The Mandalorian, Star Wars’ first live-action television show of the Disney era, got off to a strong start. The final episode aired during the last week of the year and amazingly for Star Wars, the show actually lived up to its hype. The Mandalorian is almost hilariously spare, with little in the way of actual plot, but it is so steeped in the lore and world of Star Wars, it feels like every episode is packed with detail. But The Mandalorian doesn’t overplay its hand when it comes to worldbuilding. The final episode may have sent everyone scurrying to Wookieepedia to read about the Darksaber, but much of The Mandalorian’s lore comes in either swift drops, like a one-line revelation that Cara Dune (Gina Carano) is from Alderaan, or background detail, like the appearance of a minor character who is whatever species Darth Maul is. A lot of Star Wars lore is just wallpaper, like beat-up Stormtroopers now working as heavies for local crime lords. No writer or director on The Mandalorian wastes time explaining what happened to Stormtroopers after the Empire fell, they just leave it to shots of battered armor or heads-on-spikes. (Although Taika Waititi does get in an excellent visual gag about Stormtroopers’ infamously terrible aim.)
This is the first time in New New Star Wars that the galaxy has just been allowed to breathe, and to show us a lot of new stuff, like Rebel prison ships, without worrying about how any of it ties back to Luke Skywalker or the f-cking Jedi. One of the chief delights of The Mandalorian is simply marinating in the setting of Star Wars, and actually exploring this vast galaxy and seeing parts of it largely untouched by the galactic war. I know The Mandalorian’s slow pace and barely-there plot—it’s really just the story of a space dad and his adopted space son—didn’t work for everyone, but the almost luxuriously slow storytelling really worked for me. It also makes me wonder if the future of New New Star Wars is in more stripped-down, less grandiose storytelling. The Mandalorian is almost a hangout show, and the thing most people seem to like about it is just the opportunity to knock around the galaxy, checking things out, without a lot of plot pressure to go, go, go to the next Macguffin. It begs the question, between The Rise of Skywalker’s too-much approach to fan service and The Mandalorian’s lo-fi simple storytelling, where does Star Wars go next?
Lucasfilm is not going to stop making Star Wars movies, even if they do slow down their production schedule. But could the next Star Wars movie be something like The Mandalorian? It would need more story; The Mandalorian’s pace works for a forty-minute episode but the lack of narrative would suffocate a two-hour movie. So could the next cinematic story be simple, like The Mandalorian? Could it just be the story of some random on a relatively low-stakes journey, encountering colorful characters along the way? There are no Jedi, Sith, Emperors, generals, princesses, or lonely desert children in The Mandalorian, and you don’t even miss those things. Those are, supposedly, the hallmarks of a Star Wars story, but The Mandalorian jettisons them and instead leans into the tone and setting of the original trilogy and tells a story as authentically Star Wars as anything else in the franchise.
I have said often that Star Wars is small, that Lucasfilm and the filmmakers they hire—except Rian Johnson—treat the galaxy like it’s ten square blocks in midtown and everyone is related. The Mandalorian is the first piece of storytelling that actually feels BIG. For all the simplicity of its narrative, the world of The Mandalorian feels full. If the people at Lucasfilm can figure out how to make that work for a movie, we might actually get real universe expansion and something resembling a self-sustaining narrative universe.
There is one caveat, though. The Mandalorian is getting a second season. Baby Yoda fans rejoice, but this is tempting fate to wreck the best part of the show, which is its simplicity. We still don’t know who Baby Yoda really is. An actual child of Yoda? A clone? A random example of the same species? Please let it be the latter, because if Jon Favreau and his team give Baby Yoda an explicit connection to Yoda, they will ruin it, just as Rey’s parentage makes her whole story stupider. The Mandalorian excels because it ISN’T linked to anyone from the original trilogy. We’re dealing with new characters doing new things in mostly new places. It’s great! But start tying it all together and the magic is gone. Still, season one of The Mandalorian is a really enjoyable trip into the further reaches of the galaxy far, far away, and it might be a way forward for Star Wars, post Skywalker. We’ll just have to see if the show is really allowed to expand, or if it’s crammed into the same “everything is connected” box as the trilogies. Now, here is a video of Baby Yoda being THE ABSOLUTE CUTEST THING IN THE UNIVERSE.