The Mandalorian and Legacy Characters: Why I think Disney’s Making a Mistake
Like pretty much everyone in the galaxy, I’ve been watching The Mandalorian and have really enjoyed it. It was thrilling to see young Luke Skywalker decimate those battledroids at the end of the Season 2 finale, but the more I think about it, the more I think it’s a mistake.
What was so refreshing about The Mandalorian was that it got away from the previously ingrained ideas that have been present in almost all other Star Wars media. Many people have argued that the Star Wars universe was too limited for the amount of media Disney had planned and, for a while, The Mandalorian seemed to prove this was not the case.
Familiar, yet novel.
Not all of The Mandalorian was completely new; I mean, our main characters were essentially Boba Fett and Baby Yoda, despite the repeated assurances that they were ALL NEW CHARACTERS. This was okay though because it took those characters, who we knew very little about, and reimagined them into new, if visually near identical versions. Like really, what do we know about Boba Fett from the movies? We know he’s got cool armor, a jetpack, and he works as a bounty hunter. So much of his fame came from being a popular toy, so it makes perfect sense to adapt him (or rather his costume) into the more complete character of Mando. Yoda was almost the opposite, we have a good sense of his personality, he has a distinctive appearance and powers, but we know nothing of his origins and backstory. So a child version of the same species has a lot of space to develop. Even the parts of the story that were derivative, like the Western-style structure, Mando having a lot of the same traits as a classic Clint Eastwood character (a no-name dangerous drifter rustles into town and solves some problems- with his jetpack!, I mean six shooter), and legacy settings felt refreshing, not because we had never seen those tropes before, but because we had never seen them in Star Wars before. It seemed, for a time, that Disney had cracked the code of serving fans something recognizable and familiar, but also new and inventive. But now Disney is risking gumming up the works with legacy characters.
The two halves of the Star Wars formula.
The challenges of writing a new Star Wars vehicle is that there are two distinct halves of what makes things Star Wars. There’s the setting, the technology, the alien races, and props. That stuff can be easily adapted into any story you like. You could, for instance, write a touching slow-moving character-based dramatic romance set on Tatooine between a moisture farmer and a Sandperson. As they barter for parts and negotiate territorial skirmishes, they grow closer but then have to negotiate, not only economic hardships present on this dusty planet, but the biases of their respective kinds. The drama! I see you staring at me and mentally muttering “Who the heck would want to watch that? Star Wars isn’t about that stuff!”
If you’re thinking that, it’s because of the other half of what makes things Star Wars: the themes of Good vs. Evil, the structures of the Jedi and the Sith, the supernatural Force abilities, the expectations of a crowd pleasing adventure, the fetishsation of objects like lightsabers, and the lore. If that second set of Star Wars identifiers is meaningful to you, you like might not embrace the big climax in my story where the Tusken Raiders slips off their bantha, joins the moisture farmer at her fire, recites the story of their people, and finally reveals… whatever face it is they have under those Sandpeople masks. If you’re in it for the lightsaber fights, you’re probably not going to be satisfied with thoughtful commentary on the roles of warring factions in an environment that doesn’t have enough resources to go around.
Everyday Star Wars people.
The thing with The Mandalorian, however, is that it came so close to doing it all. Sure, we had Stormtroopers and people frozen in Carbonite, but we also had a glimpse into the lives of ordinary citizens who are dealing with much more immediate problems than whether or not they can reform the Galactic Senate. I really enjoyed seeing what it was like to own a Tatooine truck stop or what former Empire employees have done with themselves after the Empire has fallen. We can take a lot of lessons from history in the emerging warlords fighting each other for dominance now that the hierarchy has fallen. Sure, they still wear the armor and carry the weapons because those things are still functional objects even though they no longer retain the authority they once carried. That stuff is interesting. But you need to be really confident in this approach because if you introduce just one character who has the ability to overpower everyone else, you’re shifting into the Big Themes territory and once you go there, it’s pretty hard to get people interested in the slice of life narrative again.
Star Wars could be one or many genres.
One of the best things about The Mandalorian in the first season was the shifting genres. We had several episodes that were pure Western tropes (gunslinger saves the town), a few that were creature features (we all need to work together to kill the giant rampaging beast), some of that were character driven (like Mando struggling with what being a Mandalorian means to him and whether he can fulfill his oath), and even a super fun jail heist episode. There have been some elements of these other genres in the Star Wars films, but they’ve always been dimmed by the overarching Good vs. Evil final showdown theme.
The jail heist worked especially well because we were not assured of the moral integrity of any of the characters so it was impossible to predict possible betrayals or twists. We don’t have a legacy character in those episodes to guide our moral compasses and they did a good job of explaining that Mando follows his own agenda rather than an outside code of ethics. Solo tried (I guess? I think that’s what they were trying to do) to also have a heist structure, but it really got bogged down in character stuff. The beauty of a heist, slasher, or mystery film is that you don’t really need character development. The intrigue comes from the turns and twists of the plot rather than what the characters think or feel about it. Indeed, character development in those genres can actually negatively impact the story.
Think of a classic murder mystery, like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. That story is fun because of all of the turns and twists and the rather one dimensional characters. The story is a lot less fun if you’re imagining the characters being wrought with guilt, PTSD, addiction, and emotional neglect and then being psychologically tortured before they’re bumped off.
Solo has the structure of a heist film like Ocean’s Eleven, except it pauses constantly to assure you that Han Solo is a good guy who was forced into a life of crime due to poverty, a traumatized war veteran, a romantic who still cherishes his first love and is determined to see her again, a freedom fighter, and someone who will chose the path of ethical good no matter the personal costs. Not only does this muddle up his eventual arc in the Original Trilogy, but it distracts the audience completely from the fun space heist angle. Like, how important is it really that the Millenium Falcon completes the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs if the big climax is people literally fighting for their freedom to exist?
But Baby Yoda!
I agree, Baby Yoda aka The Child aka Grogu (seriously?) is the undisputed best part of the show. He’s adorable and worthy of all the merchandising. He works really well in the context of the show because he brings in the supernatural aspects of the Force, he reminds us of questions we may have had about Yoda, and he brings in some of the larger Good vs. Evil themes in Star Wars. What makes him work, though, is that he’s a child. He’s by nature vulnerable and he’s reliant on regular people like Mando to take care of him. That adds a lot of heart to a show where there might not have been much otherwise. We love watching the developing relationship between our two stars. He also helps explain a bit more of how the Force works, like that he’s capable of great acts but they exhaust him so his power isn’t limitless. I actually really liked the scenes where Grogu eats Frog Lady’s eggs because it illustrates how he is still a toddler and doesn’t have real morals or ethics yet. It’s the same scenario as if you put a wedding cake next to a 3 three old. They only see yummy food without understanding its signifigance due to age and level of maturity. As an audience, we care about him. We care that he has people in his life that can care for and nurture him. We want Grogu to be loved. He gives us a sense that even if we might not be able to use the Force, we can still do good.
And then the Jedi happen.
I’ll admit, I have not watched the Clone Wars cartoon because I am just not the right demographic. I know relatively little about Ahsoka, but what she says in her episode filled me with misgivings. From Mando’s (and my) perspective, what Grogu needs is parents. He needs a home and love and protection so that he can grow up to be an adult, however long that takes. Ahsoka, however, informs Mando that what Grogu needs is training.
Now, I gather that Ahsoka comes from the Jedi Academy we see in the prequel movies and that does not fill me with confidence. The idea that children are taken from their parents and homes, brought to a centralized location, taught that attachment to others is not a virtue, and trained to become bodyguards and emissaries for the political elite does not sit well with me. We’re also not shown any particular reason why Force-talented youngsters need to learn to control their powers. Leia and Luke, for instance, reached adulthood before they even learned they had Force abilities and it doesn’t seem to have negatively impacted them at all. It seems, given that structure, that many parents across the galaxy would deliberately hide their child’s abilities rather than have them taken away and taught to reject them. Add on to that, that perhaps the job of a Jedi and that kind of regimented training just isn’t suitable for your child’s personality. It certainly didn’t seem to help Kylo Ren’s deep feelings of abandonment and isolation.
So why does Grogu need to be trained by a Jedi other than that without it he might not be able to fulfill his potential at Force magic? If not fulfilling your potential has no other downsides other than limiting your Force abilities, what’s the danger? Why not let him grow up to be an adult and see if he’s more interested in being a Jedi than being an egg farmer or a florist? The only reason I can see for this is that Disney assumes that we as fans will demand to see the BIG THEMES half of Star Wars. They’re turning the focus on to the Good vs. Evil, Jedi vs. Sith narrative that limits the type of Star Wars stories we are able to tell.
But Luke’s a good guy!
I like Luke too and it was exciting to see him dueling away, but it’s undeniable that he changes the direction of the series. Initially, I thought the thrust of the series was going to be getting Grogu away from the bad guys, finding his homeworld, and possibly even family. That’s an extremely open story to tell because we know so little about Grogu’s species or homeworld. It could have ended, potentially, with Mando finally delivering Grogu to his homeworld, being accepted by the local population, and choosing to live out his life in happy obscurity intentionally disconnected from any other star-related wars. There’s a lot of potential ways that Mando could research and find this hypothetical planet.
Once we bring Luke into it, however, Disney has very few options. Luke can: train Grogu, return Grogu to Mando, abandon Grogu at a random space truck stop, or turn Grogu in to the bad guys and collect the reward. Except, of course, we don’t even have those last two options because Luke is indisputably the whitest of the white hats. There’s not much tension in Mando giving Grogu to Luke because we know in our hearts that Luke will do his best to nurture him. The other two remaining options: training or returning Grogu are not particularly interesting. If he trains Grogu then Mando becomes a supporting character who is probably a lot less interesting to viewers than legacy Luke. Be honest, if we’ve got an A story about Mando struggling to find Mandalore and a B story about Baby Yoda adorably trying to do a handstand, we’re going to pick the B story every time. Cuteness triumphs. If Luke gives Grogu back, then we have limited reasons why he would do so: Grogu misses Mando and wants to go back, Luke has business that supersedes training Grogu, Grogu is not safe with Luke for various reasons and needs Mando to take him into obscurity. Again, these aren’t tremendously interesting choices but we’re limited by Luke’s sterling character. Grogu isn’t going to tearfully run away from Luke’s training school because he was being abused or used for nefarious purposes. I could be wrong and, for the sake of the show, I hope I am, but I just see limited choices.
Taking a line on Jedi Academy
Another potential problem I see is that this would force Disney to take a strong line on Jedi training. The Jedi Academy model exists in a nebulous space. It’s unclear whether or not it was actually beneficial. The pro side: pre-Clone Wars it was very effective at training Force powers, it gave Force-wielding orphans of which there are apparently tons a place to call home, Yoda recommends it. The con side: Luke, Leia, and Rey got to adulthood without training and it didn’t negative impact them; it seems to have driven Kylo Ren to the Dark Side on a expedited schedule; and um, it consolidated all young Force users into a single environment where they were, uh, ruthlessly slaughtered. Depending on whether or not Grogu is trained, it would mean that Disney has to take a firm stance on Jedi training. Either training is necessary and good or training is unnecessary and potentially causes emotional trauma. Basically, are you Team Prequels or are you Team Sequels? This is not a line I would want to draw because you stand the possibility of enraging both camps. And we all know Star Wars fans are the scariest thing in the known galaxy. Much scarier than rancors.
All timelines lead to Death
Yeah, this is a big one. By introducing Luke and Ahsoka as Jedi into The Mandalorian, Disney is potentially condemning all their characters. Take Ahsoka. She’s from the prequel era, which is set around 18–19 years before the Original Trilogy. The Original Trilogy is set around 30 years before the Sequel Trilogy. The Mandalorian is set soon after Return of the Jedi, after the Empire has fallen, but (presumably) before the First Order rises. This doesn’t matter much if you’re focusing on relatively obscure characters like Boba Fett or new ordinary person characters like Mando, but it matters a lot if you bring in central characters like Luke Skywalker and Ahsoka because you would need to bridge the gap in their actions from one series to another. This is kind of a big deal, particularly if you’re talking about good guy Jedis.
Ahsoka’s less of an issue because she doesn’t appear in the sequel trilogy, but it still means that Disney might need to come up with a reason for her absence. She’s around.. 35 or 40, I guess, in The Mandalorian, which would put her in her late 60s, early 70s by the time of the sequels. That’s retirement age, but, remember, she’s a Jedi, the undisputed Good Guys of the galaxy. So why doesn’t she come to Leia’s aid or have any involvement in the Resistance? If she’s anywhere close by she must have learned the Senate and the entire planet was destroyed by a suspiciously Death Star-like evil weapon. Shouldn’t she have been aware of Snoke? If she had been left in the Clone Wars cartoons, I don’t think we would have particularly wondered what became of her because it’s an entirely different medium. This leaves Disney with two amazing choices: come up with a reason she cannot respond like she’s very far away or she’s dead.
Now, I would be happy imagining that immediately after the events of The Mandalorian, Ahsoka took off with her girlfriend to whatever the Outer Rim’s version of Oregon is and started a peach orchard and she’s living in bucolic happiness, surrounded by pygmy space goats, far out of reach of radio contact. But let’s face it, Star Wars writers like to kill off characters once they aren’t sure what to do with them anymore. The chances that they would let a Jedi either choose not to respond to Leia or be out of reach are pretty unlikely. So, blammo, she probably dies in a blaze of glory because Disney assumes Star Wars fans like that. I guess her voice is heard psyching up Rey in Rise of Skywalker, which some people figure confirmed her death. This is the big problem when you have characters who are supposed to always be good: they have a very limited set of behaviors.
All timelines lead to Death Redux
Once you figure in Luke Skywalker, the writing problems become exponential. Let’s review: Luke takes Grogu after the events of Return of the Jedi and has about 30 years before he appears in the Sequel Trilogy where neither he nor any other character gives any indication that Grogu even exists. So why would Luke not mention another powerful force user alive in the Galaxy to Rey or Leia?
Best case scenario: Luke returns Grogu to Mando like five minutes into Season 3 of The Mandalorian because Grogu is lonely or Luke needs to do something else. Luke then… promptly forgets about him? Eh, he is the cutest thing in the known universe and possibly the last of Yoda’s species. Is this scenario even possible? Okay, maybe Luke returns him and advises Mando to find a far off place somewhere where even Luke can’t find him. And then Luke… never tells Leia or Rey about him? I mean, Luke says he “won’t be the last Jedi” so is he mentally adding “apart that that cute, Grogu?” So, does Luke know where he is? I can kind of believe Luke would take a sworn oath never to reveal Grogu’s location or existence, but that puts us in the awkward position of him lying to Leia during a peaceful time with a low threat level. Leia would 1000% call on Grogu if she felt the Resistance needed him. This is incredibly knotted reasoning, but it’s better than the alternative.
Worst case scenario: Grogu dies for some reason before the Sequel Trilogy and Luke doesn’t mention him because he’s dead. This is horrifying. Grogu would be around 80, which I gather means he’d be like a human 7 year old during the events of The Force Awakens. Disney, you CANNOT kill off an adorable 7 year old.
WORST worst case scenario: Luke was training Grogu at his Jedi school and he’s part of the students slaughtered by Kylo Ren/Snoke/First Order people/AlloftheAbove. Did I even just type that? Could any of us tolerate Kylo Ren even in that cool looking Rise of the Resistance ride at Disneyland for a second if he slaughtered, or even caused the death of Baby Yoda?! MADNESS. It would explain why Grogu is never mentioned, but it basically wrecks an entire film franchise. Disney, do not do this one.
Are you enjoying that corner they’ve written us into? Because I’m not.
So why put Luke into the equation at all if it means the writers and audience are going to have to do mental gymnastics to get him out of the situation?
I’m going to assume it’s because they thought it would be cool. Everyone loved the Darth Vader scene at the end of Rogue One because it was cool, not because it added to the larger story or heightened the emotional stakes. Luke’s scene at the end of The Mandalorian is almost the exact same scene. Luke pushes through a series of air locks and corridors, effortlessly mowing down the enemy to force himself into the final room. There, instead of slaughtering everyone, he reveals himself to be the hero of the entire franchise. Like, was it cool? Sure. Does it help the story by inserting a character larger than the stars of the show? No. Does it limit the kinds of stories that The Mandalorian can now tell? Boy, howdy, it does. Does it add yet another continuity hindrance to the already thorny timelines of Star Wars? Yes, indeedy.
But, it was cool.