One season of The Mandalorian has already produced more memories than the entire Sequel Trilogy: Salacious Crumb shish kabobs. Bill Burr impersonating Gungans. Mando vaporizing Jawas. And of course, Baby Yoda.
Not long ago, an orange and white ball stole all of our hearts in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But as often the case, something cuter came along a few years later. It’s worth asking, could Yoda’s long-lost-something have made a cameo in The Rise of Skywalker?
Perhaps, but Baby Yoda isn’t the only thing that makes The Mandalorian one of last year’s surprise hits. As its faceless protagonist continues to make his way through the grimiest parts of the galaxy, there hasn’t been a single mention of the Force, and the word “Jedi” has only been spoken once. Unlike J.J. Abrams, creator Jon Favreau (Iron Man) aimed to get as far away from the original films as he could, and the result has fans hopeful about the future of the franchise on TV while also wondering what could have been on the big screen.
Star Wars has always existed in its own independent universe, where there are thousands of worlds and a whole lot of other people not named Luke, Leia and Han. Each episode of The Mandalorian explores the galactic frontier more closely than the last, giving a rare glimpse of the bandits and outlaws and ugnaughts that existed when democracy died, dictatorships rose and rebellions restored democracy again. No one’s fighting for peace and freedom, nobody even cares about anything on this side of the cosmos, even the “hero.”
Though he rarely speaks, rarely listens, rarely spends a minute of the day without his face completely shrouded, “Mando” has already become more endearing than anyone in the future Resistance – ace pilots and ex-stormtroopers included. It’s not because he’s this mythical outlaw who’s been unstoppable in space and on land, it’s that he’s a cryptogram damn near impossible to decode.
Everyone knew who Rey, Finn and Poe were minutes after they were introduced. Eight episodes after wreaking havoc in a cantina, the needle in Mando’s moral compass continues to pendulate. While there might be a good man lurking behind all those layers of beskar, whether he’ll do the right thing in any situation is like another flip of a coin.
Other characters on the show are easier to predict, though no less fascinating. One of them is Kuiil (Nick Nolte), the tiny mechanic who assists Mando in more ways than one during his travels. Kuiil is the instant favorite that viewers want to see more of, providing the kind of lift that seemed missing from Maz Kantana. There are also degenerates like Mayfield, Ran and Burg, former associates of Mando that make an unwise and futile attempt to settle an old score with the bounty hunter. Like them or hate them, these lowlifes are far more interesting than the one played by Benicio Del Toro (DJ) in The Last Jedi.
Even more than its characters, The Mandalorian has tone. A darker and grittier one for adults – just like every good Star Wars film that came out after 1977. The Empire Strikes Back and Revenge of the Sith were the best of their respective trilogies, even when the state of the galaxy was at its absolute worst. Everyone dies at the end of Rogue One, and we came out of the theater feeling satisfied.
The Rise of Skywalker didn’t need a happy ending, it just needed some serious dialogue in between all of Poe Dameron’s one-liners. It needed a menacing presence like The Client instead of the Emperor’s laughing corpse. It needed seedy, urban denizens instead of deserts lit up by multiple suns.
Star Wars never tried to be taken seriously as a drama, but also never thought of itself as just another science-fiction spectacle. There was something more, something deeper, something mythical, something Jon Favreau understood that J.J. Abrams didn’t. A lifelong Star Wars fan, Favreau had his own vision of everything that was going on away from the Republic and the Jedi. He might have even had a holocron. Chances are that if he lent it to Abrams, it wouldn’t have made the new trilogy any different.
J.J. wasn’t going for something different, or innovative, or even great. He was going for something nostalgic. Nostalgia is overrated. It blinds us to the truth, deceives us into believing that something is good because it evokes a powerful feeling or memory. To quote Kylo Ren, “it’s time to let old things die.”
The goal in any epic shouldn’t be to replicate what we loved from previous chapters, but to tell a new story within the saga. The lost tales of Star Wars are finally being told in The Mandalorian. And it’s a lot better than the same story that was just told on the big screen.