Talking about Star Wars is like putting a political sign in your yard: you’re bound to get some crazy in your face no matter what your position. Back when I was a kid, had seen the original trilogy about 35 times in the theater (when tickets were about $2.50/show), and had accumulated a massive collection of mass-produced Kenner toys, I never imagined that saying anything about Star Wars would require a trigger warning, but 2020 ain’t over yet, so here we are.
Despite being all-in on Star Wars as a kid, I found myself cool on the franchise in my old age. I can’t imagine that any nascent geek worth his or her burgeoning salt wouldn’t enjoy movies filled with non-stop action, uncomplicated characters, and a mystical force that lets people do really cool shit just by wishing it. Later, though, as my experience with sci-fi expanded, I understood that Star Wars was a little too simple. The Good Guys were Really Good All The Time, the Bad Guys were Really Bad Just Because They Were, and when the writers of subsequent movies tried to ascribe motivation to characters, fans lost their shit because they didn’t want their characters to be anything other than paper dolls that they could project their heroic fantasies onto.
This is why I appreciate The Mandalorian: it doesn’t give a shit about the fans who only want laser swords and space wizards that make them all tingly inside. Focusing on a single character on a (currently) single-minded mission across the galaxy, we spend a lot of quality time with Din Djarin. We see him doing things that we didn’t ever get to see characters do in any of the Star Wars movies: sleep, have conversations that don’t require time-sensitive resolutions, and generally engage in actions which are neither in the Stars nor particularly War-like (am I the only who notices the Razor Crest’s totally normal toilet every single time it’s on screen?). The Mandalorian is a situational drama, but is also a Star Wars property with actual character development, especially after this week’s episode, “The Heiress”, in which we learn that Din, believing he was carrying on the true Mandalorian Way, was actually raised by a cult-like offshoot that was anything but traditionally Mandalorian. And he kind of gets his ass kicked a lot, which all things considered is nice to see in a franchise that is the living embodiment of “the Hero’s Journey”.
The Mandalorian provides us with insight into the wider Star Wars universe by taking us to places that were (maybe) not previously created in the franchise canon, and it doesn’t take us there to blow stuff up or even to focus on the strife between the Rebellion/New Republic and the Empire. The inclusion of Canto Bight in The Last Jedi was cool to me because it showed another side of life beyond repeated wartime action. As Djarin and The “Don’t Call Him Baby Yoda” Child make their way, we see “real life” in the Star Wars universe: a village which is terrorized by heavily armed local warlords, a small-town sheriff masquerading in suspiciously familiar Mandalorian armor, and a desperate mother-to-be who needs a lift to reach her husband on another planet, not to mention all of the daily goings-on which play host to these vignettes. I don’t want to insinuate that these plots are “down time” side-quests of the greater Star Wars drama, but I appreciate seeing more of the franchise universe than just X-Wings and TIE Fighters and massive spaceships that only get ridiculously bigger with every subsequent movie.
If this post hasn’t made you frown, then maybe this will: I like Star Trek a hell of a lot better, and Battlestar Galactica (the reboot) way more than Star Wars any day of the week specifically because both franchises are about people who happen to live in a more technologically advanced time, whereas Star Wars feels like it started with the idea of “The Force” and lightsabers and then threw up literary tropes to make it happen. The Mandalorian (and I suspect The Clone Wars and other animated Star Wars series as well to various effect) redeems this shortcoming in my eyes because it singlehanded brings so much more to the Star Wars universe than the bigger screen treatments ever did. Seeing the galaxy far, far away through situations focused on a single character (Baby Yoda, let’s not kid ourselves) has brought Star Wars into a tighter focus that I personally felt it’s lacked for a long, long time.