The creative team of The Mandalorian followed the same method of self-discovery as The Clone Wars to establish the formula for its show.
The Mandalorian is a welcome smash hit for Disney’s take on Star Wars. It not only established Disney+ as the marquee streaming service, but it brought fans a desired version of the galaxy far, far away. Unlike some of the preceding material, the Last Jedi or Solo as examples, The Mandalorian has been universally acclaimed by both fans and critics alike – an unexpected alignment. However, despite being the benchmark for Disney streaming Star Wars, there is still one major criticism of the show: that its formula relies on side quests too much. Episodes of season one regularly diverted Mando from his main mission. Considering the core team behind The Mandalorian, the answer may be found in viewing Star Wars: The Clone Wars season two.
The Clone Wars ran for five seasons, 102 episodes, from 2008 to 2013 when it was abruptly canceled amidst the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm. Then, season six resumed on Netflix in 2014 with a thirteen-episode compilation called The Lost Episodes. The team behind the show continued animating Star Wars by applying everything they learned from Clone Wars to the excellent Star Wars: Rebels, which ran from 2014 to 2018. After the launch of Disney+, a seventh and final season of Clone Wars was released in 2020 to the surprise of fans everywhere.
At its outset, though, Clone Wars was not a popular show with fans. Many derisively considered it a kid’s show and criticized its animation style. It took a few seasons for it to grow on the audience. More importantly, it took a few seasons for the creative team to find its way with the show. Evidence to this is found all throughout season two as it tries to explore the reaches of the Star Wars galaxy, to test the limits of what type of stories can be told with this franchise. The exact same method of discovery was used on The Mandalorian in season one.
Season two of The Clone Wars explored stories using various cinematic genres. Star Wars as a franchise is predominantly science fantasy. Being a long-form television series, it gets repetitive using the same formula repeatedly. The creative team no doubt quickly hit the ceiling of the galaxy. Season two was a twenty-two-episode laboratory as much as it was a playground. Instead of keeping to the straight and narrow, Dave Filoni and the team of The Clone Wars, with George Lucas’ blessing and encouragement, played with the Star Wars universe in vastly different ways.
The experiment was to see if Star Wars, as in Jedi, Clone Troopers etc. could successfully thrive in seemingly opposing genres. In season two, they wrote horror, heist, Whodunit (murder mystery), and kaiju stories. They also paid homage to the most influential director on the Star Wars franchise, Akira Kurosawa. Fans expecting to see a conflict between Jedi vs Sith or an episode about the Clone Troopers combating the Droid Army, instead met characters like Inspector Tan Divo (first seen in episode 15, “Senate Murders”) or watched the city of Coruscant get trampled on by the Zillo Beast, an obvious reference to Godzilla. The first episode of season two is a heist starring bounty hunter Cad Bane, who steals a Jedi holocron under guard by Ahsoka Tano. Clone Wars horror referenced Invasion of the Body Snatchers in episode 8, “Brain Invaders,” and fought zombies in the previous episode, “Legacy of Terror.”
The Mandalorian is a space western, but it is still subject to the same trappings of the Star Wars universe. So, much in the way Clone Wars used its second season to discover its capacities, season one of Mandalorian used the side quest framework to figure out its own style. Each episode explored a different genre than traditional Star Wars right down to the homage to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai in “Chapter 4: Sanctuary.” It played with the heist scenario in “Chapter 6: The Prisoner” and mixed it with a prison break. The final episode of the season was much akin to John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. They did not use a kaiju until season two’s first episode, “The Marshal,” but it was likely considered earlier. Perhaps the mudhorn in Chapter 2 was the chosen substitute?
The Mandalorian found its way in season one, fans still criticized the same techniques used in season two. Somehow it still managed to dip into side quests. Yet this time it did so within the story confines. Season two was more focused in its trajectory having been established by the errant first season. Though the conclusion of season two felt a lot like a series finale, the series will continue in a third season after The Book of Boba Fett. Considering the path in which the show has followed thus far, and the template set forth by The Clone Wars, it is presumed that season three of The Mandalorian will stay on target.
The Book of Boba Fett is set to premiere on Disney+ in December of 2021.
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