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The Mandalorian, as a show, is having trouble finding “The Way.”
As a deep lore nerd who has watched every minute of everything Star Wars on Disney Plus – from the movies, to shorts, to behind the scenes, to all the animated series – I am frankly enjoying Season Three of The Mandalorian. The deep cuts to obscure references, the connective tissue between the Prequel Trilogy, the animated shows through to the Sequel Trilogy – all of it. But what they have lost is what I might call “finesse” in making these connections for the common fan and, as a result, they may be losing the money spending, merch buying, “Star Wars is cool” public who have only seen the movies and watch Mando on Disney+. They are what some call “normies” and are where the business part of Star Wars is focused.
Season One of The Mandalorian benefited from and exploited so many things that made it unique. It was the first time a Star Wars story was told on television. It was one of the flagships of Disney’s new streaming service and the title character was interesting and mysterious. It featured subtle yet recognizable call backs to the Star Wars cinematic universe. And, of course, it also was the introduction of the cultural phenomenon: Baby Yoda. Sure, the acting was over the top and a few of the episodes felt very isolated, but it couldn’t lose and it didn’t. Star Wars was back. Grogu was on t-shirts everywhere and even the sequel haters were back on board.
Then, Season Two handled some important heavy lifting and did it effortlessly. They introduced characters and concepts with deep back stories from other media and made it simple to understand. Even though nerds knew who they were, Bo Katan was just some other Mandalorian that made Din question his creed and Ahsoka was a mysterious Jedi who once knew a creature like Grogu. The Dark Saber was the weapon of the leader of Mandalore and it needed to be won in combat. All these concepts were easy to grasp and, if you wanted more info, you could get it.
Most importantly, Season Two built the audience’s connection to Din Djarin and Grogu. When Mando had to make the choice of letting his foundling go with a Jedi Master only the audience knew to be Luke Skywalker, it was heartbreaking.
In a way, that was the end of “The Mandalorian.” The show could’ve ended there. The mission was complete. Both Grogu and Din grew and changed and the book could be closed.
I have been a staunch supporter of the new era of Star Wars television story telling being one giant story. I initially – and vocally – had no issue with Grogu and Din being reunited as part of the Book of Boba Fett show. It was odd, but it was also the first indication that all Disney+ Star Wars is required watching and, to some, that The Mandalorian may have lost the Way.
As we’ve traversed the first six episodes of Mandalorian Season Three, the reunion of Mando and Baby Yoda was the closing of their story. They are now a committed father / son dynamic, but they are no longer the center of the show named The Mandalorian. (I totally get it – the Mandalorian may have never been meant to be Din. I supported a “The Mandalorian is Grogu” theory since early on!)
I have said it before in a video from 2022 that Lucasfilm / Star Wars has a marketing problem right now. The story they are telling is no longer the Lone Wolf and Cub in a Galaxy Far, Far Away. They have shifted gears from telling a small, personal story to setting the stage for an epic galactic struggle that features the end of the New Republic and the Rise of the First Order. Imagine the third act of The Sound of Music showing the political impact of World War II leaving the Von Trapp family to watch from the side. It may be a very interesting story, but the viewer is expecting family values, difficult personal decisions and memorable songs.
And, to be clear, there is nothing wrong at all with telling this story. In fact, I think it is a welcome one that fills in the gaps created by the Sequel trilogy - but there are a handful of reasons why this is problematic for the show and Star Wars as a whole right now.
Disney+ has trained people what to expect from The Mandalorian. The mysterious bounty hunter turned father wrestles with his upbringing and the world he wants to make for his son. The son is an adorable alien that coos, gets into trouble and struggles with wanting to please his father. All of this set in the fantastical Star Wars universe. But, honestly, we have not gotten that this season.
This is why I say it feels like The Mandalorian show is over. We are now into something else. "The Return of Mandalore?" "The Rise of the First Order?" Both great concepts and, frankly, what we are actually seeing now. And that is ok.
But, and this is what I was eluding to from the start, the average fans – the ones with the Disney+ subscription to watch Disney classics, or MCU content, or because it was part of the Hulu package – fell in love with Grogu and Din. This is no longer their show.
The average Star Wars fan has never watched a minute of Clone Wars or Rebels. They don’t know the history of Mandalore other than what was briefly shared on this show (and not entirely effectively this season) and they might not care. The viewer who got hooked on Mando wants Mando and Baby Yoda. Star Wars nerds like me want Mando, but also love the payoff to years of content consumption. It pains me to say it but, the average subscriber – the vast majority of them – want fun Star Wars, not necessarily tribal politics and the return of fascism to the Galaxy far, far away. If you remember, the first complaint about The Phantom Menace was that it was based on galactic politics!
An extension of this problem is: will these “average” fans care enough to watch the Ahsoka series that we can assume is being set up with this season of The Mandalorian? Will it impact their desire to watch a show like The Acolyte, set before The Phantom Menace? Most importantly, if the show doesn’t go back to what made it a success in the first place, will people come back for a fourth season of The Mandalorian? And, if not, what does this mean for Star Wars going forward?
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