Once upon a time, movie sequels had a law that nearly every second installment abided by: the law of diminishing returns. With a few rare exceptions, no movie would make more money than the film that preceded it.
The emergence of franchises began to erode the law, but perception remained that sequels were cash grabs with minimal chance of justifying their existence narratively. Hollywood thought films needed to be trilogies and were wedded to the idea.
For Disney, this was a problem. As they developed their pillars over the 2000s (Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm etc.), they knew something would have to change. Enter the MCU. A series of films that are, to all intents and purposes, sequels. And yet, nobody perceives them that way. They’re also adverts for one another. But again, nobody perceives them that way.
Thus, Disney figured out how to consistently break the law. No longer would a film have a number behind it, with budgets and expectations lowered. Rather, a group of stories would feed into one larger narrative. One bigger picture.
We know now that this is being applied to the Star Wars realm. Blurring the lines between film and TV in order to make *content*. Andor, Kenobi et al (watch the post credits scene for yet another show to discuss). And it’s all starting with The Mandalorian. The season finale is the first episode since we discovered the Empire/ Disney’s plans. And as it brings a two season arc to a close, the promise of more is woven into the fabric of the episode.
Supporting characters show what they’re made of while patiently waiting their turn, as characters from bygone days pop up to remind us why we fell in love with Star Wars in the first place.
The plot moves at typically breakneck pace – we’ve had 15 episodes building to this climax. Glimpses of Dark Troopers, a motley collection of good guys to join Din Djarin on his quest, Grogu’s long distance telephone calls. Even Rebels characters are beginning to make their mark. You don’t need to have seen Rebels to understand all this, but it helps.
So there’s very little left to set up – it’s all about the pay offs now.
As ever, there’s a range of Star Wars imagery to geek out over – the launching of Tie Fighters still feels special (we didn’t get that detail in the old days, you know), shiny Stormtrooper outfits getting shot up still looks cool. It’s all the stuff JJ Abrams tried to do, but didn’t quite manage to nail. It’s tempting to give the series directors – in this case, Ant-Man helmer Peyton Reed – the credit, but for the show to be this consistent, the wider production team deserves the kudos.
As Din and his team attack Moff Gideon’s ship to recover Grogu, it becomes increasingly obvious that the best candidates to run the sequel trilogy were Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni all along.
As if there were any doubt, the final act of the episode seals the deal. We’ve all speculated as to who Grogu would have contacted, who the Jedi might be. And no matter who your money is on, the execution is better than you could possibly imagine.
The Mandalorian has done an incredible job of servicing the fans yet showing enough restraint that we still want more. Filoni, Favreau and the writing team understand what will thrill us, but unlike the work of Abrams, it doesn’t feel like a cruel tease. Rather, they deliver on every promise.
So as The Mandalorian comes to an end for now, with the direction of its story uncertain (weaning themselves off of Grogu, if indeed that’s what’s happening, will be a tall order), we no longer need worry about the fate of the Star Wars franchise. Sure, it’ll spend a fair amount of screen time promoting itself, but when that promotion is wrapped up in something so damn cool, it’d be futile to resist.