The Who, What, and Where of The Mandalorianby Todd King, contributing writer
"What is a Mandalorian?" I was recently asked this question by MousePlanet;s Todd Pickering during a recent "Fun at Home Livestream." On the surface it is a simple question but I think there is more beind it. The Disney+ series, The Mandalorian has put the term into pop culture vernacular, but without watching the program, a person will still not get an idea of what it is; just by the title. The deeper question is, "(Whatever a Mandalorian is) why is it important?" And still deeper, "Why is it important to Star Wars fans and those who aren't that into Star Wars?" Here I will try to cover the who, what, and where of The Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars series.
Created by Lucasfilm and Disney, Pedro Pascal stars as the titular Mandalorian who meets a cast of characters of all shapes and sizes, and humans, too. At times he finds himself alone, at others he's surrounded by enemies, and still other times by allies.
The showrunner is Jon Favreau, who directed Iron Man (yes, that film that jump started the Marvel Cinematic Universe). Favreau is also a writer on The Mandalorian along with others, including Dave Filoni, who ran the The Clone Wars animated series that just finished its final season on Disney+. Filoni has also been part of the other Star Wars animated series, Rebels and Resistance. Needless to say, fans who have become familiar with Filoni's work admire his care and knowledge of the franchise.
Filoni also serves as one of the directors of the series, which also includes Deborah Chow, and who will be at the helm of the hopefully-soon-to-be Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney+. There's also director Bryce Dallas Howard whom you may have seen in Jurassic World but is also the daughter of Ron Howard, the director of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Also of particular note is Taika Waititi, another director on the series who provided the voice for the show's robot character, IG-11, who directed Marvel's Thor: Ragnarok, and who was recently announced as director for the new live-action Star Wars feature film out in 2022.
The Lucasfilm and Disney connections do not end with the directors but extend to the cast.
Carl Weathers, who plays Greef Karga, was also in the Rocky movies, Predator, and was also the voice actor for Combat Carl in Toy Story 4. Gina Carano plays a major role as Cara Dune, and perhaps you saw her in Marvel's Deadpool, too.
Natalia Tena plays Xi'an, a twi'lek. You may have known her as Nymphadora Tonks from the Harry Potter movies (not a direct connection to Star Wars but certainly shares fans in the fantasy genre).
Werner Herzog, world-renown filmmaker, plays a mysterious remnant from the Empire who is desparate for certain cargo for which he hires the Mandalorian. Like Alec Guinness before him, Herzog lends a sense of gravitas to the story, especially since we know him on Earth as such an amazing filmmaker.
Omid Abtahi, as Dr. Pershing, was also in the TV series Better Call Saul. Giancarlo Esposito, who plays Moff Gideon, was also in Better Call Saul, as well as the acclaimed series Breaking Bad.
Bill Burr, comedian and actor, is also an alum of Breaking Bad. He plays Mayfeld here, an intense version of his wise-cracking self. Clancy Brown, a prolific actor who you may know as Mr. Krabs in Spongebob, the main prison guard in The Shawshank Redemption, oh and also Surtur in Marvel's Thor: Ragnarok.
Ming-Na Wen is no stranger to the screen, to our hearts, or to Disney fans. She was the original voice of Mulan.
Horatio Sans is a famous comedian and Saturday Night Live alum. What's the Disney connection? Well, he was in the infamous "Debbie Downer at Disney World" sketch with Lindsay Lohan who had been in several Disney hits like The Parent Trap (1998), Freaky Friday (2003), and Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005). But what makes it infamous? The sketch nearly fell apart because of the cast cracking up, but it made for one of the funniest moments in SNL history. It's a great one to cheer you up during this time of quarantine.
So, what is a Mandalorian? It's not as simple as saying that it's a person from the planet Mandalore. Although that's true, the term has some complexities. A Mandalore is often referred to as a warrior and in Star Wars stories, like The Clone Wars, we learn that not all Mandalorians shared that mindset of a warrior clan who were often at odds against the Jedi. There was fighting within the clan and because of galactic wars, there was fighting from outside the clan as well. By the time we reach the time period of the new streaming series, there aren't many Mandalorians left. But we see they remain bound by their honor, their old warrior ways, and by their devotion to protecting each other and keeping a code of tradition and faith within their manifold idealogies.
Okay, that's a bit complicated without spoiling everything if you haven't watched the series yet. Here's another way to answer the question: You remember Boba Fett, that bounty hunter with the cool armor in Empire Strikes Back who captured Han Solo? Yeah, he was a Mandalorian. And Jango Fett from Attack of the Clones? Him, too. Pretty much anyone who has armor and helmets like them are Mandalorians.
The Mandalorian, the character, is a bounty hunter that goes from job to job making a living in the galaxy, and is even part of a bounty hunter guild to help find work. His newest job, at the start of the new series, has a most unexpected target that changes his life and forces him to make some difficult choices that endangers his own life. Then, he becomes the new target of hunters himself. The beginning sets the stage for the Mandalorian to make some bold choices on his adventures that are often unexpected.
You've probably seen "Baby Yoda" even if you haven't seen the show. The Mandalorian's choice to protect the Child (which is what it's actually called in the seires) is his boldest choice, and it changes everything. It puts his own life, and even those of his Mandalorian brethren, at great risk. Things really kick into gear when he makes this choice.
It's only on Disney+, the entire first season is there to be binged now. Two more seasons, at least, are on the way. The setting takes place in the Star Wars galaxy with some new and also familiar (old) places. At one point he's on a prison barge in space, another time he's on Tatooine like in the picture above where he is served at the bar by EV-9D9, the same type of droid from Jabba's Palace.
In the timeline, the series takes place after Return of the Jedi, after the defeat of the Empire. This is the time of the fallout when the Empire is trying to hold on to its last remaining strongholds. Though they are no longer in complete power, they're still a threat. Meanwhile, there's a sense of lawlessness as the new Republic gets started. This backdrop gives the story a Wild West vibe.
There's always been an interest in the bounty hunters from Star Wars when they were introduced in the original film. We first saw Greedo, who had tracked down Han Solo, who had a bounty on him placed by Jabba the Hutt. (A business that seems difficult to escape—it took quite a lot to take down Jabba—and Han returned to smuggling when he couldn't make amends with Leia over the turning of their son to the dark side.) We knew from the beginning that Solo was being hunted. In Empire, Han was finally captured by a bounty hunter. We saw these hunters for a brief moment, like Bossk, 4-Lom, Zuckuss, IG-88, and Dengar.
Why is The Mandalorian important? Well, it all goes back to Boba Fett. Fans' interest in the character goes way back. We first got a glimpse of him as a special mail-away action figure from Kenner and also in the unmentionable Holiday Special in 1978. From his beginning, Boba Fett was shrouded in mystery. Plus, he had a wicked mask, striking armor, and a freakin' jetpack! What wasn't to love? Oh, well, in Empire, he's a bad guy—but that didn't stop us from thinking he was cool. He barely said anything in the movie and that just added to his aura. Who was this guy? Where did he come from? Where did he get the cool duds? Not much was explained in the films and so there was a lot left to our imaginations. We built up Boba Fett as the baddest bounty hunter in the galaxy. Then Han Solo, having just been freed from carbonite, accidentally killed him in Return of the Jedi.
That didn't matter. We like him so much we brought him back in the fiction. In the book, Tales from Jabba's Palace from 1995, a story portrayed Boba Fett as escaping his fate. While that story is no longer canon, the character has been "alive" to us for some time. The movie Attack of the Clones gave us a little more detail about the Fetts, but not so much about Mandalorians. Our interest was only increased. Stories from Mandalore appeared in The Clone Wars, Star Wars' first television series—but what happened to them after the fall of the Empire? That's where the current series comes in.
We still knew nothing about what a Mandalorian is, until now. Boba and Jango shared a similar armor design, which wasn't as one-of-a-kind as we once thought. The Clone Wars brought it out that it was the armor of creed-following warriors originally from planet Mandalore, whose allegiances were usually a mystery. Through this new live-action program, we've learned that these warriors follow a strict code of conduct and honor. But their glory days are now behind them when we see a number of them here on the series, but they are underground, in hiding. Something happened during a seige on their people at the hands of the Empire that forced them into exile, and they struggle valiantly just to survive.
This makes our Mandalorian a man who represents ideals and systems to which he must abide. He cannot remove his mask in front of any living being. He must honor his own word and follow through with his promises. He must earn his ranks, and his titles or badges of honor by himself. He must not serve anyone but the code, and must not be ruled by technology; technology is in service to them. All these ideas mix in many cultural ideas from our world from native populations, to ancient warriors, to today's militaristic formulae—but also the ways of the lonely traveler who finds himself in predicaments that endanger him and those he encounters. The one thing he can never do is stop moving.
See it on Disney+ for season 1 and for all future seasons. This series was a long-time coming, as George Lucas had proposed two shows long ago that would come after the Prequel Trilogy: one animated (which became The Clone Wars) and one live-action (which was dropped). After Disney acquired Lucasfilm, the idea for a live-action series was revived and eventually became The Mandalorian. Now, it's only the beginning of more series to appear on Disney+, and those will be measured against this one which has achieved great success for the streaming service and a beloved entry in the saga.
One more thing: Rumors are all but confirmed that Boba Fett may, in fact, be returning to Star Wars by having a role in The Mandalorian, and that he could also be portrayed by Temuera Morrison, who played the original Jango Fett and the clones. Nothing official has been stated on this matter, but it seems it could be coming out at some point to draw interest in season 2. My thought? Awesome!