The Mandalorian’s second season is almost here. And if the trailers and rumors are any indication, it seems like the armor-clad hero’s quest to reunite Baby Yoda (née “The Child”) is going to get even more complicated and tied up in Star Wars lore than ever before.
While it may seem odd to think about it this way, after decades of additional lore, background history, TV shows, and movies, the original Star Wars film is extremely accessible. It had to be. No one walking into the theater for the first time had any idea what a lightsaber or an X-wing was or who Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, or Princess Leia were.
The Mandalorian has never had that benefit. From the first episode, it expects you to know that the Mandalorian is cool (because he looks like Boba Fett), that the Empire is evil, and that Baby Yoda is at least distantly related to one of the most powerful and important characters in the series (as well as incredibly cute).
Despite the amount of homework and lore fans were expected to be fluent in to start, the first season of The Mandalorian was still surprisingly accessible to fans who were not as well-versed in the history of the Star Wars galaxy. But even if you consider that the first season of The Mandalorian was relatively welcoming, the upcoming second season seems to be diving even deeper into Star Wars lore.
That’s at least in part thanks to writer-director Dave Filoni, who appears to be looking to heavily tie The Mandalorian into his previous animated Star Wars shows (specifically, The Clone Wars and Rebels). Casual fans who were just tuning in to see Baby Yoda — or even more dedicated ones who had never delved into the animated side of Star Wars before — are going to have to start figuring out what a darksaber is and how it ties into years of storylines involving the Jedi, the Mandalorian people, and the Empire. If the rumors are true, new fans have to start deciphering over a decade’s worth of character history of Ashoka Tano or Bo Katan, both rumored to be making their live-action debuts.
And those are just the major things we know about so far.
But the fact that The Mandalorian is getting deeper and more complex isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s likely its greatest strength, especially when it comes to its role in the larger Star Wars universe.
Specifically, The Mandalorian isn’t the next Star Wars blockbuster. The simple demands of production and budget mean that the cast is more constrained, the spectacle is smaller, and the appearance of lightsabers is far fewer. But that also gives it a unique opportunity for the Star Wars franchise to take advantage of the TV series format to really explore the characters and setting of its particular slice of the Star Wars universe.
With the first season clocking in at nearly six hours, it’s already nearly twice as long as any of the Star Wars movies. By the end of the second season, we’ll have spent more time with the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda than we have with Rey, Finn, Poe, and the other heroes of the sequel trilogy. There’s an opportunity for richer, deeper storytelling than what the limits of a massive blockbuster film (or even a film trilogy) allow for. And with any luck, season 2 (and any future seasons) will try to deliver on that promise.
For a good comparison, take a look at the other massive stellar-named sci-fi franchise, Star Trek, which has spent far longer than Star Wars bouncing between big box office blockbusters and more contemplative, spaced-out TV shows.
Star Trek movies are often derisively compared to Star Wars by fans of that franchise: bigger and brasher, without the subtlety of the TV shows. The Trek films (especially the more recent J.J. Abrams reboots) tend to be filled with far more bombastic space battles, thanks to the expanded budgets, with quippier dialogue and less nuance in characterization.
The shows, on the other hand, give Star Trek far more time to breathe. It’s what allows things like the giant, sweeping overarching storylines like Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War arc, Discovery’s development of Saru from a timid subordinate to a commanding leader, or the time for Will Riker to realize that a beard was a better styling choice.
With the deluge of Star Wars shows that Disney has in the works, it’s likely that we’ll see a similar dynamic play out on the smaller screen here. Shows like The Mandalorian or the upcoming Rogue One or Obi-Wan spinoffs aren’t going to be spectacles on the level of a massive Star Wars film. But they will provide a chance for Lucasfilm (and fans) to delve deeper into the characters that they already love and help provide a bridge that enriches the overall Star Wars universe for whenever the next films do roll around.
It’s not a new dynamic for Star Wars, either. The franchise has operated this way for decades, with dozens of tie-in books, games, and comics filling in and expanding the spaces between the films. It’s the way Star Wars still operates: just look at the upcoming High Republic series of books and comics that’s set to come out next year and start building out a new era of the franchise during “the golden age of the Jedi.”
The Mandalorian is that approach on a larger and more vibrant scale that, thanks to the live-action design, looks and feels even more like the movies that it’s looking to slot in beside.
The Star Wars films are gearing up for another long gap between releases. Disney and Lucasfilm have already been taking the time to figure out what will come next now that the 9-film Skywalker Saga is complete, and when you add in COVID-19-related production and release delays, which have shifted the company’s entire release schedule — especially while theaters are largely operating at limited capacities or closed entirely — it could be years before the next big Star Wars film opens up to a packed theater of excited fans.
That’s what makes Disney’s foray into Star Wars TV shows so exciting. Those movies won’t go away; after all, with $1 billion box office results, Disney and Lucasfilm will keep putting Star Wars up on the big screen as long as fans show up for it.
But the increasing complexity of The Mandalorian hints at a more thoughtful level of Star Wars compared to those big and brash films. It’s one that, thanks to its nature as a TV show instead of a lengthy series of books or comics, is more accessible than ever before. Besides, who doesn’t want to learn what a darksaber is?