The first fourteen episodes of The Mandalorian have left viewers with a ton of questions. Foremost in this fan’s mind is this: how in the hell did it take us almost 40 years to get more good live action Star Wars?
Every Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi has been trash, or fine, or controversial at best. Not one of those eight films is universally considered good. Meanwhile, a steady stream of novels and animated series proved it’s not the setting that holds back good Star Wars storytelling. So what gives?
I’d argue that Lucas and Disney learned the wrong lessons from the success of the original trilogy. Sure, people initially ran to the theaters for the groundbreaking special effects, but they stuck around for the story – and that story was actually pretty simple. A New Hope is a simple coming of age tale about a poor redneck kid trying to follow in his father’s footsteps. Empire Strikes Back was all about that kid taking his next steps out into the world and finding a hell of a lot more than he bargained for. Return of the Jedi is that kid pulling himself up off the floor, dusting himself off, and kicking some evil ass.
It’s simple, straightforward, and not overwhelmed by attempts to tack on eighty pounds of bullshit. There are no political machinations, no excessive attempts at madcap humor, no retcons to make whatever they’re doing in the moment work. It’s why Revenge of the Sith – at its core, a story about a man desperate to save his wife’s life – almost got it right. It’s why car-chase-in-space The Last Jedi has its defenders. And that lack of an easily describable focus is what tanks all the rest.
The Mandalorian adheres to its simplicity like a good Jedi sticks to the code. There’s a bigger story going on, of course, but each episode is a bite-sized, well-defined chunk. The motivations of the various characters are clear, concise, and consistent. Action escalates over time but never in a way where it feels impossible to top. It’s gone back to basics in a way all storytellers can learn from, myself included.
I hope these lessons resonate with future writers tasked with directing the franchise. Writing good Star Wars is only as difficult as the writers themselves make it.