No television show has captured a sense of danger, intrigue, and adventure quite like The Mandalorian.
The Star Wars spin-off series returns for its highly-anticipated Season 2 on October 30, which means the return of Baby Yoda and Pedro Pascal’s masked "Mando" on Disney+. So in anticipation of the next eight episodes, Inverse caught up with the show’s Emmy-winning stunt coordinator, Ryan Watson.
With credits like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Terminator: Dark Fate, and Disney’s Jungle Cruise, Watson is quickly becoming a familiar name for when Hollywood needs action done well. In September 2020, The Mandalorian took home the Emmy for Outstanding Stunt Coordination. Watson accepted the award on behalf of the show, and posted his acceptance speech on Instagram: “More to come. We’re going to keep getting better and better.”
Over email, Watson broke down five of The Mandalorian Season 1’s biggest (or most underrated) moments of action. From dangling our hero several dozens of feet in the air to tapping into Asian martial arts, here’s how the stunts of The Mandalorian are made.
5. Mando on the Sandwcrawler
One of the first jaw-dropping scenes in The Mandalorian happens in the second episode, when our bounty hunter protagonist clings to a colossal Sandcrawler manned by Jawas. Watson tells Inverse the stunt was filmed at an actual height of 30-40 feet.
“We used a massive crane to make sure Mando looked like he was climbing with his grappling hook, instead of a wire pulling him up,” Watson says. “This was quite a feat climbing up, having to fight and throw the pesky Jawas off.”
The show involved stunt players from the Little People community, a rarity Watson relished. “They do not get as many opportunities to perform and show off their considerable stunt skills,” Watson says. “They are excited to be there with us and 100 percent committed. Always a great experience.”
“40-feet off the ground, hanging from wires. It’s not easy.”
A combination of climbing gear and cranes helped pull off the stunt, along with stunt actor Lateef Crowder’s own athleticism. “This is the type of scene in which only the best can perform to this level of believability. You have to be top-level at your craft,” he says. He points out that Crowder, hanging dozens of feet in the air by his own body weight, still had to perform choreographed fighting. “Add to that performing on the side of a ship, 40-feet off the ground, hanging from wires. It’s not easy.”
A metaphor Watson uses is “a trained wrestler trying to move and fight like a ninja.”
About the only thing that wasn’t “real,” Watson says, was the Sandcrawler’s forward movement. “This helped us a lot since we used pick points above that had to be precisely where we rehearsed them to keep the physics right.”
4. Cara Dune’s Other Brawl
One of the most memorable fights in The Mandalorian was between Cara Dunne (played by retired MMA star Gina Carano) and the Mandalorian in their first encounter. Plenty has been said about the making of that scene.
But a few episodes later, audiences again meet Dune, brawling with a Zabrak alien in a Star Wars-ified version of a “strap match” — a type of pro wrestling match popularized by Native American icon Wahoo McDaniel in which two fighters are tied together by a strap or bull rope.
Because it’s a galaxy far, far away, there’s a cackling red electricity, not cowhide leather, connecting them. The Zabrak was performed by stuntman Dave Reaves.
“You have to be top-level at your craft.”
“Any fight has its challenges,” Watson says, “but coming up with this futuristic bar fight’s rules, utilizing this ‘electric leash’ proved difficult.” Watson worked with Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni on the so-called electronic leash’s qualities. The final version in the episode was scaled back from what they first envisioned.
“The first version we came up with was a bit too electrically charged to where it would kill anyone who touched it. I remember Jon’s note, saying ‘This isn’t Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.’ If people are going to gamble on this fight, the fighters have to survive if they come in contact.”
The qualities of the leash is just one example of world-building logic that is present, but not dwelled on, in The Mandalorian. “After realizing I was thinking of a fight to the death instead of a battle where intergalactic travelers can wager on a fight in a bar, we would dial in the rules to make it fit within boundaries, powering down the eclectic leash.”
3. IG-11’s Rescue Slam
The two-part finale of The Mandalorian Season 1 is loaded with mesmerizing action. And one of the first stunners is when IG-11, voiced by director Taika Waititi, opens a can of whoop-ass on two dimwitted Stormtroopers who are holding “The Child” hostage. It’s a deserved beatdown after one of them has the gall to punch the adorable Baby Yoda.
Watson says the scene, which clocks in at less than a minute, was a concert of improvisation, comedic timing, rhythm, and the rare but valued collaboration between stunts and visual effects.
“I always enjoy working with directors who explain the scene in terms of rhythm, which Taika does,” Watson says. “With movement, you can feel the beats and essence of the scene. When the two come together, this helps the storyteller connect with the audience on a deeply personal level.”
“There is no practical way to actually slam a trooper down.”
In trying to think of a rescue that is both brutal and brutally funny, Watson tells Inverse that Waititi came up with the beatdown himself. “We wanted to be sure that the tone is in line,” he says. “Thinking how nasty this fight could actually be, Taika physically acted it out the ease the droid would be taking these troopers out.” That included a “chokeslam” (another pro wrestling maneuver) onto the speeder bike, which drew the biggest laughs from the stunt team.
“That caught my eye, so I went to my stunt team and we started filming a rehearsal to see if we would capture the comedy of what Taika wanted to convey in that slam. In every rhythm, we thought it could be funny. I wanted to make sure we kept that rhythm. After a lot of laughter we came up with the bounce back up the second [the Stormtrooper] hits the ground.
Much of this moment was completed in VFX because “there is no practical way to actually slam a trooper down as fast as they needed to be to hit that rhythm.”
Adds Watson, “This is an excellent example of VFX collaborating with the stunt team.”
2. The Armorer’s Way
Everyone in The Mandalorian are show-stoppers in their own way, and that’s true to the one known as “The Armorer.” Played by Emily Swallow and stunt double Lauren Kim, the Armorer has her crowning moment in the finale when she uses her tools against a few Stormtroopers.
While the Star Wars universe doesn’t inhabit our own, that hasn’t stopped the Armorer from picking up some fighting techniques from the Philippines as she utilizes the Filipino martial art of eskrima. (She’d be good friends with Arya Stark.)
"This was one of my favorites because we incorporated a lot of one of my favorite fighting styles, the art of Kali,” says Watson. “Everyone has seen the art of Kali in films but might not know it.”
Eskrima, or Kali, is one of Hollywood’s most popular martial arts, seen in classics like Enter the Dragon to modern blockbusters like 300, The Bourne Identity, and Furious 7. “It is one of the few fighting styles that starts with weapons before teaching you empty-hand,” Watson says. “This art has a great library of quick disarms that flow well together.”
Eskrima isn’t limited to posture and rhythm, as other martial arts are, which makes it suitable for movies. “One of the benefits of training in some of the tropical fighting arts is the ability to flow from one move to another. The Armorer is dealing with numerous attacks, [so] it was more about the transitioning from move-to-move which had to be linked with no waiting during the ‘in-betweens,’” Watson says, referring to the moments in many onscreen fights where “you can see performers waiting for their cue.”
“Everyone has seen the art of Kali ... but might not know it.”
“Always, in-betweens can take you out of an otherwise great sequence. Not only does Kali have great transitions, it trains in the use of double weapons, often making different moves at the same time. An excellent thing for a fight involving eight Stormtroopers surrounding one Mandalorian Armorer.”
Long takes in fight scenes are a trend in Hollywood today, but it still made sense for what the filmmakers wanted to accomplish. “What happens often in other projects is that the scene will be cut by an editor that doesn’t understand action. With too many cuts, a fight can be destroyed. It has only been recently that stunt coordinators are being heard when shooting action.”
1. The Hang Man
Ever seen a Mandalorian whip back and forth? That’s what goes down in the final moments of The Mandalorian, as our hero clings to Moff Gideon’s (Giancarlo Esposito) TIE fighter and hangs on by a pretty literal string. A logistical challenge, especially with regards to safety, Watson, Favreau, and company resorted to some surprisingly old school techniques to pull it off.
“This was a great example of how important it is to determine methodology of any given sequence,” Watson says. “Before we can even begin to think about choreography, we all have to agree on execution.” There were hundreds of other ways to pull off the scene, “but it takes a lot of experience to determine which are the best for the desired goal.”
An expected solution, Watson says, would be to resort to wire-work, except that didn’t convince Jon Favreau. “Jon Favreau maintains that the audience can always tell when the physics is off, even if you don’t know anything about wire-work,” Watson tells Inverse. “The human eye can pick up subtle things like change in gravity or speed, and it looks fake.” Watson agrees. “Because of the TIE fighter’s rate of speed and positions, we started playing with the idea of using gravity to give the look of hanging on the craft while flying forward.”
Favreau suggested the team dangle Mando with the ship pointed vertically and shoot with a tilted camera to give the illusion of flight. It was the best option, but Watson had his reservations. Even in a universe like Star Wars, physics still exists, and Watson worried it wouldn’t work out on camera.
“This is when I have to trust my instinct.”
“I was worried about the limitations of this technique because the body would only be able to hang straight, basically a ‘pull-up’ position you might see at the gym,” he says. “What if the ship turns or slows down? The body would move, for sure. But in general, flying with any craft that uses wings to propel would need a great deal of forward energy.”
Somewhere, Watson found his solution. “I thought of a flag on a moderately windy day, how it flops and rolls in wave-like motions. I thought of a flag in a hurricane; it blows straight and will stay in that position if the wind stays consistent from the same direction.” Watson reasoned that the high speed of the scene would “literally make it impossible to hold on,” and that after Mando uses his gadgets to get on the ship, “the viewer will subconsciously disregard questions that might come up how he is holding on.”
There’s always healthy skepticism. “In the production meetings, people were like, ‘Are you sure this will work?’ This is when I have to trust my instinct.”
A few things gave Watson reassurance. “First, I thought about Lateef Crowder. [He] is the most physically capable as any human could be. This technique requires a lot of strength because no wires are holding him. He will have to rely on his strength, and at some point, he will burn out.” This led to Watson’s next assurance, which was safety. “If he burns out, he will fall from quite a distance. From a safety perspective, I discussed with the team getting the set-piece low to the ground, so if and when he slips, he is only falling a few feet onto a mat. This solidifies the decision for me.”
It was the right decision. “We were now getting a realistic, repeatable movement that doesn't have that fake, floaty look because the physics of the performance is being influenced by gravity, pulling him towards the planet's surface as he hangs off the TIE Fighter's wing. This technique was absolutely the right choice.”
As Watson himself tells it, “This was the only way.”
The Mandalorian Season 2 premieres on Disney+ on October 30.