The Huge Storytelling Potential of Disney Plus’ New Star Wars Show The Mandalorian
There is no doubt that the two trailers released thus far for Disney’s first foray into a big-budget live-action Star Wars TV show, The Mandalorian have already been mined for every subtle Easter egg and world-building detail. To spot each and every reference would take a person far more observant than myself, of which there are many. My main takeaway from what we have seen in these trailers are the storytelling potential that The Mandalorian represents.
From its choice of directors to the tone established within these trailers, The Mandalorian looks to be a different kind of Star Wars story. What we have seen so far is very clearly set within the familiar landscape of Star Wars in terms of aesthetics, but the prospect of a morally ambiguous protagonist with whom we as an audience will be spending up to 8 hours observing and analysing is unprecedented.
As a film franchise, Star Wars is an ensemble, a sprawling epic featuring an array of characters defined by their relation to good vs evil, spanning across multiple generations. With The Mandalorian, we could expect a much more intimate portrait that showcases a uniquely motivated individual.
From their appearances in other Star Wars media, we already have a detailed history of Mandalore and its inhabitants, in particular, the animated series The Clone Wars. Through the shows various story arcs involving the planet, we witness Mandalore struggling to reconcile its modern pacifism with a long and bloody history involving a militant warrior culture. It used this setting as an opportunity to explore themes of corruption, terrorism and fascism.
Dave Filoni’s enters live-action Star Wars
Clone Wars showrunner Dave Filoni had intended for the final story arc of the series to involve a full-scale invasion of Mandalore (which at this point in the show was fully engulfed in a civil war) by the Galactic Republic. However, the cancellation of Clone Wars in 2013 left story unresolved, until recently when the show was renewed for a final season (set to stream on Disney+ in 2020) that will reportedly incorporate Filoni’s long-awaited story concept concerning Mandalore.
This is an already fascinating history to both the protagonist of The Mandalorian and the culture from which he originated. The snapshots from the trailers indicate he is certainly not a pacifist, but having lived through what we can presume to be a massive conflict engulfing his home planet, does he have reservations about his society’s warmongering ways?
The planet’s history is only made more complicated due to the role Mandalore played in another animated Star Wars series, Rebels. Here the Mandalorians eventually provide aid to the Rebel Alliance. Did the Galactic Empire ever seek retribution in the time span between then and now? As Werner Herzog laments in the trailer “It is a shame that your people suffered.”
This is currently speculative, but it creates a fascinating starting point from which to base a series. The knowledge we already have of Mandalore suggests that our protagonist is much more morally conflicted in both his actions and motives. A far cry from the wide-eyed adventurers that are Luke Skywalker and Rey when we first meet them.
How can The Mandalorian explore and expand Star Wars’ universe
This leads us back to the choice of directors for The Mandalorian. Filoni is at the helm of the first episode, which will be his live-action debut as a director. Though he may be a stranger to this format of filmmaking, Filoni is not unfamiliar with being the one to introduce audiences to a new world and story.
Having directed the first episode of the widely beloved Avatar: The Last Airbender as well as eight other episodes of the animated show’s first season, Filoni was instrumental in establishing the narrative, tone and characters of the series. His storytelling efficiently and effectively introduced an array of elements to audiences and set the vision for all to come.
It is worth remembering that one of those elements was the internal conflict in Avatar anti-hero Prince Zuko. From the very beginning, Filoni presented the character in the context of his inner struggle, caught between the cultural expectations placed upon him by his home The Fire Nation and but haunted by his own mortality. One hopes that Filoni could bring a similar level of compelling complexity to The Mandalorian.
However, Filoni is not the only filmmaker whose involvement in the show yields excitement. Rick Famuyiwa, director of Talk to Me and Dope, brings a fantastic sense of energy to his projects as well as an underlying complexity. Famuyiwa’s films have evoked themes of cultural divides and societal tension, both of which could be an underlying aspect of the narrative within The Mandalorian.
It is worth saying though that Famuyiwa consistently delivers stories which are as optimistic as they are complex. Diversity and friendship are commonly explored concepts within his work, which is useful for a property such as Star Wars which is never unrelentingly cynical. Voices such as Famuyiwa prove that a compelling and dramatic narrative need not be endlessly bleak.
The Mandalorian has some incredible directors involved
The same can be said for arguably the most high profile filmmaker amongst The Mandalorian alumni, Taika Waititi. Well versed in blockbuster filmmaking due to Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi’s most valuable assets in joining the world of Star Wars might actually be within his smaller projects.
The balance of drama and humour has been a consistent trend of Waititi’s work. Obviously he did not invent the merging of these different tones, but few modern voices are as skilled at this balance as Waititi. One need only look at his latest offering Jojo Rabbit for an example of the tonal tight walk Waititi excels at.
This is all without even mentioning the exceptionally talented Deborah Chow, a director whose long career in TV provides many clear examples of why her involvement in The Mandalorian is worth getting excited about. With directing credits to such visually interesting shows as Mr Robot and Better Call Saul, she has a terrific track record.
Chow’s work on The Mandalorian was certainly enough to impress Lucasfilm as it was sited as the basis for her being named the lead director of the upcoming Obi-Wan series. Kathleen Kennedy referred to Chow’s directing efforts as “phenomenal”.
Obviously many Star Wars fans will be enticed to The Mandalorian by a chance to further explore the lore and mythos of the property. But I think it is equally if not more exciting to consider the storytelling possibilities the show represents. In terms of theme, format and style we may be looking at new ground for the iconic saga.
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