The Mandalorian is a lot of things to a lot of people: space Western, a fresh slice of Star Wars, and, if we’re being honest, a vehicle for Baby Yoda memes. But, by doing so much, it might be in danger of trying too much. With the emergence of Clone Wars stalwart Bo-Katan and Ahsoka Tano’s live-action debut poised tantalisingly over the horizon, Pedro Pascal’s Din Djarin could be overshadowed in his own show.
A New Hope aside, Star Wars has always required some prior knowledge. You can’t watch the sequels without appreciating what led to Luke’s descent into becoming the galaxy’s grouchiest hermit, nor can you enjoy (?) the prequels without Anakin’s irony-laced journey to the Dark Side. But The Mandalorian’s sudden reliance on knowledge of spin-off series The Clone Wars is potentially worrisome.
For now, the Disney Plus series has been content with introducing or re-introducing a handful of characters – Bo-Katan, Cobb Vanth, Boba Fett – as very much a one-off appearances with an eye to continuing their adventures down the line in future seasons or in spin-offs. Yet, that eye has started to wander.
The Mandalorian season 2, episode 3 is filled with untold histories about Mandalorian culture, the Darksaber, and the undeniably complex relationship between Bo-Katan and Ahsoka Tano. For a minority, it is vastly rewarding and testament to the patience of a fanbase that has sat through the stop-start years of Clone Wars and Rebels in the hopes of seeing their favourites brought to life in live-action. For others, it’s a pretty sizeable gap in The Mandalorian; a gnawing, unexplained plot point that doesn’t quite fit in with the small, intimate scale of the show.
Yes, you can watch all seven seasons of The Clone Wars on Disney Plus now to catch up. But, in-between the chronological nightmare that punctuates the first few seasons and a show that doesn’t find its feet until midway through, it’s a tough ask to binge before The Mandalorian finishes up for the year in just a few weeks.
The Mandalorian should, instead, play to its strengths. The formula of the Beskar-clad wanderer ferrying The Child from planet to planet and being distracted by ‘side quests’ along the way remains compelling. Bo-Katan’s arrival has muddied the waters in that regard.
For the first time, the show feels too cramped and requires some homework to fully understand. If I’m not getting the full picture on the screen every Friday, I’ll need to put in the required reading elsewhere, often through pages and pages of Wiki entries. There may not be anything inherently wrong with that, but it’s an evolution that feels like fan-service without stopping to think about how it could alienate the wider, more casual audience.
Still, it’s undeniably a commendable move for Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni and company to introduce these characters. For one, it instantly creates the feeling that this is a lived-in galaxy, with a rich, diverse cast of characters that already have decades of history to mine.
The Mandalorian, after all, is deliberately a blank slate that needs colourful beings in a galaxy far, far away to bounce off. Without that, his gruff deposition could grow stale. The show also, wisely, sidesteps much of Bo-Katan’s past in favour of using her as a means to propel Mando’s story forward. Her (slight) exposition dump about The Children of The Watch, Mandalorian history, and what it means for The Way has deepened Din’s personality, arguably, more than any episode before it.
If The Mandalorian uses familiar faces in such a way – and doesn’t make them the focal point as they did far too often in “The Heiress” – then the show can continue to be celebrated as the best of both Star Wars worlds: paying homage to the old, while forging ahead with the new.
Yet, “Who is Bo-Katan?” will soon become “Who is Ahsoka Tano?” and therein lies another Razor Crest-load of problems. The Mandalorian should be about The Mandalorian – the clue’s in the name – but has now perhaps too frequently turned to that old, often frustrating Star Wars panic button of leaning on nostalgia. Pointing out People You Know in favour of presenting any sort of meaningful story or, worse, a story that leaves 90% of your audience in the dark, can cause issues.
The Mandalorian, though, remains strong. It’s probably the best Star Wars experience since, ironically, The Clone Wars picked up pace and it feels fresh in a way the franchise hasn’t done since the original trilogy. The issue of navigating the Force ghosts – and returning faces – of Star Wars past probably will always persist, and it’s something The Mandalorian will have to deal with definitively sooner rather than later.
For better or worse, The Clone Wars and, to a lesser extent, Star Wars Rebels, are becoming essential companion pieces to the show. But that’s what they should remain – companion pieces.