The Mandalorian stealthily enters the safe house. Two stormtroopers stand guard. The soldiers have become freelance mercenaries since the Empire has collapsed, their once-pristine armor now grimy with dirt. The bounty hunter creeps up behind them and fires his blaster, gunning them down.
So, yes: The Mandalorian shoots first — and shoots his enemies in the back.
This is the brutal, lawless world of this new Disney+ Star Wars series — which brings a galaxy far, far away to the small screen as a live-action series for the first time. The show is set after the downfall of the Galactic Empire in Return of the Jedi but before the events of The Force Awakens. For now, chaos reigns across the universe, especially in the outer reaches of the galaxy where a Mandalorian bounty hunter stalks his prey for diminishing returns.
“It’s like after the Roman Empire falls, or when you don’t have a centralized shogun in Japan — and, of course, the Old West, when there wasn’t any government in the areas that had not yet been settled,” says showrunner Jon Favreau (The Lion King), who spearheads the series along with longtime Star Wars animated-series producer Dave Filoni. “Those are also cinematic tropes in films that originally inspired George Lucas to make Star Wars.”
Indeed, The Mandalorian’s clearest inspiration is the first act of A New Hope, which played like a Western set in space: exotic creatures, smugglers, soldiers, and bounty hunters leading rough lives in an overlooked outlaw territory. (Conversely, the show is perhaps the furthest from the Star Wars prequels and the aristocratic poshness of their Jedi council meetings on Coruscant.) Expect The Mandalorian to travel from system to system in a very “boots on the ground” tale without any major legacy characters… at least, not in the first season.
“I’ve always been curious what the other people in the cantina are up to,” Favreau says. “We’re digging really deep in the toy chest and pulling out the action figures that people were always curious about and were not quite in the center frame, but have a lot of potential.”
Or as Filoni puts it: “These are the [action figures] you got. Your older brothers have had ‘good’ ones. Somehow you got Boba Fett. And if you have Boba Fett, you could always tell a good story.”
The Mandalorian represents a crucial asset for Disney and Lucasfilm. The show (with a reported budget of $100 million for the eight-episode debut season) is the highest-profile series to launch with Disney’s new streaming service Disney+ on Nov. 12. And at a time when Disney has said it plans to slow its roll on making new Star Wars movies, The Mandalorian will be the first test of whether the iconic 42-year-old sci-fi brand can work in the live-action TV space, with more live-action titles such as an Obi-Wan series starring Ewan McGregor and a Rogue One prequel starring Diego Luna also in the works.
At first glance, the lead character on The Mandalorian is just Boba Fett by another name. But look closer. Boba Fett, despite that armor, wasn’t actually Mandalorian (he was a clone who culturally appropriated the look). “And unlike Boba, he’s operating in a much more unforgiving landscape where survival is difficult enough, let alone flourishing,” Favreau says. Plus, as star Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) puts it, the Mandalorian would prefer to do the right thing, “but his duties could very much be in conflict with that — and doing the right thing has many faces.”
Speaking of faces, don’t expect to see Pascal’s very often. The Mandalorian — or “Mando,” as he’s called on set — is pretty fond of keeping that helmet on. (Pascal, not so much. The actor spent a bit of time bumping into things around the set before he got the hang of it.)
Centering a TV series on a character obscured by a mask is perhaps the show’s boldest move, but if anybody can make the premise work it’s Favreau, who also directed a little masked-man movie called Iron Man. Assisted by Pascal’s laconic line delivery and terse physicality, along with expressive choices in camera work and editing, Favreau manages to infuse the character with a surprising amount of personality. “What’s remarkable is when you see the whole stretch of the first season how engaging the character is,” Favreau says. “It’s amazing how many Star Wars characters are emotionally engaging that aren’t even anthropomorphic. R2-D2 is my favorite character and he barely has an eye.”
Another faceless character is IG-11, an assassin droid voiced by director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok). The Kiwi, who also helmed the season 1 finale, labored on finding the perfect voice for the role before landing on a tone that he says is somewhere between Siri and HAL 9000. “[IG-11 is] very innocent and naive and direct and doesn’t know about sarcasm and doesn’t know how to lie,” Waititi says. “It’s like a child with a gun.”
Rounding out the world of The Mandalorian are Haywire’s Gina Carano as Cara Dune, a Rebel Shock Trooper-turned-mercenary, and Rocky’s Carl Weathers as Greef Carga, the leader of a bounty hunters’ guild. “In the Star Wars world, you find yourself walking a different way, you behave differently, you relate to what’s around you differently, because it’s not a contemporary world,” notes Weathers.
Arguably the most powerful of the bunch are Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito as Moff Gideon, a former governor under the Galactic Empire whose world fell apart when those pesky Rebels blew up the second Death Star.
“He’s an Imperial remnant of a very fine officer who then switches to become sort of the guardian of the people,” says Esposito, who had his favorite Star Wars geek-out moment when he got to climb into a TIE fighter. “But what does [Moff Gideon] really want? This guy is going to be a big player because he has an idea of how to keep order.”
Ah yes, order. Eventually this time period gives rise to the First Order, whose origins are still mysterious. The Mandalorian team expects to ultimately explore those formative roots. In fact, filling in the mythology of Star Wars with new canon content on a TV series is a specialty of producer Filoni, who has quietly become the most prolific storyteller in the Star Wars universe, having crafted hundreds of animated episodes across a trio of series such as The Clone Wars.
“I’ve seen a lot of Star Wars,” Filoni says. “And what’s most exciting to me is that I am very confident we did some things — and fans will see things — that have never been seen before.”
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• The Mandalorian to explore the origins of the First Order
• Pedro Pascal explains how his Mandalorian differs from Boba Fett
• Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker new footage posted online