The Sunday Magazine: The Mandalorian

Star Wars holds a special place to me. If you’ve read this column you know that. I have enjoyed the recent movies a lot. To me Star Wars is about good people trying to do the right thing. At its best it is when a couple of plucky outsiders find a way to take down a large target. I’ve always felt the subtext of George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away is that one good person can make a difference.

Which was why as I watched the promotional trailers in advance of the new streaming series “The Mandalorian” I thought this might not be for me. Everyone associated with it had fanned out to conventions and tv interviews to talk about how this was a “grittier” Star Wars. I read, or heard, that as more violent, less white-hat-black hat, with lots of shades of gray.

For almost the entirety of the first episode that seemed like the show we were getting. We were introduced to The Mandalorian as he captures one of his marks for the bounty hunter guild, he is part of. When he comes back to the headquarters of the guild in time-tested fashion, he is given the bounty too difficult for others. He heads out to find his quarry. When he gets to the final scene where he finds what he is looking for; he and the audience share the surprise. Waiting for him is a baby version of the race Yoda belonged to. If you’ve seen memes on your social media with “baby Yoda” this is where it came from. As far as the series is concerned the youngster is called “The Child.

Right there the gritty edgy version of Star Wars snapped back to the good guys versus the bad guys. Over the next seven episodes The Mandalorian protects The Child. The series is classic genre storytelling out of spaghetti westerns. The two men responsible for it are Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni.

There are many callbacks to the westerns of yesterday set in space. The first episode features a futuristic hacienda designed just like the one Clint Eastwood infiltrated in “A Fistful of Dollars”. Episode 2 lifts a piece out of one of the first Star Wars video games. One episode is the old gunslinger versus the new kid. Another is a jailbreak. All of it surrounded by the growing bond between the bounty hunter and the child.

That relationship adds an emotional tug I wasn’t expecting. It has similarities to a graphic novel called “Lone Wolf and Cub” by Frank Miller. In both stories the tough warrior learns there is more to life than just conflict through parenthood.

By the end The Mandalorian has accepted the responsibility for The Child setting the stage for season 2. I am so happy that even a Star Wars with a bounty hunter at its center is still a Star Wars where the good guys win.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: State of Star Wars 2019

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In the final weeks of 2019 the Star Wars franchise ended and began. The end came with the release of Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. The beginning came with the release of the Disney+ streaming series The Mandalorian. Unlike last week’s overview of the Watchmen series I liked both for different reasons.

When The Rise of Skywalker hit movie screens I was where I have been for the last forty-two years; seeing the first showing on the first night of release. There is a segment of Star Wars fans who are unsatisfied with this closing trilogy. I am not among them. I realized one reason this is so is I participated in a survey leading up to the release and I was asked to name my three favorite Star Wars characters. I typed Obi-Wan Kenobi, Rey, and Han Solo. I really like the story of Rey through these three movies. It comes to a satisfying ending where it all began. One reason I think I am less critical of the saga as a whole is because I came to them as an adult right from the beginning. I never viewed them through a child’s eyes. So when people criticize with words like it isn’t as magical it is because when you first encountered Star Wars, as a child, you probably believed in magic. It is much harder to keep that positivity when you become older. JJ Abrams brought Star Wars back from the dead I will always be thankful to him for allowing the magic I see in the movies to be there for the rest of my life.

What that means is I want them to stop making theatrical movies. It is a fraught enterprise with conflicting ideas of what it should be. The future of Star Wars is someplace else. On out flatscreen tvs at home on streaming service Disney +.

Another writer/director who understands genre material is Jon Favreau. He is responsible for creating the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man. The Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, is creating something new for this galaxy far, far away.

Mr. Favreau teamed up with Dave Filoni to oversee The Mandalorian. Mr. Filoni has been the creative mind behind the animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels. Together they brought their passion for Star Wars and found a new place for it to grow.

The Mandalorian tells the story of the titular bounty hunter. Always hidden behind his armor his code never allows him to take it off while anyone is around. Prior to the premiere it was advertised as a grittier Star Wars out on the fringes. For almost the entire first episode that is what we get. Heavily inspired by the classic Sergio Leone/ Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns the first episode carries that promised quality. Only to have it given a fabulous twist right at the end. That twist is totally Star Wars. It was kept completely secret while also letting us know this was not going to be that gritty Star Wars. It was going to be Star Wars full of A New Hope. It is so much fun to see the callbacks to Star Wars lore and classic western movie tropes. It ends, in the final episode, with a shot which brings the live action and animated series closer together.

What that means is I want more Star Wars on Disney+ not at the theatre. The Mandalorian could never have succeeded as a movie. I am excited for the new season of the animated The Clone Wars coming soon. I am even more excited for the next live-action streaming series based on Obi-Wan.

I think the movies time to carry the Star Wars torch has ended. They have provided the contours of a wide canvas with plenty of blank space to be filled in by creative authors who want to. If I never saw another new Star Wars movie in a theatre again, I would be fine with that. I am happy to spend some time relaxing on the sofa with the series opportunities from Disney+.

Mark Behnke