Whatever you have to say about Disney, “neglects to pump the fan base like the ATM machine that it is” can’t be one of them.
With the too-fast, too-disjointed schedule of the movies halted and the much-anticipated “Kenobi” on coronavirus and script doctoring hold, Disney has the following in its arsenal:
- Clone Wars (which is in its final season)
- that one episode of Lego Builders with C-3P0 and R2D2
- and Disney Plus’ The Mandalorian.
What strange times are these for a Star Wars fan, when the franchise has fizzled at the box office but flourishes on the telly. Is this a good thing? A step back?
Probably not what Lucasfilm had in mind when it was handed over to Disney. But, for those of us who endured The Fallow Times between Return of the Jedi the slow trickle of tie-in novels from the ‘90s, we tend to place the latest content explosion into the oh-well category of “It’s Better than Nothing.”
Or is it?
A strain of purists, happy with the whole saga ending on Endor in the final frames of Return of the Jedi, is pleased to let the universe rest there.
The fanbase is so battered from the semi-disasters of the prequels and the Son of the Semi-Disasters, the sequels, that some were ready to throw in the Jedi robe. No mas, Mouse.
Then from out of the cantina rode The Mandalorian. Well-crafted, it was festooned with touches of the original universe, but not so much that the cake was glopped over with icing.
The fanbase is almost universally approving, and the emotional fences the series mended are worth more Mando’s weight in gold. The smart sacrifice to hold off on marketing Baby Yoda to keep him an adorable surprise is looking less canny as the pandemic shutdown grinds on.
However, the little guy is such a general public phenomenon that merch will probably move even if it doesn’t appear until the second season’s debut in October 2020.
So after nine movies, millions of action figures, hundred of novels, and a set of Luke Skywalker Underoos later, here’s where Star Wars stands:
It’s got a set of pending novels set 200 years before the prequel movies, the announcement of which was met with a universal “Meh.”
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And it’s got The Mandalorian.
And that is why we now also have Disney Gallery: Star Wars: The Mandalorian. This behind-the-scenes dissection of Mando’s adventures examines directors’ choices, set decisions, and story direction.
This is a win-win for Disney. It gathers in the fanbase without dropping much coin beyond the cost for lunch when the directors met for a roundtable discussion, and it strengthens brand attachment while we await Season 2.
The first episode, in which we learn that George Lucas has a green room next to his office, focuses on each director. We learn the backgrounds of each, how they got the job, and what their previous Star Wars connections are.
Actor interviews and behind-the-scenes footage provide further context to each episode.
The Mandalorian flourished where the sequels stumbled: It told a multi-installation, multi-arced story with strong character development, and it did it with different directors.
While Episodes 7, 8, and 9 spent a lot of time — as one reviewer put it— “giving each other the finger,” The Mandalorian tells the tale of Mando’s transformation from hardened bounty hunter to defensive daddy.
It soars where the prequels steered into a blind spot as well. While Episodes 1, 2, and 3 had the feeling of cartoon shows despite several practical shots, The Mandalorian didn’t necessarily have the budget firepower of the films and showed that lessons had been learned about swapping flesh and mask for zeros and ones.
“If the magic act doesn’t work, then everything fails,” says Bryce Dallas Howard, the director who gave the Internet the priceless image of Baby Yoda sipping soup and minding his own.
Indeed, The Mandalorian’s insistence on using a puppet for Baby Yoda rather than a mess of CGI did as much to foster an immediate emotional connection as did the series’ dedication to pointing each episode at a pre-determined endpoint.
For example, that gloved finger reaching toward a tiny green hand was echoed later in a flashback about Mando’s traumatic past. The connection was clear, but not pied in the viewers’ faces.
Despite their disparate backgrounds and gazes, each director managed to bring them in line with Lucas’ universe.
“This is not about my relationship with Star Wars; this is about all of our relationship with Star Wars,” says Howard. She gets it.
We’ll take it where we can get it, too.