The Mandalorian is a strange television show. It’s strange because there really hasn’t been a whole heck of a lot of plot, yet it’s immensely appealing. Yes, a big reason for this is The Child (aka “Baby Yoda”), but that’s only going to take a series so far. And longtime Star Wars fans have kind of been at odds with “cute things” since the introduction of the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. But the thing is, longtime Star Wars fans love this show. So, what’s the explanation for that?
George Lucas had a certain knack for introducing extremely aesthetically pleasing characters and machinery into his six Star Wars movies. The easiest example is Boba Fett. Fett was introduced, a full year and a half before The Empire Strikes Back, during the Star Wars Holiday Special as a kind of shady guy with a really cool outfit who also rode giant sea monsters. When we first met him, he seemed like he might be a possible friend of the Rebellion, before it’s discovered that Fett had been working for Darth Vader all along. Then when Fett’s action figure was released in 1979, it came with a backstory that Fett was a longtime enemy of Han Solo. This was all very exciting! Then The Empire Strikes Back came out and, well, yes, the movie is incredible, but poor Boba Fett doesn’t do too much. Then in Return of the Jedi, we finally get to see him use his rocket pack, only to later get knocked into the Sarlacc, which causes the Sarlacc to burp. The new cool villain ends with a burp from a hole in the ground.
The Mandalorian himself isn’t Boba Fett, but he looks shockingly similar to how Fett looked back during the Holiday Special. And now, finally, we get to see (basically) Boba Fett going on the weekly adventures we had always imagined. We were told Fett had a flamethower on his arm. He’s even using it in the picture on the cover of his action figure! But he never uses it in the movie. The Mandalorian uses that thing at the drop of a hat.
Now, executive producer Jon Favreau has gone on record to say that he’s a fan of the Holiday Special and there’s a reference to Life Day in the first episode. (There’s a bar I go to that shows the Star Wars Holiday Special around this time of year. I’ve probably seen it all the way through five or six times by now. I have to admit, it’s growing on me.) So, right here alone, The Mandalorian is redeeming the long maligned Star Wars Holiday Special. Something the old Lucasfilm didn’t even want to admit existed is now being openly referenced on their popular new television show. (I bet the Star Wars Holiday Special gets a proper release in the next couple of years. Also, I would totally buy it.)
But it doesn’t stop with the title character. There’s a whole host of cool Star Wars things that, frankly, sucked in the movies that have been redeemed during The Mandalorian.
In The Empire Strikes Back we were also introduced to bounty hunters IG-88 and Bossk. Now, these two fellows, like Boba Fett, became very popular action figures. But they did even less than Fett did. IG-88 literally did nothing and Bossk just kind of stands there and snarls. But in the Mandalorian, IG-11 is a fighting machine, spinning and blasting his way to his would-be bounty. It really felt like we finally were seeing the Boba Fett, IG-88 team-up so many of us had imagined. Then, in the next episode, the Mandalorian fights off a couple of Trandoshans, which is basically like watching Boba Fett fight two Bossks. It was great. (Also, before this is over, I hope we meet the rest of the sort of like, but not the same character bounty hunters like 5-LOM, Ruckuss, and Bengar.)
In a flashback, the Mandalorian, as a child, is hiding in a small shelter. When the hatch opens, a Super Battle Droid has its blaster aimed right at him. This image is terrifying. Again, Super Battle Droids always looked great, but in the Prequels, they were treated as just slightly more competent versions of the bumbling Battle Droids — which is to say they just acted as fodder for the Jedi before the real threat showed up. But in The Mandalorian, we watch a droid army terrorize a village and it’s shocking how frightening these things can be after how stupid they were in the Prequels. Again, vindication for what was supposed to be cool.
In the fifth episode, an AT-ST is presented as the main threat to a rural village. Now, the AT-ST (also known as a Scout Walker) was an awesome toy. There was a button on the back that, when pressed, would make the legs walk. We see one briefly during the battle on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, but it just kind of walks by. In Return of the Jedi, they play a much larger role on Endor. Fun fact, David Fincher worked on Return of the Jedi and his job was working on the AT-STs. Or, as he called them, “chicken walkers.” I asked him about all this way back in 2011. (The outlet I worked for then, Moviefone, scrubbed its archives for some reason, so I can’t link to it, so I’m just going to republish what he said in full so it lives on the internet once again.)
I was loading cameras. I met Marquand, but I was one of 9000 people getting the movie made. I did the Chicken Walkers [aka AT-ST Scout Walkers] — I was working on the Chicken Walkers. They had a lot of shots that were panning and tilting in the Redwood Forest in Crescent City and my job was to figure out a way to match move that stuff, which hadn’t been shot in motion control at all. So I was doing a lot of sitting in the dark and taking a mirror and taking registered interpositives and projecting them out of this vision cameras using… fuck, it was like a—I think we used little tiny leekos. It was crazy. I mean, when you think of ILM, you always think of this thing where it’s like NASA, or something: this is so thrown together and so half ass. And I would projectile the camera on to these big cards – these big circular cards – and I would put a line on a tree. I would sit there with Jerry Jeffress’ early, early, early field motion control unit and program match move. I’d match move the plates for the pan and tilt, then I’d bring in the blue screen, bring in the go-motion unit, match the lighting, and put the Chicken Walkers into the shot. That was my job, I was 18 or 19-years-old … I was a pig in shit, man. That was as much fun as I could imagine standing up.
But the thing is, in Return of the Jedi, the only thing we really saw the AT-ST do was stumble over some logs, wobble, then fall down. Again, this awesome toy we had all been playing with since Empire was reduced to some dumb thing that was easy to beat. But, The Mandalorian has redeemed the AT-ST, making it look, with its red fire eyes, practically evil. What was once a joke, now looks like something I would never want to see come out of a dark forest.
Baby Yoda gets most of the attention, but I honestly think Favreau is using The Mandalorian as a way to take all of the things he found cool in the first six Star Wars movies and actually make them interesting. Heck, we even got a fight on top of a Sandcrawler. And, crazily enough, he’s even made the Holiday Special worth talking about. Because of that alone, The Mandalorian is magic.
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