So wow. Yesterday I posted about the (Inevitable) Rise of Skywalker, and today a trailer drops. It’s mostly a greatest hits trailer from the entire saga, cashing in on our previous emotional investments by pulling pretty hard on those heart strings, but hey, we did get to see what Rey may look like if she breaks bad! *cough* dream sequence *cough*.
Anyway, we’re not talking about the Rise of Skywalker today. No, we’re talking about how when I was a kid, the characters who learned the Force from Luke in all my hours of, let’s say “live action fan fiction reenactments with small scale replicas with kung fu grip”, were Han Solo and Boba Fett. Of which the latter of the two had all of five minutes screen time over two trilogies! That’s the power of Boba Fett, and the power of a show called The Mandalorian.
I’d also stay up late as a kid and watch
scrambled Cinemax those old Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns where he was the stranger of few words come through town just long enough to kill half the men of killing age and take their woman. But with style and the subtext that ultimately, he was the resigned good guy doing what had to be done because no one else in town had the steely grit or squinty eyes. Good stuff.
Clint Eastwood westerns, and the genre as a whole, are formulaic, but that’s fine because it’s a good formula and it works, and when you have Coke Classic, why would you even make New Coke? Are we really that worried about TaB and RC, that we’re going to mess with what works?
So what’s the point of all this, and how does it relate to Star Wars and D23? Well, counter to my claims in Part 1 of this series, sometimes playing it safe can be a good thing, because sometimes playing it safe is analogous with formulaic, and we know sometimes the formula works. This brings us to the trailer and announcements for The Mandalorian. Without a doubt, my impression is full on spaghetti western. It’s Star Wars owning the subgenre and in that way, it is a safe move. And it’s the smart move. If they do it right.
Anyone who’s paid attention to science fiction over the last 50 years knows the western and space opera are siblings, sometimes kissing siblings. Sometimes Luke and Leia kissing, even. From that other Star franchise of the Trek variety, sold as Wagon Train to the stars, to a little Firefly class ship trying to make its way in the ‘verse, with a dozen movies in between (personal favorite: Outland), the space western is a well trod and familiar path. And this is hardly Star Wars’ first step onto it. It’s always teased more than a bit of that wild wild west feel, with the idea of lawless frontier planets and small time criminals with hearts of gold struggling against the tyranny of the local establishment. What would become A New Hope was filmed in 1977 at the end of the era of spaghetti westerns, depicting a less civilized galaxy that used clumsy blasters instead of more elegant weapons.
So when, exactly, is the wild west of a galaxy far, far, away? Let’s check out the timeline released at D23. Apparently it’s post Return of the Jedi, but still closest to that film that any other. So it falls toward the beginning of that large span of mostly undocumented (in film) time where the Empire is dying and the New Republic is rising and the First Order is… barely a twinkle in Snoke’s chipped skull? This could be a perfect spot in time for a space western. The trailer itself opens with lots of stormtrooper helmets, broken and kept as trophies and warnings to intruders. This is a bad, bad, place, and only bad, bad people go there. But we also see there’s mothers and daughters and people trying to get by as best they can with their heads to the ground.
We see the Mandalorian pretty much always alone, sometimes with a hand on his blaster, sometimes against a dramatic backdrop. Always the stranger, the drifter, passing through. Never speaking, though to be fair there’s only one person that speaks in the entire teaser, all of two sentences at the end. It’s experienced marvelously just through visuals.
Pedro Pascal is behind that shiny mask. I don’t know if he’ll ever take it off, or if we’re going full Dredd with the series. Either way, I love the casting. He’s perfect for a space western. Then there’s Carl Weathers, Gina Carano, Giancarlo frickin Esposito! Even Ming-Na Wen is in it, though I didn’t catch her in my many rewatches of the trailer. Alien? Droid? Does it matter? Everyone cast is perfect, perfectly unique, and perfectly safe, guaranteed to bring a certain level of professionalism and appeal. Seriously, this show will probably have Oberyn Martell vs Gus Fring! Worth the price of admission right there.
About our wordless Drifter, do we know anything? Is he Boba Fett escaped from the Sarlacc pit with a new shiny helmet? Is he a clone of a clone or just cosplaying his idol? Or is this the tip of something more? Eastwood played many a nameless character in his times gunslinging. Maybe the Mandalorian will do his blasterslinging just as mysteriously, and that’s awesome. Though it goes against the nerd code, not every question needs to be answered, or every mystery solved. But going nameless can be risky- see The Postman or Waterworld. What it comes down to here is that Pedro Pascal is a better Clint Eastwood than Kevin Costner.
But it’s not enough to have that cast of a perfect mix of eclectic but reliable. You need a showrunner who is proven capable of playing with other peoples universes to the point they can mimic the style and feel of an entire genre or mix of genres, but who also won’t take too many risks or stray too far from the mark in delivering a solid product. It would help if their soul is already on lease from Disney. And cue Jon Favreau; the perfect mix of genius and safe. This could be his moment. Am I overstating it in saying that I think Jon Favreau was put on this earth at this moment to bring me this Star Western? I don’t think so.
In the end, where The Rise of Skywalker seems to be afraid of
angering the nerd mob a continued backlash and is going for the familiar in what should be an epic conclusion, but is really playing it safe for all the wrong reasons, The Mandalorian is playing it safe for all the right reasons. This is that rare moment when they’ll be showing that sometimes tropes are tropes for a reason that isn’t lazy writing. They’re tropes because we like them and they work. It’s a gamble. I think it’s one that’ll pay off.
So I’m all onboard with a wordless Bounty Hunter with No Name on dusty and outlaw planets saving widows and blasting bad guys all to earn some scratch and escape his demons. Everything about the trailer appealed to me in that way until a friend of mine said they got a Mission Impossible vibe from it. And now we’re back to J.J. Abrams. Thanks, “friend”… thanks…
Still, burying that possibility deep down, I’d bet good money that I would binge The Mandalorian in a day, but Disney also announced at D23 that their shows will be weekly. Honestly, that’s probably a good thing. It’s an equalizer for members of the nerd community who can’t or won’t do long single binges. This way everyone gets a chance to enjoy without being rudely spoiled. Still, the internet has trained me for immediate gratification and it’ll take awhile to be reprogrammed. But that’s a conversation for later.
Next, a wayward son carrying on in a place that isn’t in any way Kansas.
Editor’s Note: Due to the very foreseen circumstances of getting ready for, and traveling to, DragonCon, Part 3 of Star Wars at D23: Playing It Safe will be delayed. To our loyal reader (you know who you are), we sincerely apologize and look forward to make it up to you in the future. Probably with really bad jokes.