The Star Wars Universe is a deep and vast chasm of the imagination that has been spun into an endless tapestry of movies, toys, and novels. Jon Favreau’s “The Mandalorian” is one of the most original adaptations of this bewildering saga. This tale follows an unnamed Mandalorian bounty hunter played by Pedro Pascal on adventures that land him in a situation that pits him against some of the final remnants of the Galactic Empire. Though this story is based in a futuristic world it reminds me of the cowboy motif utilizing themes, tropes, and music to convey a specific image of the old west and a feel that is undeniably special. This being the first live action Star Wars television series its creators understood the gravity of this task by doing extensive research to make sure the demanding fan base’s expectations could be met. They masterfully do this while simultaneously creating one of the best westerns of recent memory by staying true to classic themes that make the genre great.
The Music & Cinematography
Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson was tasked with creating original music that would have to be held up the high standard that John Williams has left for the series. He and Favreau met long before the first shot was even filmed where they looked at concept art and read all eight scripts. He noticed the beautiful scenery in the concept art which gave him the idea to go with more organic instruments as the base. The title melody is carried by deep drums and low notes on a recorder. As him and Favreau discussed the project he revealed that his inspiration were Samurai movies by Akira Kurosawa and films by Sergio Leone. Once the direction was understood Ludwig knew that it was important that the music’s soul was that of Star Wars. Sergio Leone was an Italian film maker made famous by creating the “Spaghetti Western” genre which changed film as we know it. These films are highlighted by the “Dollars Trilogy” [A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)], all filmed, produced, and directed by Italians hence the “Spaghetti Western” title. The Mandalorian is dripping with influence from these films most notably its orchestrated wide sounding scores and punctuated by a strong opening track in the introduction to set the mood. Göransson achieves what many have tried, his efforts along with the cinematography creates a beautiful modern western.
The Mandalorian does an amazing job of using the settings of these remote planets as characters in themselves. Using the same techniques and callbacks to Leone’s films with the use of wide camera angles and focusing on nature told a different tale that Star Wars in my opinion has not been able to achieve since the original trilogy. This may have to do with not overusing CGI when it is not needed; many of the planets and backdrops resemble earth yet feel alien. Navorro and Tatooine have the same tone and hues as many deserts on earth. They also use close up shots to generate suspense while also creating a connection between the viewer and the characters on screen. Yes our main character doesn’t show his face until the final episode but honestly he doesn’t need too. The Mandalorian Helmet made famous by Boba Fett gives our main character a cold demeanor yet his body language, dialogue, and actions make these close up shots on his face personal because you know there is a man under that baskar.
“Mando” as he is referred to by his enemies, business associates, and friends is our Clint Eastwood, he is our “Man with No Name”. One of the most glaring similarities is an assumed rugged backstory that isn’t spoken about but touched on with clues from the characters he brushes with and his own flashbacks. Like Eastwood in the “Dollars Trilogy” he is resourceful, smart, cunning, and always one step ahead of his foes. Trusting his instincts is one of his strengths and also one of his flaws, for example due to a past bad experience he does not trust droids in any way even after being reprogrammed. In the final episode it is the droid I-11 that saves his life possibly changing his prejudice against robots. “The Way” of the Mandalorian also keeps him from removing his helmet which I find symbolic of him not being able to embrace his humanity or individualism. This is like many Westerns where the main protagonist is the strong and silent type but by the end embraces his soft side like John Wayne in “True Grit” & “The Shootist”, both stories coincidently involve a child as well. Mando is tied to his customs and the old world even though his reality is changing around him at a rapid rate. The biggest trait that holds him to the Western theme is his larger than life lore that follows him and the fact that his fighting and survival skills are incomparable to his foes. He runs through each of these villains in episodes prior to the final episodes with ease before he meets his match in Moff Gidean.
One of the main center stages in all of the western genre is the Saloon; each planet that the Mandalorian visits the saloon is one of his first stops. Not to drink but to collect information, this is another callback to Eastwood’s character in the Dollar series. It is implied that Mando has operated in the underworld for a long time and found much of his purpose in doing the deeds for all proprietors good and evil. In the guild of bounty hunters the main rule is to ask no questions and get the job done at any cost. This is the life of a soldier of fortune, a gun for hire. In Episode 6: The Prisoner his he joins a crew of mercenaries to break an old friend out of jail, in this episode Xi’an implies the Mando is a cold blooded killer without soul but she doesn’t know why he is running from the Guild and why he is willing to take such a daring mission with a sketchy group of characters.
Earlier in the season he is hired to hunt a bounty for the remaining outlaws of the empire. Once he finds out that the bounty is a child (baby Yoda), he has to make a choice. Hand the child over to the most evil force in the galaxy or do the right thing, the problem is doing the right thing makes him an immediate outlaw and puts him on the run for the rest of the series. He chooses to protect the child at all costs but not after collecting the reward from the empire first. His armor is a serious callback to Eastwood in “Fistful of Dollars” himself an edge over most of his enemy’s weapons. During his journey he must accomplish several side quests to get what he needs and in these endeavors he has to bring peace to the oppressed and liberate natives on more than one planet. His willingness to help Kuiil played by Nick Nolte shows that the Mandalorian has a yearning in his heart to do the right thing. On his time in Tattooine he knows the Tuskcan Raider’s (Sand People’s) sign language which shows that his time as a mercenary taught him that he needs to respect the locals and take up their customs much like Dances with Wolves. The same goes in Episode 4: The Santuary where he exchanges seclution for their security making his relationship mutually beneficial. To bring up Kirosowa again, this episode is basically the same exact plot for “Seven Samurai” following the story of village farmers that hire seven ronin to combat bandits who steal their crops after the harvest.
This show is film junkie’s wet dream and as a Star Wars fan I truthfully couldn’t be happier with the outcome because it’s extensive research as well as its perfect landing. The show is full of callbacks and wonderfully placed easter eggs that all fans can appreciate. Favreau is able to create balance of fan service with unique storytelling to use the world that is given to him to its full potential. Using classic themes, beautiful music, and mystifying narrative make The Mandalorian an event that is impossible to ignore, even if you are not a fan or have never seen Star Wars.