Broadly speaking, The Mandalorian has been a massive hit among Star Wars fans and critics. With its fantastic production design, fast-paced action narrative and a new character who has stolen the hearts of everybody who still has one, the show is shaping up to be a massive win for the streaming service Disney+. While there are some valid critiques to be had with The Mandalorian, most of which have been lingering since the inception of the franchise, the biggest draw might be the exploration of new ideas and cultures in Star Wars.
The Force. We all get it, right? Those tiny sentient parasites teeming within a Jedi's body that gives them the ability to lift rocks and stuff. You know... Jedi Germs. The idea of what The Force is and how it uses certain characters as conduits and what that could possibly mean for the entire Galaxy has been the subject of the vast majority of the Star Wars stories we've seen on screen.
The Force is so prevalent in the fabric of the franchise, there are actual handbooks for both Jedi and Sith available for purchase at your local brick and mortar (if your town is lucky enough to still have them). To be fair, The Mandalorian still falls into the trappings of Force worship within its narrative, but it plays second fiddle to an entirely new system of faith and the culture which birthed it. The fact audiences may not be terribly familiar with what a Mandalorian is beyond that one dude who made the clone army or the other dude who fell into a giant worm might be the show's biggest appeal.
Now, before throngs of Star Wars fans reading this quickly point that they are deeply familiar with or, at the very least, tangentially aware of the Mandalorian culture and the important role their armor plays, The Mandalorian is grabbing Star Wars fans whose familiarity with the franchise ends with the movies. A lot of folks finding interest in learning more about the show's titular masked bounty hunter probably haven't read K.W. Jeter's The Bounty Hunter Wars series or watched Star Wars: Rebels, yet still consider themselves Star Wars fans, which they are. After all, it is possible to love something to death and not consume every single morsel of it. (May he who has read every novel from the Expanded Universe cast the first stone...)
The Mandalorian is giving the film crowd something new to explore beyond convoluted trade disputes. The threads plucked loose in previous Star Wars films are being fully unraveled in The Mandalorian. Over the course of just three episodes, audiences have gleaned more information about the underground warrior race's culture than they ever have. In fact, with maybe the exception of how Ewoks conduct tribal, flesh-eating ceremonies and how Wookiees celebrate Life Day in the dreaded Star Wars: Holiday Special, there haven't been many explorations of the various cultures in live-action Star Wars releases.
While the overall plot of The Mandalorian does appear to be circling back to the power of The Force, the really fascinating stuff is far more grounded. It's the same reason a film like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story resonated with so many fans because it explored the notion of how war affects people trying to just live their lives. When a civil war breaks out, not every takes up arms and rushes to the streets. Most people just want to avoid getting into the conflict. This mentality doesn't stem from cowardice or apathy; it stems from necessity. People are often dragged into conflict and some of them will do anything to get out of it. The Mandalorian explores similar themes but in the wake of said war. How does society function after a superpower falls? How do people rebuild their infrastructure after a currency has been devalued?
These are real questions that affect far too many people across the globe, which makes them universal fears to some degree. The Mandalorian isn't afraid to at least scratch the surface of these topics. Whether or not this exploration will remain superficial is yet to be seen. But the fact a multi-million dollar franchise owned by massive entertainment conglomerate is willing to at least incorporate these ideas gives The Mandalorian a lot of fuel to be something artistically more challenging and introspective than a lot of other stories which came before it.
It's not all space magic and laser swords anymore (of course, that stuff still rules, too).
Created by Jon Favreau, The Mandalorian stars Pedro Pascal, Gina Carano, Carl Weathers, Giancarlo Esposito, Emily Swallow, Omid Abtahi, Werner Herzog and Nick Nolte. A new episode is released each Friday on Disney+.