‘The Mandalorian’: a Disney+ Miracle

Jackson McMurray, Columnist

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The “streaming wars” are supposedly beginning as we speak with the launches of high-profile services like Apple TV Plus and Disney+. With late additions like Peacock and HBO MAX still on the horizon and existing streaming titans like Netflix and Hulu fighting for relevance, it’s enough to make you ask how much a cable subscription is.

Each of these services has their own claim to fame, with Peacock having exclusive streaming rights to “The Office” and “Parks & Rec,” HBO MAX bringing the works of Hayao Miyazaki to digital platforms for the first time in history and Apple TV Plus not having any shows anybody wants to watch at launch. But Disney had an ace up their sleeve since day one: Star Wars.

New cinematic Star Wars content will bring in dollars no matter what, it doesn’t even have to be good, look at the box office numbers of “The Phantom Menace” (1999). We lucked out this time though, because even though “The Mandalorian” will make money regardless, it’s actually a very exciting and interesting show.

In addition to “The Mandalorian,” Disney+ boasts unrestricted access to the entire Disney back catalog, and it will soon have exclusive rights to Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel Studios and The Simpsons, as well as a constant lineup of original big-budget television series from the franchises people love. At launch, the service already boasts original content from Star Wars, Toy Story, Jeff Goldblum and High School Musical, and it won’t be long before Marvel, The Muppets and even “The Mighty Ducks” get into the mix. Financially, for you, it’s a great deal, but by all accounts the service is a big, complicated mixed bag for the film industry. 

For some, supporting the kingpin of the film industry’s bloated oligopoly in their newest venture in vertical integration is a deal breaker. But some see it as a positive change in Disney’s business practices, eradicating the old, restrictive, and expensive “Disney vault” strategy and slowly pushing for more diverse creative voices on their big-budget projects. 

It’s all a lot to think about. For what it’s worth though, “The Mandalorian” makes all of the vague guilt and constant second-guessing of corporate morality worth it.

Jon Faverau, director of “Iron Man” (2008) and host of “The Chef Show” on Netflix, serves as showrunner for the first ever live-action “Star Wars” television outing, which immediately sets itself apart from the operatic Star Wars stories we’re used to. Favreau has never been known as a particularly stylish filmmaker, but his stripped-down sensibilities work wonderfully on “The Mandalorian,” because the story is lonely, moody, and all things considered, pretty small.

The show is unique in the Star Wars ouvre not only because it’s a large-budget long-form story, but also because it’s a stand-alone story. “The Mandalorian” is the only piece of live-action Star Wars film without any direct connection to the events and characters of George Lucas’ original trilogy since “Caravan of Courage: an Ewok Adventure” (1984). 

Much like Caravan of Courage, “The Mandalorian” takes place between “Return of the Jedi” (1983) and “The Force Awakens” (2015), in a time of peace, when the Empire has been overthrown, but the First Order is still years away. The beauty of it, though, is that none of that really matters.

The story is that of a lone and unnamed bounty hunter (the titular Mandalorian) simply taking a job and hunting down a quarry. Obviously the character’s objectives become more complicated and interesting as the show progresses, but it’s completely unconcerned with the antics of the Skywalkers in whatever part of the galaxy they might be antic-ing in. “The Mandalorian” lives in a completely separate slice of the Star Wars universe, but still feels as familiar and lived-in as the best of the franchise. It’s a radical departure from the norm, but one that doesn’t feel apocryphal towards the norm it’s departing from.

“The Mandalorian” already sells on its restrained, quiet tone and its dedication to practical effects and sets, but throw in beloved actors like Werner Herzog, Nick Nolte and Carl Weathers, and you’ve really got a stew going. The show is a small-scale alternative to the grand operetics of the Skywalker Saga, and because of its weekly release schedule and stand-alone story it’s a great water cooler show that anybody could jump in on.

It’s working well, and one has to wonder what it means for film franchises moving forward. Will prestige television mini-series become a regular and expected method of filling out a franchise? How many hours of television will be required to understand the next Jurassic Park, or Fast and Furious? And if the answer is more than zero will people show up for it the same way they showed up for “The Mandalorian?” Or is this a model only Disney can pull off?

What I’m really trying to say is that everything’s complicated, and as much as I wish we could judge a piece of art simply on its own merit, a lot of times it’s hard to ignore context. The Mandalorian is an interesting and in some ways groundbreaking piece of franchise storytelling coming out of complicated circumstances, and every person has their own lines in the sand. If Disney+ is still a deal-breaker for you, but you also want to see a practical bounty hunter droid played by Taika Waititi lay siege to a military bunker, maybe wait on your free trial until December, when the full season is available. Otherwise, follow my Baby Yoda stan account.

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