Disney’s new live-action Star Wars series The Mandalorian is taking a little heavy fire. Indiewire calls it a “$100 million show about nothing”. Robert Arrington here at Liberty Island dismissed it as a “a series of action sequences” taking place on megacity and desert planets, praising Downton Abbey as a better viewing choice.

But perhaps Mr. Arrington should have given The Mandalorian more of a chance – there has now been a lush green forest planet (though the mix of traditional subsistence farming and droid technology was more than a little unbelievable) and one episode set entirely in space. Six episodes in, this old-school Star Wars fan is pretty excited about what’s going on, and there are some good reasons for that.


The Mandalorian takes places on the fringes of society, of the galaxy, and of the law. It draws heavily from what is arguably the only true American genre, the classic western, in terms of its structure, characters and plotting, and you see this even in the episode 5 title, The Gunslinger, in which an older, experienced bounty hunter and a young, eager one take to speeder bikes (horses) in the lonely Tatooine desert to track down and bring in a desperado, clashing with natives along the way.

This blend of science fiction and western hails back to Star Trek, originally pitched by Gene Roddenberry as “Wagon Train in space”. The Mandalorian is more Have Gun, Will Travel in space, built neatly on the Star Wars canon developed by the original movies and Clone Wars series. This is not at all a bad structure, though perhaps a little unfamiliar to a modern audience. (An aside: if you haven’t, give old western TV series a chance. The storytelling is much better than the average show today, and the themes are usually strongly conservative without preachiness.)

A second strength is creator/producer Jon Favreau’s use of classic 80s action stars in his guest spots, thus far including Clancy Brown, Carl Weathers, and Nick Nolte. I have a soft spot for these guys, not least because the immortal movies they made were pure action fun – no messages about the environment, no politics, no worries about whether enough women made it into strong roles or whether the sexuality of the main characters was ambiguous enough. Even better, all these characters are positioned to return in later episodes (fingers crossed).

Which brings me to the blessed, wonderful absence of politics so far. The Mandalorian has no respect or love for any of his contemporary governmental powers – neither the New Republic nor the old Empire has been effective at maintaining peace or order, and certainly there has been no justice for his people. It is up to the Mandalorians themselves to maintain their traditions, uphold their honor, and seek out and protect the Foundlings who will be the future of their clans. The female characters in action roles have been reasonably believable – in particular, Cara Dune, an ex-shock trooper, is played by the very buff Gina Carano, an ex-mixed martial artist. No Mary Sue waif here!

The storytelling has been quite good, with a couple of minor arcs and the major Baby Yoda arc that has yet to play out. The Yoda arc is moving very slowly, and I would like to have had more clues as to where the kid came from and what the whole deal is with that. But at the very least, it provides a MacGuffin to ensure the Mandalorian has to keep moving, keep finding paying jobs, and keep doing what he does best.

There’s a lot of comics-style plotting here. The main arc is interspersed with one-off stories that could be inserted anywhere, as is common in comic book series. This was cited as a complaint by Mr. Arrington, but I see it as more of a genre thing. The Mandalorian clearly owes a lot to the superhero genre – he is a Batman figure, driven by the difficult Mandalore code of honor that replaced his parents at a tender age, and driven as well by his own personal code of ethics. He is happy to kill droids, but reluctant to kill humans. He keeps his word, but is willing to double-cross clients afterward to satisfy his own feelings of right and wrong. He is a character on the edge of the edge – part of a militaristic cult that adheres to no law but their own, he is willing to skirt the bare edges even of his own cult in pursuit of his own sense of justice. And we have to cheer him – because he is right.

I started watching these as a very disillusioned Star Wars fan. I grew up with the original trilogy, and have been disappointed with every film since except Rogue One. I expected more of the same from The Mandalorian. I have been pleasantly surprised, and have strong hopes that for once, Disney is on the right track with its Star Wars properties.


Photo by Hannaford