More than 40 years after the franchise launched, Star Wars: The Mandalorian is doing something the saga has never seen by offering fans the series' first live-action, episodic adventure. The series has largely been a hit with both critics and fans alike, as the filmmaking style, setting, and overall tone of The Mandalorian echoes what George Lucas accomplished with the original trilogy. Despite the series' many accomplishments, some fans are bemoaning that, as the first season comes to its end, there was no "point" to the story, as it lacked a major narrative thread weaving through each episode. While these fans might be valid in feeling denied something they were expecting, the series assuredly has a point, with a key component of the series being to deliver compelling, serialized tales in lieu of a sprawling and complex narrative.
One reason that the franchise has enamored fans for decades is the depth of its mythology, with the upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker set to conclude the nine-film narrative launched with Star Wars: A New Hope back in 1977. On the big screen, fans have had their desires for long-running storylines fulfilled, with each installment of the Skywalker Saga becoming some of the most popular films in their years of release. Similarly, the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels both offered audiences more episodic adventures, operating under the constrained time limits of an animated series, yet the mature storytelling of such series still allowed for longform narratives to be explored.
Enter The Mandalorian. Speaking purely from its aesthetics, fans have been able to enjoy adventures like we've never seen before. Rather than witnessing massive epics unfold on the big screen, we're seeing more digestible pieces of content, with each episode delivering a variety of adventures. Whether the Mandalorian is attempting to retrieve a bounty, lending a hand in a jailbreak, or assisting a small village from a ruthless threat, the stakes feel much more manageable as each story relatively wraps up by the time the credits role. Making the episodes even more impressive is we don't feel as though we are being denied the production value of big-screen stories, as each episode feels as expansive as any film in the franchise.
Recent years have seen a surge in genre stories unfolding, with programs like Stranger Things on Netflix and Game of Thrones on HBO weaving together various plot threads, poising each season finale to deliver shocking reveals that fans have to wait months or even years to see resolved. While there is obviously joy in that, Star Wars fans have already had those storytelling formulas explored on the big screen and in animated adventures, fully allowing The Mandalorian to stand apart from everything that came before it.
Some fans might be frustrated by this narrative approach and consider it a failure on the part of the series, yet creator Jon Favreau has been explicit in explaining how this was the series' goal.
"To engage the audience in a way that I enjoy being engaged with the shows… where it’s bigger budget, it has a lot of the qualities and aesthetics of a film but a novelization of the serialized storytelling," Favreau shared during a press event ahead of the series' launch. "To me that’s where it really opened up a lot of freedom and opportunity where we don’t feel like we’re repeating or copying anything else that people have experienced from Star Wars."
Director Dave Filoni added, "That’s one of the dreams that [Lucas] had. Even when I worked with him on Clone Wars, he would talk about the future being streaming. The future being episodic, serialized Star Wars.”
A major indicator that this series is meant to be somewhat devoid of an overall arc is that fact that the Mandalorian himself obscures his identity underneath his armor; not only does the armor serve a narrative purpose, but it also allows the audience to explore the galaxy far, far away with a generic avatar who embarks on a number of adventures. The purpose of the series isn't to give the protagonist a deeply emotional journey, with audiences instead getting to see all corners of the galaxy in the wake of the destruction of the Galactic Empire. As compared to the heroes of virtually every other Star Wars story who are complex and multi-layered, fans will be at a loss when attempting to describe the actual personality of the Mandalorian, allowing audiences to instead latch on the various compelling supporting characters and locations.
This isn't to say we haven't been given characters and plot points that engage with us, as "Baby Yoda" debuted in the final moments of the series premiere and has kept fan guessing about his relevance, thanks in large part to hints that it was a cloning technician that was interested in acquiring him. The series has also seen multiple appearances from Greef Karga, explored Mandalorian culture, and introduced a number of compelling ancillary characters, and, with two episodes to go, fans might finally see how the whole story comes together.
Whatever the upcoming episodes and already-announced follow-up season might offer audiences, it shouldn't be slighted for doing exactly what it intends to do. An episodic, serialized adventure in the world of Star Wars might not be what all fans wanted from the series, which serves more as a testament to how much Favreau committed to the idea of delivering viewers an experience like no other with Star Wars: The Mandalorian.
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