Even though Star Wars is my all-time favorite franchise, sometimes the fandom is a little…well…frustrating.
The fans are very passionate about Star Wars, but they can’t seem to agree on very much. The fandom is divided into numerous subgroups and each of them seemingly want completely different things.
There are people that love — and people that loathe — the prequels and/or the sequels. There are debates about what was better — the old Expanded Universe novels, now known as Legends, or the new canon storytelling in the Disney/Lucasfilm era. Even the people who believe the Original Trilogy is the greatest era of Star Wars argue about whether “Return of the Jedi” is a good movie or not.
Due to the ever-present contentiousness within the Star Wars fandom, I was surprised (and pleased) that “The Mandalorian” became such a universally-loved hit. Of course, there are still Star Wars fans who don’t care for it or just think it’s “okay,” and that’s perfectly fine. There’s always going to be a range of responses to any media product.
Yet it’s refreshing to see something that’s overall very well received both within the fandom and the general public, and also hasn’t produced as many angry debates as the prequels or the sequels.
Why is that? What is it about “The Mandalorian” that appeals to such a wide range of fans, and why has it inspired less controversy than other recent Star Wars stories?
I’ll always be sad that the Star Wars sequel trilogy was controversial amongst the fanbase, because it’s my personal favorite era of Star Wars storytelling. I hope that in years to come, some of the debate will die down, and that these films will be more widely loved. (Or I’d at least like to be able to admit that “The Last Jedi” is my favorite Star Wars film without causing people’s heads to explode.)
The sequel trilogy was contentious, I feel, because it played with the concepts of legacy and failure in ways that perhaps made some fans of the Original Trilogy uncomfortable. People grew up looking at Han, Luke, and Leia as heroes, and the sequel trilogy presents these characters as more flawed. Han and Leia lost their son Ben to the dark side, in part because of Luke’s mistakes.
I personally liked the direction the sequel trilogy took, but not everyone did, and that’s okay. “The Mandalorian” feels a little safer because it’s mostly new characters in a section of the timeline that hasn’t been widely explored.
“The Mandalorian” appeals to fans of the Original Trilogy because it has a similar visual aesthetic and lots of references that play to that sense of nostalgia. At the same time, it has an adorable star that appeals to even casual fans with his irresistible cuteness.
That’s right, I’m talking about Baby Yoda. I know Lucasfilm wants us to refer to him as “The Child,” but literally everybody I know calls him Baby Yoda, and he’ll probably be known as that forever, even when/if he gets a formal name.
Baby Yoda was a stroke of marketing/storytelling genius. Not only does he sell merch, generate memes, and drive interest in the show amongst the general public, he’s also a great storytelling device, because he both challenges and humanizes the masked main character, Din Djarin.
Another factor that works in the show’s favor is its lower stakes. I’m not meaning this as an insult; just because a story has smaller stakes doesn’t mean it’s less compelling.
I love a grand, epic adventure where the fate of the entire galaxy hangs in the balance (a.k.a. the main saga films in the Star Wars franchise). However, I also love smaller-scale storytelling, like “Solo” and “The Mandalorian,” which focus in on a handful of characters and adventures that don’t necessarily tie in to saving the whole galaxy.
There was so much pressure riding on “The Rise of Skywalker,” and I feel it was inevitable that film would fail to be universally satisfying. (I personally loved it, but totally empathize with fans who didn’t.) If you didn’t love a particular episode of “The Mandalorian,” it’s much easier to step past it because there’s another episode coming in just a week.
Overall, the expansion into live-action television is a great move for Star Wars. This allows Disney/Lucasfilm to experiment with storytelling styles and settings in a less-pressured environment than a would-be blockbuster that’s expected to break $1 billion at the box office.
It’s been great fun watching the episodes each week and then chatting about them with other fans. I’m hopeful this series will continue to calm some of the divisiveness within the fandom, and that we can all look forward to the future of Star Wars together.
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