Disney keeps trusting in their artists.