The first trailer for the live-action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, dropped over the weekend and presented a much different corner of the Star Wars universe.
Jon Favreau, the showrunner of The Mandalorian, described the series as "the darker, freakier side" of Star Wars, which might remind attentive fans of the aborted Star Wars: Underworld. That project, of course, was Lucasfilm's previous planned television series, which was in development for nearly 10 years, with enough concept art and scripts for 50 episodes and two seasons.
George Lucas’ original concept for Underworld had a lot in common with The Mandalorian. Lucasfilm veteran Rick McCallum, co-creator of Underworld, previously revealed that the main character would be a bounty hunter and that it would be darker and grittier than anything we had seen up to that point in Star Wars. Lucas also said in a 2008 interview with Total Film magazine that he wanted to bring together the snappy dialogue from A New Hope and marry it to the style of 1940s film noir.
Lucas hired an impressive array of writers to work on the script. The idea was that the first season would stand on its own, but beginning with the second season, specific characters would go on to get their own spinoff series. Eventually, he wanted to have at least five live-action series broadcasting at the same time.
Lucas even told them that price was no object, and that they should write the screenplays as if each episode were a feature film. Although they initially had some trouble wrapping their heads around it, this open-world concept allowed the writers creative freedom to take their plots and characters wherever they wanted.
Lucas was counting on CGI technology to develop fast enough to reduce the cost of each episode from $50 million to between $2 million and $4 million. His reasoning was sound; after all, he had created most of the background, planets and creatures from the prequel trilogies using computers, so for him, the idea of filming actors within a studio wasn’t that new. That would eventually bring him to launch another project related to Underworld, the canceled EA video game 1313.
1313's plot would take place in the same world and time as Underworld, following the descent of two bounty hunters into the subterranean city-within-a-city of the Coruscant. The developers described it as a literal descent into hell, based on Dante’s Inferno -- which already inspired the plot structure and cinematography of The Empire Strikes Back. It was going to be grungy, with buildings growing everywhere, including from the sky, which would make the players feel as if the city itself was trying to crush them. It would be an entire seedy underbelly that showed that the shiny art-deco spires of Coruscant, the Imperial capital, were rotten from within. Both 1313 and Underworld targeted an adult audience, and this showed both in the game’s dialogue, which was dotted with profanity, and in the concept art, which featured a pretty explicit Vegas-like strip, and graphic violence.
Lucas announced in 2011 that the project was at a standstill, which was followed in 2012 by Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, leaving fans who had been waiting since 2005 for Underworld holding their breaths. They shouldn’t have worried, because Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy went through the reams of material and brought several ideas to production.
For instance, the very mature war movie Rogue One was originally pitched as an episode of Underworld, with Saw Guerrera being part of that story. So was Solo: A Star Wars Story. Coruscant's level 1313 was added to Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The Church of the Force, which was connected with Lor San Tekka, who appears in The Force Awakens and in Marvel's Poe Dameron comics, was already in Underworld.
Leia’s childhood was going to play a role in the plot of Underworld, and Lucas was so protective of that storyline that he didn’t allow any writers to tackle that part of the character's life. But recently, Star Wars Adventures featured a short story involving a toddler Leia and Breha Organa’s life on Alderaan. Outside of the Star Wars universe, the arc of Kratos’ character from EA’s 2018 God of War was also taken directly from unused Underworld scripts.
Going back to The Mandalorian connection: It's clear that Underworld’s concept art has a huge influence on the upcoming Disney + series. From the grittier, realistic tone to the violence and tension that permeates the trailer, to the protagonists being a team of bounty hunters immersed in a corrupted environment – the similarities are astounding. Underworld took place in a galaxy where the Empire was in control, and the Rebellion was weak. The Mandalorian takes place while the New Republic is in power, and the First Order is hiding in the Unknown Regions.
The main difference is how open the world of The Mandalorian feels, compared with the conceptual art of Underworld: Almost every scene in the trailer happens beneath an open sky, a stark contrast with the oppressive interiors of Underworld.
That leads to the second-biggest difference: The Mandalorian's style resonates more with classic Westerns than with Lucas’ dreamed noir thrillers. That places The Mandalorian in the same visual universe as The Rise of Skywalker – to the point that both trailers feature the exact classic shot of a cowboy’s hand poised over their hips, ready to reach for their gun and shoot an approaching opponent.
It's also possible that still-untitled Cassian Andor series, focusing on Rogue One’s ruthless Rebel, will pull from the darker and gritter source material of Underworld. After all, the Disney+ series is thought to be set in roughly the same period as the canceled series. In the meanwhile, the material related to the Church of the Force and the Whills could be easily re-purposed to serve the plot lines of Kenobi, and develop the more mystical side of Star Wars mythology.
This way, Lucas' original vision of a single series becoming five different products will be realized. From the 50 unproduced hours of Underworld, Disney will have made Rogue One, Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Mandalorian, Kenobi and the Cassian Andor series – five dreams come true for the fans.
Created by Jon Favreau, The Mandalorian stars Pedro Pascal, Gina Carano, Carl Weathers, Giancarlo Esposito, Emily Swallow, Omid Abtahi, Werner Herzog and Nick Nolte. The series debuts Nov. 12 on Disney+, the same date as the streaming service's official launch.