The central character – the “Mandalorian” – is both known and unknown. The individual himself, played by Pedro Pascal, remains a mystery. But the Mandalorian battle armour he wears, made famous in the original Star Wars films by the bounty hunter Boba Fett, is well known to fans.
Little has been seen before the launch of the series, aside from glimpses in a few trailers. Episodes of the series will be released weekly – typically on a Friday, US time – rather than drop as a bundle for the audience to binge on, as has become the custom in the streaming era.
The series’ executive producer and writer, Jon Favreau, says that choice was deliberate, and is part of a strategy to bring back a sense mystery to the show’s storylines, and also to fuel so-called “watercooler” discussion of what transpires each week.
“It’s nice to have everybody to experience something at the same time, which is what I really loved about watching Game of Thrones, that there is a sense of what’s going to happen this week, and the idea that it’s not cascading down,” Favreau says. “The [Disney+] service isn’t available everywhere yet, but hopefully everybody around the world will be able to have that same experience.
“For us there’s a really fun dialogue that we’re looking forward to, that we usually normally get only at conventions, where you get to show it, people get to react, and then you get to talk about it,” he adds. “It gets us excited as filmmakers, then that dialogue unfolds over the course of [the season].”
The larger story of Star Wars is the saga of the Skywalker family, a line of Jedi Knights, who were once the guardians of justice in the galaxy but who were hunted to extinction on the command of Emperor Palpatine. The conclusion of that story, the ninth Star Wars “saga” film The Rise of Skywalker, will be released in cinemas at Christmas.
The Mandalorian is something quite different. The franchise’s two “standalone” movies, Rogue One and Solo, struggled to extricate themselves from the larger Star Wars saga. And while there is much that is familiar here – stormtroopers, droids and grimy cantinas in “hive of scum and villainy”-type planetary outposts – there is also much that is new.
The show’s central character is Pascal’s Mandalorian gunfighter. The other characters include former rebel shocktrooper Cara Dune (Gina Carano), bounty hunters guild leader Greef Carga (Carl Weathers), the droid IG-11 (Taika Waititi, who also directs an episode) and Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), a former Imperial governor who is operating in the power vacuum created by the toppling of the Empire and the formation of the New Republic.
Favreau says the 1977 Star Wars film remains a key creative touchstone, both in terms of story and also in the extent to which it influenced him and a generation of other filmmakers.
“I learned about cinema through the lens of that film,” Favreau says. “My father would explain to me, this is a lot like Samurai movies, or this is a lot like westerns, or World War II films. Then there was [the PBS documentary ] The Power of Myth with Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. That opened me up to the mythic structure and my understanding of its value in storytelling.”
The series also allows them to explore a “novelisation of story” style, which Favreau describes as “a return to the roots, in many ways, of the Saturday afternoon serial films that my parent’s generation grew up with, with cliffhangers and adventure. Drawing from that type of style of storytelling lends itself really well to what we’re tackling here.
“It’s funny not to have preciousness in the way we’re telling the stories, because we’re coming back to you next week with another one,” Favreau adds. “To engage the audience in the way that I enjoy being engaged with, it has a bigger budget, it has a lot of the qualities and the aesthetics of a film … it opened up a lot of freedom and opportunity where we don’t feel that we’re repeating or copying anything else that people have experienced with Star Wars.”
The series is mostly written by Favreau, with episodes by Star Wars writer Dave Filoni and Marvel writer Christoper Yost. Filoni also directs episodes of the series, as well as directors Deborah Chow, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rick Famuyiwa and Taika Waititi.
“When you bring in a director like Taika, he’s clearly doing it because he wants to because the guy is just such a powerhouse right now, creatively,” Favreau says. “I think everybody’s really discovering what a talent he is. And when he shows up, it gets everybody excited because it’s a fresh energy on the set. He finds opportunities for humour, he brings his style of humour to it, but he also is a fan. That to me was the bottom line prerequisite.”
In particular, Favreau says, the series leaned heavily on Filoni’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the Star Wars story, to embed the series with a raft of subtle references that connect it both to the larger Star Wars story and, curiously, the often-maligned Star Wars Holiday Special.
“That is where Dave has really been a treasure trove because we tried to work stuff in, whether it’s humorously, like making a reference to Life Day [from The Star Wars Holiday Special], or a reference to a prop that has been appreciated by a core group over time, just putting those little Easter eggs in, or big movements in the story that reflect storylines that people have known,” says Favreau.
“You can start to bring it all together and coalesce it in a way that creates an overarching narrative, and rewards the people who’ve been putting the time in over the years since they were kids growing up with it.”
WHAT The Mandalorian
WHEN Disney + launches on November 19
Michael Idato is the culture editor-at-large of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.