Last week, Lost in Translation used The Mandalorian as an example of a streaming service adapting a work instead of doing something original for the headline. This week, The Mandalorian gets a closer look.
Created by Jon Favreau and produced by Favreau and Dave Filoni, The Mandaloran became the headliner for Disney+, Disney’s streaming service. While Disney has a huge back catalogue that could be used as hooks into the service, the company went with a new Star Wars series, building from the audience attention on the most recent films in the franchise. The Mandalorian is a space spaghetti western with a strong samurai/ronin influence about a Bounty Hunter With No Name, played by Pedro Pascal, who winds up breaking the bounty hunter code when he decides to not turn over a young target to the Imperial client (Warner Herzog) who set the bounty.
The eight 45-minute episodes build up to a climax that may be one of the best episodes of television, bringing together several plot lines introduced over the course of the season. While episodic, each episode builds on what happened before, invoking several western tropes and modifying them for the Star Wars setting. Every character has an arc, from the Mandalorian’s with the young charge he protected to Nick Nolte’s Ugnaught to Gina Carano’s ex-Rebel soldier.
Visually, the series looks like it should be on the silver screen instead of on even a wide-screen TV. The effects are what people expect out of Star Wars, with a mix of wonder, adventure, and lived in. But the series didn’t stop on the surface. Filoni and Favreau dig into an element of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, the Mandalorians, and pull together from previous works, including the animated series Filoni worked on, to show who and what they are.
If some of the episodes seem familiar, it’s because of the influences. As mentioned, The Mandalorian is a space western with samurai influence. Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, as seen in A Fistful of Dollars is an obvious source, but so are Have Gun Will Travel and Lone Wolf and Cub. The first season can be seen as an extended homage to The Seven Samurai by way of The Magnificent Seven as the people the Mandalorian helps come back to help him, including a reprogrammed IG-11 (voiced by Taiki Waititi).
Even the space spaghetti western with a dash of samurai films is just another layer to the series. The original /Star Wars/ took some of its cues from Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, so the samurai element was always there in one form or another, particularly when the Jedi are considered. What makes The Mandalorian its own work, albeit an adaptation, is how it builds off the Star Wars mythos. Elements may come from westerns or samurai films, but the heart still lies in Star Wars even as the series expands that setting. The time after the fall of the Empire could be seen as the period following the American Civil War, but the details and dynamics between the two eras are different.
The Mandalorian takes a look at the fall out from the Empire’s fall, as warlords try to maintain what control they have, former Rebels try to figure out what to do now that the goal they’ve been fighting for has been achieved and now have to integrate back into galactic society, and former Imperial slaves come to terms with how they helped, even against their will, an oppressive regime. Even on the fringes of the galaxy, lives matter, actions matter, and motives matter. The Mandalorian has difficult choices to make, even with a code of honour to guide him. Choosing to save a youngling has consequences that may shake the New Republic.
The series is very much a story in the /Star Wars/ setting, even with the trappings. Star Wars does allow for a great range of stories, from warrior monks trying to cope after becoming leaders of soldiers to a young farmboy becoming a galactic hero to the scruffiest of nerfherders showing that he has a heart of gold. The Mandalorian easily stands beside such stories, with an emotional impact that makes the series memorable.
I’ve been in discussions with Steve of Seventh Sanctum and Serdar of Genji Press about the nature of adaptations and how some works could be done as pure originals instead of being tied to an existing property. There are a few examples of works available today or soon to be released that fall into this realm. The question is, why?
Streaming services are getting competitive due to the number of them starting up. To get subscribers, the services need something that will draw audiences in. Disney+, while having all of Disney’s library, went with The Mandalorian, a space western in the Star Wars setting with a lead dressed in armour similar to what Boba Fett wears and a very young version of Yoda. The series is beautiful to look at and has depth that the movies don’t have, mainly because of the nature of a TV series. CBS All Access went with Star Trek: Discovery and will follow up with Star Trek: Picard, banking on Star Trek fans wanting to subscribe just to watch the shows.
It’s understandable. The streaming services are competing for views, so they are going to maximize the headliner as much as possible, including budget. The services don’t want their headliner to look terrible. The Mandalorian has movie-level production values with casting to match. But the series is a space spaghetti western at its heart. The series adds to the Star Wars setting, but does the Star Wars setting bring anything to the story?
But the need to draw attention means that the services are going to go with their big guns. For Disney+, that’s The Mandalorian. CBS All Access’ go-to is Star Trek. The goal is to get subscribers. But once there are subscribers, why not create a new property? Obviously, if CBS goes for a space spaghetti western with a Bounty Hunter With No Name, with or without a young child, people will suspect the service is trying to follow in Disney+’s footsteps. But what about a new science fiction series, one that isn’t about exploration or isn’t a space western with samurai/ronin influences? There is a demand growing, even if adaptations are still the major draw at the box office.
The problem comes from budget. The headliners are getting a proper budget. The streaming services don’t have unlimited funds. Unlike Netflix, many of the newer services have a back catalogue to help fill time, but there’s only so many episodes of Big Bang Theory people are willing to watch in a day. There’s room for original works in the schedule. The question is, will there be a budget for the original works. Some of the subscriber fees will be going back into the headliners, since they are the draw. The rest, anything leftover after operating costs and CEO bonuses are taken out, may have a number of projects trying to get a chunk. Science fiction tends to be expensive, from special effects to specialized sets. Apartment sets can be redressed as needed. Starship bridges tend to be unique and recognizable.
It will boil down to demand. Will there be enough demand for a new work, and original series exploring new territory? Or will fans demand more of the same?