How small blockbusters almost ruined Star Wars
Spoiler alert: The Mandalorian saved it.
After watching The Force Awakens, I was sure the sequels were heading for something great. The first installment in this new trilogy felt genuine; its characters sincere; the story familiar yet still fresh. The very idea of Kylo Ren alone felt exciting to me: a sullen teenager buckling under the pressure of his lineage, and lost to the dark side because of it. I even wrote a short piece about him. So sure of myself, I was.
Alas, the sequels crash-landed the Skywalker saga with the succeeding, both timeline and box office-wise, installments of the mainline Star Wars movie series. After watching The Rise of Skywalker in theatres I walked away feeling exhausted with Star Wars. When Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, many fans feared the giant media conglomerate would run the franchise into the ground. With the sequels wrapped up, it felt like our worst fears had been realized. But then, a new hope emerged.
The Mandalorian is Star Wars distilled to its very essence. It is more Star Wars than anything Disney or Lucasfilm has produced since the animated Clone Wars tv show. Some would say since it’s the best thing since the original films. The Mandalorian is so, so good, and the reason why is very simple.
One of my main issues with the sequels was the lack of a sense of distance and scale. Beyond The Force Awakens, the movies were small blockbusters set in a big universe. And it was not because of the big setting that they felt small — it was because Disney took that grand stage, the colorful and lively universe that was always one of Star Wars biggest assets, and reduced it to what felt like mere cardboard display-pieces. Characters traveled across the galaxy far far away in the blink of an eye, and never had any issues adapting to new scenery or languages. As the directors zoomed ever further out, the viewer lost any sense of connection with the characters and the story. We were on the outside, looking in while Rey, Kylo, Poe and Finn went gallivanting. The intimate moments we used to share with both heroes and villains, getting to really know them, had been replaced with grand landscape shots and huge battle scenes with big explosions.
A more personal story that explores, but never fully reveals, its setting will always be more relatable. It hints at something bigger; creating a mystery. The unknown is a crucial part of storytelling, and a big part of what made the original films so great. The universe is vast, and filled to the brim with unknowns. To diminish it, or to shine a huge light on every nook and cranny, is to do a disservice to the story being told. When Star Wars first arrived in theatres in 1977, people knew nothing about the history of the Republic and the Empire, about Luke’s parents or who Ben Kenobi really was. Movie-goers just had to strap in and enjoy the ride, as the characters sought out the answers to the same questions they had. And it was great.
The Mandalorian has saved the franchise, and rekindled my love for Star Wars, and it is thanks to the show adapting a more intimate story and presenting it on a manageable scale. Perhaps that is in part thanks to the format — after all, a tv show has more time for character development and world-building. But to say that The Mandalorian is great only thanks to the total runtime available would be rude to the show runners. The last two franchise-derailing sequel movies were both very long — but they spent so much of their time on the wrong things.
Sometimes less really is more, and in this case The Mandalorian has hit the sweet spot between too little details and filler. Gone are the tasteless lines of dialogue that are too “on the nose”, and only serve to move the plot forward. The entire scope is smaller; the production tighter and more precise. The budget, the soundtrack, the CGI and the grand scale — all of it is dialed back in favor of the story. The unknowns dialed up. In favor of the real Star Wars. This is the way.