The Mandalorian is Flying Past the Boundaries of Genre
The Star Wars Tale of a Lone Gunman and His Foundling Child is Becoming Something More
At its core, Star Wars is an exercise in successfully blending genres together to create something new. The original trilogy was a space opera that used the larger context of a galactic war to test its characters through the lenses of different genres. The prequel and sequel trilogies attempted to use the same blueprint to tell their story arcs, and even though the results were inconsistent, the formula remained. Now, The Mandalorian is taking the notion of mixing genres, bringing it aboard the Razor Crest, and speeding off into hyperspace.
Star Wars: A New Hope laid the groundwork for George Lucas’ unique take on a sprawling science fiction blockbuster. Luke Skywalker begins his classical hero’s journey once he leaves the simple life on Tatooine to embrace adventure throughout the galaxy. Obi-Wan and Darth Vader bring out fantasy aspects of the story with their ties to The Force. Meanwhile, Princess Leia Organa keeps the story grounded by representing the larger galactic conflict of the film. A distinct blend of genres that mixed together to form the foundation of a cinematic juggernaut.
The Mandalorian is slowly evolving to reflect the genre bending of A New Hope, but it did not start out that way. The series was originally touted as a spaghetti western in outer space. A lone bounty hunter using his skills and wits to survive in a harsh galaxy. The dynamic shifts a bit once The Child, or Grogu (that’s going to take some getting used to), enters Mando’s life, but for the most part, the show fulfills its premise as a more intimate look at A Galaxy Far Far Away through the eyes of new characters.
So far, the second season has delved into different genres and the show is better off for it. Chapter 9 kicked things off with a business-as-usual tale involving a marshal and saving the residents of a desolate space town from a vicious sand creature.
Then things take a turn for Mando and Grogu.
In Chapter 10: The Passenger, Mando’s deal to transport a Frog Lady and her offspring to a distant moon takes an unexpected detour to an unknown ice planet right into the lair of some terrifying spider monsters. The staggering number of the creatures is slowly revealed as the spiders continue to emerge from the shadows, some bigger than the previous ones until Mando and crew meet the towering alpha spider. The creatures swarm the Razor Crest until Mando, Grogu, and the Frog Lady are forced to retreat into the cockpit. Monsters are not a new thing in Star Wars, but this is the first episode of The Mandalorian that the monsters are used to conjure the same scares as a horror movie.
Chapter 11: The Heiress changes the genre up again this time to a heist. The episode had all of the elements of a good heist movie: Putting the team together, planning the details of the heist, and the unexpected change of plans in the middle of the mission. On top of finally seeing the live-action version of Bo-Katan Kryze, the show made great use of all the Mandalorians in a thrilling takeover of an Imperial ship. This was not the first time Mando has embarked on a heist, but it was a nice change of pace to see him do it alongside others who shared at least shared some aspects of his Mandalorian culture.
For Chapter 13: The Jedi, the show pivots again but this time back to the very roots of Star Wars. Lucas was famously a fan of Akira Kurosawa’s films about the Samurai in Japan and those influences are encoded into the very DNA of franchise. The Mandalorian channels Kurosawa’s spirit for Ahsoka Tano’s live-action television debut. Ahsoka is the titular Jedi in this episode, but she has long broken from the Jedi Order and is now roaming the galaxy without ties, much like the ronin, or samurai without masters. Even Ahsoka’s showdown against the magistrate was reminiscent of classic samurai duels. Leaning into the samurai parallels of a lone warrior like Ahsoka was a clever way to introduce the longtime fan favorite.
The last few episodes of The Mandalorian highlight just how much creator Jon Favreau and executive producer Dave Filoni grasp the essence of Star Wars, and by extension, the characters they feature in the show. They established the time period of the show to help orient the audience, articulate the motivations of the characters, and they ensure that the bond between Mando and Grogu remains at the core. Their relationship is the beating heart of the show, so testing those two through the filters of different genres not only helps to enrich the bond, but it is just fun to watch.
The Mando-Grogu dynamic keeps the show grounded and that makes it possible to explore other areas of the Star Wars universe without losing track of the show’s roots. Could The Mandalorian be the vehicle which Disney uses to try out possible live-action spin-offs in the future? Maybe. It is certainly exciting to think about. Right now, Favreau and Filoni have a special brew of Star Wars magic going so we will just have to strap in and see where in the galaxy they take us next.