When Star Wars releases a new flagship movie, the world pays attention. However, the movie itself is usually pretty predictable. There are going to be Jedi, they're going to fight the Sith, there's going to be multiple planets, some sort of galactic warfare, and finally a lightsaber battle. This formula isn't a flaw — in fact, it's a recipe that's proven hugely popular time after time even as critics complained of Star Wars fatigue.
Then, The Mandalorian premiered. Instead of using Star Wars's tried and true formula to tell a single type of story, it adopted countless others. Here's how it's changing the way we think about Star Wars, and how that could alter the course of the entire franchise.
While Star Wars as a whole is known as a space opera, The Mandalorian is undeniably a space western. Instead of telling an epic story of good vs. evil, our hero Din Djarin finds himself constantly filling the role of mysterious masked stranger rolling into town, helping out those along the way with his trusty sidekick. It's basically The Lone Ranger, but in space.
As this format allows for a different adventure every week, it grants co-creators Jon Favreau and David Filoni (along with a small platoon of talented directors) the ability to use Mando and Baby Yoda as constants in a show that isn't only changing settings every week, but changing genres. This is especially noticeable in The Mandalorian Season 2.
The Season 2 premiere, "The Marshal," doubled down on space western. From top to tail, it was reminiscent of a John Wayne movie, complete with the indigenous Tusken Raiders taking the place of Native Americans. The Mandalorian even managed to evolve the genre a bit by showing the people of Mos Pelgo working together with the Native people, despite their tensions, which wasn't usually seen in classic Westerns.
Episode 2, "The Passenger," shifted gears entirely, with Mando playing taxi driver to Frog Lady as she sought a better life on a new planet. Just like in other sci-fi "taxi driver" movies like The Fifth Element, our hero gets embroiled in her quest as she seeks to keep her eggs warm, resulting in a terrifying ice spider encounter.
Finally, in Episode 3, "The Heiress," Mando and Baby Yoda successfully deliver Frog Lady to the water planet of Trask. What genre do you adopt when you're on a water planet? Pirates, of course! Mando is recruited by Bo-Katan Kryze on a swashbuckling mission to overtake an Empire remnant ship in exchange for information on Ahsoka Tano.
All three of these episodes feel completely distinct. "The Marshal" uses a lot of wide shots of the landscape and a twangy score. "The Passenger" keeps its interior shots very restrained to emphasize how claustrophobic the long trip really is. "The Heiress" used many nautical tropes in its spaceship takeover, including a captain willing to go down with his ship. By adopting these genres, The Mandalorian is proving just how diverse the Star Wars universe — and its storytelling — can be.
The Mandalorian has changed the definition of the term "Star Wars story" from a subgenre to a toolbox. It turns out you don't need Force users to tell an interesting story, though an adorable green one certainly won't hurt. The lore of conflicts and galactic forces can remain in the background as we learn the day-to-day lives of beings who would otherwise get neglected.
With the success of The Mandalorian's genre-hopping, perhaps the Star Wars universe can start evolving its movies too. Taika Waititi could direct a buddy cop movie about stormtroopers, Rian Johnson can take on a Mon Calamari murder mystery, and Leslye Headland's upcoming series could be a heartfelt drama about a young Yaddle trying to break the glass ceiling as the first female Jedi Council member.
There will always be demand for the big space opera stories we've seen in the main nine Star Wars movies. But the tools used to tell those stories — the planets, species, characters, and "rules" — deserve to be used as creatively as possible. The Mandalorian is finally starting to show just how universal the Star Wars universe can be.
The Mandalorian Season 2 is now streaming on Disney+.