*This post contains spoilers for "The Mandalorian" season two.*
When the final credits rolled on "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," fans who had eagerly awaited the final chapter in the Skywalker saga quickly split into two camps.
There were those that rallied behind J.J. Abrams' decision to largely undo the narrative events of "The Last Jedi" and bring back the presumed dead Emperor Palpatine as the main villain. And then there were those who wondered how Disney could have let things go so wrong.
"The Mandalorian," a show that launched with the Disney+ platform several weeks before "The Rise of Skywalker" entered theaters, had instantly captivated audiences with its back-to-basics Star Wars style in late 2019. The space western, which took inspiration from the days of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood and the films of Akira Kurosawa, captured the hearts of Star Wars fans and casual pop culture consumers.
After two seasons, the show has reignited faith in the Star Wars franchise. Its success has given Disney the confidence to invest in producing more content. Over the next few years, the streaming service will be home to nearly a dozen Star Wars shows, both live action and animated.
Much of the credit goes to the careful direction of showrunners Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni. Under their care, "The Mandalorian" takes the time to craft a cohesive story and uses restraint when it comes to delivering moments of fan service. The result: The future of the more than 40-year-old franchise is brighter than ever.
A few parsecs short
Star Wars is a beloved franchise. Its fans are its biggest supporters, but also its biggest critics. So, when it became clear that the studio had not mapped out a story arc for its newest film trilogy, many fans were disappointed.
"It isn't just a series of movies, it's a lifestyle," said Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse and a pop culture expert.
Many griped that the most recent trilogy of films had spent too much time rebranding George Lucas' original trilogy. The Empire morphed into the First Order, the New Republic was destroyed by an even bigger Death Star in the form of Star Killer Base and the Emperor has (surprise!) been pulling the strings the whole time.
"The first six movies are the story of Anakin Skywalker, it's not Luke," said Doug Creutz, managing director and senior research analyst at Cowen. "So if you are going to have a new trilogy, and this is the conclusion to the Skywalker saga, you've got to have Anakin Skywalker. Instead you bring back Palpatine. You've made it the Palpatine saga."
Daisy Ridley, who portrayed Rey in those films, admitted in September that while filming "The Rise of Skywalker" she wasn't sure what her character's heritage was.
Daisy Ridley as Rey in "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker."Disney | Lucasfilm
According to Ridley, Rey was initially supposed to be connected to Obi-Wan Kenobi, but in "The Last Jedi" writer and director Rian Johnson decided that she would not be connected to a major character.
However, when Abrams returned to write and direct the last film, he decided, in the end, that she would be related to Palpatine. In theory, this could have been a very dynamic reveal, but it failed in execution because there was no set-up for it. In fact, it generated more questions about the logic and plausibility of such a thing, infuriating many fans.
"One of the standout complaints regarding the recent movie trilogy was a lack of consistent vision for where the story and characters were going," said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com. "While many fans can enjoy the films individually and some of the character arcs prove quite emotional, not all of them do to some fans."
A celebration of Star Wars
"The Mandalorian," on the other hand, had a clear narrative arc from the start. Favreau and Filoni mapped out the direction of the series, leaving breadcrumbs for eagle-eyed viewers of what was to come.
It's no surprise that this strategy has been incredibly effective in creating a cohesive story. It's bolstered by Filoni, who has worked with Lucasfilm for years and was the man behind the "Clone Wars" and "Rebels" cartoon series. He is responsible for much of the canonical events and characters in the Star Wars universe over the last decade.
Under Filoni and Favreau, "The Mandalorian" takes the universe of Star Wars and dives in deeper and deeper. The new details imbue it with meaning. For example, "The Mandalorian" explores the Sand People, who, we discover, have their own sign-based language, and the nomadic scrap-collecting Jawas on Tatooine. These are familiar creatures who are made more complex through their inclusion in the narrative. They enrich the world around our masked hero Din Djarin and Grogu, the child formerly known as Baby Yoda.
And the series doesn't just rely on the material that has made it to the big screen. With Filoni on board, "The Mandalorian" has expertly brought characters and elements from Star Wars animation into live action. From the reveal of the Dark Saber in season one and the emergence of Bo-Katan Kryze early in season two, to the jaw-dropping entrance of Ahsoka Tano and the reveal that she is hunting Grand Admiral Thrawn, Favreau and Filoni are doing fan service the right way.
Ahsoka fans were delighted by Rosario Dawson's portrayal. Her vocal cadence matched that of Ashley Eckstein, the voice actor who took the character from snippy apprentice to a master with dual lightsabers, and her acrobatic fighting style was expertly captured in live action.
"[They have] shown that he can handle it with the respect they deserve," Cowen's Creutz said. "It doesn't read like fan fiction."
Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano in "The Mandalorian" on Disney+.Disney
Favreau and Filoni also managed to take Boba Fett, a bounty hunter introduced in "The Empire Strikes Back" and considered one of the most skilled combatants in the universe, and actually deliver on that promise. Previously, Fett had limited screen time, in which he stood stoically in the background, or was easily defeated by Han Solo.
The pair even tackled Luke Skywalker. The hero of the original trilogy makes a brief, but impactful, appearance in the season two finale, arriving aboard Moff Gideon's light cruiser in his iconic X-Wing fighter. He easily dispatches of a squad of robotic dark troopers, a black glove over his robotic hand and a hood over his eyes.
When he finally meets our heroes and takes Grogu away to be trained as a Jedi, he is stoic and a man of few words — he is the Luke Skywalker that we saw in "Return of the Jedi" — just five years older and with the burden of restarting the Jedi Order resting heavily on his shoulders.
"It's figured out how to both acknowledge the franchise and the history," Thompson said. "'The Mandalorian' has found a nice little calculus of starting a new set of stories with new characters, but not rejecting or being contradictory to the old [stories]."
There's even a nod to a recent Star Wars video game and comic book during the penultimate episode of the second season when Migs Mayfeld, a former sharpshooter from the Galactic Empire, turned friend of the Mandalorian and his crew, mentions Operation Cinder.
"That's what Favreau and Filoni have been allowed to provide so far," Robbins said, ["they have] built upon the foundation of their passion and deep investment in the mythos of Star Wars."
Star Wars is for everyone
"The Mandalorian" doesn't shy away from its source material, regardless of its form. It also has benefited by including diverse voices behind and in front of the camera.
For the first season, Filoni and Favreau enlisted Taika Waititi, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rick Famuyiwa and Deborah Chow to direct episodes, but also act as consultants on the episodes they did not direct. They worked as a team to bring the episodes to life, but also brought different perspectives to the series.
In front of the camera, is an equally diverse group. In addition to putting a number of female characters in the foreground, the series features actors of a variety of races. This was something that critics felt was lacking in the most recent trilogy.
While John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran and Oscar Isaac, were included in the cast, their roles were often pushed to the side in favor of white characters. Boyega publically discussed his frustration with how Disney handled his character of Finn in a GQ article published in September.
"What I would say to Disney is do not bring out a Black character, market them to be much more important in the franchise than they are and then have them pushed to the side," he said. "It's not good. I'll say it straight up."
Chewbacca, Finn and Poe Dameron pilot the Millenium Falcon in "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker."Disney | Lucasfilm
Finn, a former stormtrooper, was featured prominently in the marketing for "The Force Awakens," most famously wielding a lightsaber. However, it was later revealed that it was Ridley's Rey that was the one that was force sensitive. The character of Finn, while still a major character in the franchise, seemed to be nudged further and further into the periphery in the following two films.
Tran and Isaac, too suffered this fate.
It was feared that Ming-Na Wen's bounty hunter Fennec Shand would, too, be another non-White character to die off quickly and unceremoniously. However, the writers brought back Shand in the second season, with a new robotic torso, but the same attitude that made her a fan favorite.
The show also brought forth a number of strong, complex female characters played by Gina Carano, Katee Sackhoff, Sasha Banks and Dawson. While Dawson only appeared in one episode of the series so far, the other actresses have had recurring parts on the show.
In fact, during the finale, the majority of the named characters on screen that set out to rescue Grogu from the clutches of Moff Gideon are women. And their team-up isn't treated as a contrived moment of girl power, they are simply the best fighters Din knows and trusts. There is also, notably, no forced romance between any of these characters and Din.
What the series lacks in romantic love can be found in the familial love between Din and his bounty-turned-son Grogu. It is the emotional string that runs through the series and keeps audiences invested in the intricately choreographed and beautifully filmed battle sequences.
"The Mandalorian" has earned Disney a lot of goodwill.
Projects that had been abandoned by the company have now been transformed into limited and regular series for Disney+. Ewan McGregor will reprise his role an a series about Obi-Wan Kenobi, which takes place 10 years after the events of "Revenge of the Sith."
Kathleen Kennedy, the head of Lucasfilm, teased fans that Hayden Christensen will reprise his role as Darth Vader in "Kenobi," along with McGregor in the title role. The series is helmed by "Mandalorian" alum Chow.
And it's not the only project in the works for the streaming service.
"Andor" stars Alan Tudyk as the reprogrammed imperial droid K-2SO and Diego Luna as rebel fighter Cassian Andor in the years before the events of "Rogue One."
Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith."Lucasfilm
There will also be a series called "Lando" that follows the smooth-talking Lando Calrissian from the original trilogy of films as well as a series called "The Acolyte," which takes place during the final days of the High Republic. It has been dubbed a "mystery-thriller."
Not to mention Filoni and Favreau will be developing two additional series: "The Rangers of the New Republic" and "Ahsoka," which will star Dawson in the title role.
"Star Wars: Visions" is an animated anthology series that will feature anime-inspired takes on the Star Wars universe. Additionally there will be an animated film called "A Droid Story," which will introduce a new hero guided by R2-D2 and C-3PO.
And Boba Fett isn't just a secondary character in "The Mandalorian." During a post-credit scene in the season two finale, Disney announced that Fett and Shand would appear in a spinoff called "The Book of Boba Fett." It's unclear at the moment if that is going to be an arc within "The Mandalorian" or a separate series.
Additionally, the next theatrical Star Wars release will come in 2023 from Patty Jenkins. Waititi is also attached to a future film project as well as Marvel head Kevin Feige.
"I think my big concern was that you'd dilute the franchise," Thompson said of adding too many films or TV shows to the Star Wars canon. "That it would get complicated. I completely give that up. Look at Marvel. That has not hurt Marvel at all. In fact, it's been a boon to it. It's part of the fun of it."
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