Quo vadis STAR WARS, or a few thoughts after the third season of THE MANDALORIAN
After the acquisition by Disney, the Star Wars film universe began to grow rapidly, plunging dynamically into chaos. The trilogy of sequels (The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and Rise of Skywalker) landed with the finesse of a falling space cruiser, leaving behind a landscape of destruction, disappointed expectations, and an inconsistent, clumsy world building. In this post-battle landscape, The Mandalorian – a slightly unexpected hit series from Lucasfilms, loved by fans and appreciated for its unpretentious freshness by most of the critics of the sequels – lasted like the last righteous. After the end of the unfortunate saga built around Rey Palpatine Skywalker, it was the project led by Dave Filioni and Jon Favreau that became the de facto flagship product of the Star Wars brand. The burden placed on the shoulders of the good bounty hunter seemed to be too great.
"The Mandalorian" - a new quality of the universe?
The Mandalorian, which premiered just before the final part of the Sequels Trilogy in 2019, was once an interesting extension of the context of the saga. Set a few years after Return of the Jedi on the edge of the galaxy, the space western explored the terra incognita that was the reality after the fall of the Empire and the establishment of the New Republic. It was a world of eroding administration, a kind of interregnum left by the disintegration of authoritarian networks of power, a kind of Wild West in space. In this world, we met a bounty hunter who, accepting another job, finds a small representative of the same race that the late Master Yoda belonged to, apparently wanted by post-imperial warlords. Motivated by a moral compass, the titular Din Djarin decides to protect the defenseless find and so begins an adventure that will throw this unusual duo to various places in the galaxy and entangle in a series of smaller and larger intrigues.
The Mandalorian’s success was based on two foundations. The first was an attractive marketing duo of a masked tough guy in cool armor and a cute, babbling creature giving the series a pleasant, family (literally and in terms of the genre) core. The adventures of Pedro Pascal’s Din Djarin and the Force-gifted but childishly helpless Grogu were just plain fun to watch thanks to their adoptive father and cute pet dynamics. The second foundation was locating their story on the periphery of history, far from the main threads of any saga. That’s why the first season of The Mandalorian works so well – it’s an unpretentious, taking Star Wars adventure infantile at face value, a space western where the fate of individual characters, not the universe, is at stake.
In the second season, this formula continued, but Filoni (creator of the animated The Clone Wars) began to lead the story into more and more mainstream areas. The fight against the charismatic antagonist Moff Gideon (the flawless Giancarlo Esposito), introduced in the finale of the first series, began to touch on more and more important matters – the remnants of the empire looked more and more magnificent, the theme of the home world of the Mandalorians appeared, and finally the theme of the Jedi returned. Although the series still stuck to its adventure frame, a small cameo festival of characters known from previous productions and the expanded universe (non-canon stories from games, comics and books developing the world created by George Lucas) began and the leading themes throughout the series became stronger and stronger, which culminated in the Season 2 finale when Luke Skywalker saved the heroes by taking Grogu to Jedi training. In this way, the creators of The Mandalorian put themselves in a position where they could no longer weave a story on the fringes of the Skywalker saga, but – anyway – had to tie it into the mainstream.
Mandoverse and the retcon festival
It was, in my opinion, a shot in the knee that took the show off one leg. Cameofest and the duplication of generic themes (dark conspiracies of the Empire against the honorable Mandalorians and the noble ideas of the Republic supported by the moral values of the Jedi) not only deprived The Mandalorian of some of the unpretentiousness and freshness of history distant from the top of power, but also slightly crossed out the creations of an ambivalent world of lawlessness. The second season defends itself with a great implementation, which means that even the guest appearances of Boba Fett, Luke Skywalker or Ahsoka Tano, which are pure fanservice, did not sting the eyes, because they simply gave great entertainment as part of the adventure formula. However, they also caused the whole series to have a serious problem with the further perspective of the story, which had to somehow be connected with the development of events shown in the New Trilogy.
On the one hand, it’s not Filoni’s or Favreau’s fault that they had to deal with the senseless canon written by the sequels. On the other hand, they had a chance to escape from problematic territories and leave The Mandalorian at the level of an intimate story about the confrontation of a patchwork family by chance with an imperial warlord who wants to get as much as possible out of the post-war chaos for himself. Of course, decision-makers at the Lucasfilm level probably played a role here too, but the move towards incorporating The Mandalorian into the main Star Wars saga can probably be at least partly attributed to Filoni, who is basically a sanctioned fan fiction writer specializing in retcon – retroactive rewriting by adding new contexts – of Lucas’s saga (which he did in The Clone Wars and Rebels). Anyway, after the finale of the second season, The Mandalorian took a turn and instead of “saving” the universe, he began to expose the problems that the entire series is facing.
It began with the establishment of the “Mandoverse”. In 2021, The Book of Boba Fett was created – a fanservice spin-off continuing the story of the titular bounty hunter, introduced in The Mandalorian season 2. At first, everything seemed OK – Fett, together with the Fennec Shand he saved, returned to Tatooine to take over the criminal underworld. The flashback itself showing how Fett survived and reached this place, as well as the beginning of the main intrigue, were quite interesting, although the creators quickly began to spoil it with Disney moralizing, taking away the protagonist’s moral ambivalence, and the criminal charm of the series. What ruined the spin-off, however, was the sudden turn towards Din Djarin and Grog’s backstory – the duo taking the forefront in the second half of The Book and making it effectively The Mandalorian – Season 2.5. While the cameos of these characters themselves would not be a bad thing, it was bizarre to include key plot points in Boba Fett’s story that develop the narrative of the main series. As a result – apart from the fact that The Book itself came out very average due to this split – the continuity of The Mandalorian was disturbed, which in season three started from a point completely incomprehensible to viewers without knowledge of the spin-off.
Without rhyme or reason
From this point, the fate of the third series was basically sealed. Dramatically broken, the story, instead of using the once again open path of escape from the “big narrative” within the universe, continued to tie in with the central saga, which is why in Season 3 of The Mandalorian we got an overly drawn theme of uniting the Mandalorians and reclaiming their planet in a confrontation with the forces of Empire. Forces that were no longer remnants of a breakup, but a fully functioning conspiracy laying the foundations for the First Order lazily created in The Force Awakens. It’s an obvious try to fix the sequels with retcons and, by the way, the setting for the next spin-off in the form of Ahsoka, announced for 2023, and the recently announced theatrical film, which is to conclude the story of Din Djarin and Grogu. After the season three finale, I don’t really know what more there is to add, but I have no doubt that Filoni and company will definitely come up with some way to rewrite the conclusion from the last episode.
The third season of The Mandalorian defends itself qualitatively with the remnants of strength – the charm of Grogu and his relationship with Djarin used to the limit, and occasionally sensational execution. I must admit that the final two episodes in terms of staging and internal drama are excellent and great to watch. So what if in the above-described striving for the series to grow above the peripheral adventure, we get a confrontation with the archvillain made of the worst clichés, into which contexts are thrown in an ultra-lazy way explaining the holes in the Sequel Trilogy. And because the main plot is so clichéd that you can’t even cram a few interesting side plots into it, Filoni and Favreau fill the season with fillers in the form of “side missions”. Previously, these smaller stories worked because they resonated with the spirit of The Mandalorian’s narrative. When the creators entered the “great history” of the galaxy at full speed, they are only irritating, painfully realizing how weak the main plot of the series is. Even more bizarre – and even cheeky – is how in one of these episodes the creators copy the spy-political convention of Andorra, trying to capitalize on the probably positive reception of the new series in the universe. Except that it does not fit The Mandalorian at all and shows that the series, which was once supposed to be a new quality in the franchise, is now a sloppily constructed commercial sponge for producers.
The future of the universe
In this way, The Mandalorian exposes the problematic way in which the entire Star Wars franchise is navigated. The universe is created without order and composition, and the sloppiness of subsequent stories is then saved with rectons and a cameo intended to appease the fans. In the end, next titles almost nothing ii. The announced Ahsoka and the film finale of Mandoverse look like continuations of the incoherent formula of the series, which will try to somehow recontextualize the Sequel Trilogy, which will probably further deepen the chaos and break down the remnants of the world-building coherence. Likewise, a possible new Rey movie seems to be just a desperate attempt to salvage the nightmarish finale of Episode IX. Looking at the universe as a whole, I don’t really believe that Andor will maintain the level from the first season – Lucasfilm producers would probably be sick if they didn’t pull the subdued intrigue about the resistance towards adding the events of the Original Trilogy with a host of cameos of characters known from other productions. At the moment, there is no reason to believe that the next “new quality in Star Wars” will not have the same fate as The Mandalorian.
Of course, all of this could turn out differently – the cold reception of the third season of the Favreau and Filoni series, and the falling ratings and profits may thwart many plans within the franchise. The reception of the already ready Ahsoka will probably be decisive here, as well as how the aforementioned Andor will cope in the next season. Perhaps the best solution would be if this train finally derailed properly, and Lucasfilm took the time to make a sensible reboot, with a thoughtful concept and well-written stories (I’m assuming, of course, that there is no option to just shut down the franchise, for obvious marketing reasons ). Because following productions from the Star Wars universe is starting to get tiring, and occasional better moments do not fully compensate for the chaos and general mediocrity. I just hope they let Grogu catch frogs in peace and leave saving the world to Jedi.