Warning! Contains spoilers for The Mandalorian first season!
The Mandalorian, a Disney+ original show, is an incredible source of inspiration, and expertly follows the elements of great storytelling. Created and written by Jon Favreau, and based on characters written by George Lucas, this is an incredible love letter to Star Wars.
I could talk at length about how it honours the original films with slow pacing and simple dialogue, but I think what really honours it best is the story elements. It doesn’t rely on flashy CGI or big explosions to keep its audience, it does have them, but they’re not integral to the story, instead it holds on to the principles of storytelling, sacrificing the cliche and cheese for the heart and character. Here are four ways I think it accomplished this:
1. THE HERO’S JOURNEY IN EACH EPISODE
The first season is only eight episodes long, but each episode follows The Hero’s Journey. If you don’t know what The Hero’s Journey is, read this.
In Chapter One it starts with our main character, The Mandalorian played by Pedro Pascal, in his ‘Ordinary World’ as a bounty hunter. He receives a ‘Call to Adventure’ to track and capture a hard to find target. He gets a ‘Mentor’, Kuiil (voiced by Nick Nolte and performed by Misty Rosas), who trains him how to ride a Blurrg. And near the end of the episode there’s a ‘Death’ and ‘Resurrection’ when he and IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi) are surrounded by the enemy and have to fight their way through.
This happens in every episode. It’s awesome and a great way to learn more about how story unfolds. But it gets better …
2. THE HERO’S JOURNEY IN THE ENTIRE FIRST SEASON
The entire first season also follows The Hero’s Journey. Most every show does this, but I highlight it here. because it’s easier to see. There’s a term we use in writing called K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid, read this for more ideas on how to keep things simple) and The Mandalorian does just this. There’s not a lot of busy scenes to distract us from following Mando’s journey. It’s clear, so much so that it’s even spelled out for us in the title of each episode. Did you notice every episode is titled like a chapter of a book? Chapter One becomes the Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Meeting the Mentor. Chapter 2: The Child becomes Crossing the 1st Threshold, Tests, Allies, and Enemies, etc.
You get the idea. It’s brilliant writing to not only have each episode be The Hero’s Journey, but to have the whole first season do the same. I reckon, if The Mandalorian gets to play out for five or six more seasons that the full series will also follow The Hero’s Journey. I hope we get the chance to see it all unfold.
Probably one of my favourite aspects of storytelling within The Mandalorian are the characters. I love it when characters have simple names that define them, like the bad guy, played by Werner Herzog, he’s credited as ‘The Client’ and that uber awesome Mandalorian armor lady? Yeah, she’s listed as ‘Armorer’. It’s a great way to help the viewer identify minor characters that you as the writer want to be significant.
Another thing The Mandalorian does well, is that each character is well thought-out and memorable. Even characters who last for only one episode are defined enough they could easily be brought back to the second season, and we’d remember them. I, for one, hope we see more of Julia Jones’ Omera (pictured above) and her daughter Winta (Isla Farris).
One of the ways Favreau make us care for these characters is by giving them unique dialogue, mannerisms, and what Blake Snyder calls a “limp and an eye patch”, read more about Snyder’s techniques here. An example, of this is Cara Dune’s Rebel tattoos. Dune, played by former MMA star Gina Carano, has tattoos on both her face and arm to signify her as a Rebel. Another example is Kuiil’s sometimes annoying catchphrase, “I have spoken.”
4. THE MANDALORIAN & HIS MASK
One of the biggest risks you can take in film is to never show your main character’s face. You can get away with a side character like Home Improvement’s friendly neighbor Wilson Wilson, you can even have an inanimate object be a strong supporting character like Wilson from Cast Away — hmmm seems to be a theme for character’s named Wilson — but to create a hero with a mask that he can’t take off and expect to hold your audience … wow. It’s a risk. But this risk paid off. Expertly.
It was weird, I always IMDb the shows I’m watching, wanting to know everything I can about how it was made, who’s in it, what else they’ve been in, etc. but this time, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t want to see what Mando looked like, I wanted his face to remain a mystery for as long as Favreau wanted it to remain a mystery. And spoiler alert, the moment he takes off the helmet had more weight and significance to this viewer than it would have if I’d looked it up.
There are so many other reasons why I think Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian is great storytelling, but these four points are the heart and soul throughout all the fun other bits. Story came first, flashy explosions second.
Thanks Favreau for creating a show that the fans of Star Wars can appreciate and the film community can learn from, it’s an incredible work of inspiration to this writer.