It would be an understatement to say that Disney+ was starved for original content this time last year. With The Mandalorian already completing its first season run, there wasn’t much new content from Disney’s major acquisitions (Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar) and so Lucasfilm released weekly episodes of Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian starting in Spring 2020. There were a couple of viral headlines pulled from these episodes, namely Dave Filoni’s interpretation of the fight between Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan and Darth Maul. But overall, the eight-episode stretch of episodes covering Director discussions, cast, props, and the score seemed more like milking a cow dry. It was no surprise then that the second season would both come faster than four months after the last episode, and be fewer episodes. One 65-minute episode to be exact. Credits & Canon was not around earlier this year to cover season one but here are my three insights on this behind the scenes look at The Mandalorian season two:
Jon Favreau Might Never Want to Take Over for Kathleen Kennedy
Since The Last Jedi came out (more than three years ago) and despite the 5.3B+ collective gross of Star Wars films, Kathleen Kennedy’s job as President of Lucasfilm has been the topic of much speculation. There has been frustration, and justified to a certain extent, among Star Wars fans that there was not an outline or plan for the sequel trilogy which led to jumbled storytelling, messy character arcs, and three films that have a tonal difference. The comparisons to Kevin Feige and Marvel were plentiful but it looks like Star Wars Disney+ shows are following that pattern under the guidance of Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni. There has even been discussion of Favreau taking over Kennedy’s job when her contract expires. While Favreau is a prolific producer, it is clear from watching Disney Gallery that he loves directing and being in the thick of creation. I cannot read Favreau’s mind but this does not seem like someone who would want to leave the set for a desk job, even if it could increase his overall net worth. Money is not an issue either way so why would Favreau want the responsibility and headache of Kennedy’s job? People like Kevin Feige, a combination of strong creative and business acumen, are rare in a high-level executive position. Lucasfilm is also about to embark on building another franchise with Children of Blood and Bone so that would require considerable attention, even though it is a popular book franchise, to build awareness and hype for non-readers. I once thought that Favreau was a lock to replace Kennedy but this episode reminded me just how much of a mismatch that might be. Besides Favreau will have his hands full with three new shows (The Book of Boba Fett, Ahsoka, and Rangers of the New Republic) in addition to The Mandalorian. If he nails all of those, he can cement his legacy in Star Wars, just like he did for Marvel, and move on to other creative endeavors.
The Directors Focused on Very Different Approaches to Their Episodes
The structure of this season of Disney Gallery took a look at the behind-the-scenes work of the episodes in order and provided an overhead view of the directors’ approaches and intent. For Jon Favreau and his Chapter 9: The Marshal, he focused on the element of tease with the Krayt Dragon ala Jaws, with Mando and Cobb Vanth standing in as Brody and Hooper. And just like Jaws, you don’t see the full Krayt Dragon until the end right before it goes out in explosive glory. It is no wonder the first episode feels and looks the most cinematic.
In Chapter 10: The Passenger, it’s all about the creature feature. And Peyton Reed, direct of Marvel’s Ant-Man trilogy, took the helm with this episode. Upon reading the term “Ice Spiders” in the script, Reed thought of a pulp serial, which was also reminiscent of the original Star Wars. Another hallmark of Star Wars: intense action scenes with situational humor to lightened the mood. And what better situational humor is there than a Mandalorian, a Frogwoman, and a little green puppet outrunning giant insects? A match made in Peyton Reed’s heaven.
For Bryce Dallas Howard, director of Chapter 11: The Heiress, the focus was bringing a water world and water creatures to life while staying grounded in the filmmaking process. Oh, and to bring Bo Katan to live-action. Even though the episode was shot on a stage and not on a ship in the ocean, they filmed as if they were to keep the realism. Along with production design, the other stars of this episode are costume design and make-up, creating a cool new world of Mon Cala, Quarren, and Frog people. Couple that with a Mandalorian/Imperial showdown at the end and Howard’s episode hovers high above season one’s Chapter 4: Sanctuary.
Carl Weathers, an action star of the 80s, sought to create an action-packed, thrill ride of an episode. But before that, you get to see a transformed Nevarro City rid of Imperial occupation that also includes a school. And is occupied by season one faces like Horatio Sanz’s Mythrol, who shines as the main comedic relief. The action is even played more for laughs in this episode and feels more like an 80s action film (in all the right ways). And per Ryan Watson, the Stunt Coordinator, it was great having a director that has physicality and knowledge of physicality in film. It might not be the best episode of the season, but it is probably one of the most fun. The canyon escape near the end of the episode does seem like it could be placed directly in a Star Tours ride experience.
After more than a decade of existence, it isn’t a surprise that Dave Filoni’s concern during his episode was perfecting the live-action version of the character he created with George Lucas, Ahsoka Tano. For Chapter 13: The Jedi, everything had to be perfect: the environment, lighting, make-up, costume, lightsabers, etc. Filoni is one of the two directors who wrote his episode and the attention to detail of the character is in the script as well as on the screen. There is also more detail given to Ahsoka’s movements in speaking and fighting. Filoni says Rosario Dawson put in the work and studied the animated version and that shows as well, down to her posture. There is a mention of Ashley Eckstein but, not surprisingly, no detail in the thought process of casting for live-action. Either way, Filoni’s work on getting things right has paid off with a fan favorite and critically-loved episode and a future series on the horizon.
Robert Rodriguez’s biggest concern for his episode Chapter 14: The Tragedy was also one of his greatest honors: to show why Boba Fett was the best bounty hunter in the galaxy and to treat the episode as if it were his only chance. So much so that he got his sons to act out an animatic of Boba Fett’s arrival and subsequent fight with the Stormtroopers…and used action figures as stand-ins for stunts. Turns out, the fight translated pretty well and made many Boba Fett fans elated to see something they never thought they would see: Boba Fett living up to his reputation (and justifying the popularity and toy sales). And he will continue to do so with another new Disney+ event series, The Book of Boba Fett, of which Rodriguez will serve as Executive Producer and I’m sure will return to the director’s chair.
Rick Famiyuwa wrote his episode, Chapter 15: The Believer, and leans more into the story than anything else. Where people tend to see Star Wars in stark ways (light v. dark, Rebels v. Imperials), Famiyuwa wanted to “have a conversation about that and that these things aren’t always as black and white.” Particularly, he points out, when talking about the use and transfer of power. So, it is not surprising that the key scene, both in this episode and I think the season, is a conversation between an ex-Imperial and their former Commanding Officer. Famiyuwa and comedian Bill Burr work well together and I’m sure, if Burr’s Mayfeld returns in some way in future episodes, it will be with Famiyuwa at the helm.
Peyton Reed’s concern for the finale was, understandably, different from the first episode he directed. There were a lot more action elements that had to be seamless (Dark troopers, the Darksaber fight, and Luke Skywalker’s return) and the stunt department was key in bringing many fights to life. Reed also had to bring two big nostalgia moments to life: the aforementioned Luke appearance and Jabba’s Palace, which is the one that gets discussed in this program.
It is heartening to hear all the directors, and a director in general, excited to be a part of a Star Wars project. Working in this community and having to deal with the Star Wars fanbase can be tough as the toxic side tends to be the loudest (including people going out of their way to use The Mandalorian as some sort of a weapon to put down the sequel trilogy). And there are valid criticisms of The Mandalorian that still need to be ironed out (personally, I would like to see more competency in Stormtroopers because their current incompetency makes the action scenes with them less impressive). But The Mandalorian has something that the sequel trilogy doesn’t: time to make improve and get even better. And I’m sure they’ll make good use of that time.
There is Nothing Like Lucasfilm Ingenuity
“There is something about the hand. You know, actually physically making it. It gives it a look that is uniquely Star Wars.”Andrew L. Jones, Production Designer
Part of the dread I had when Disney first acquired Lucasfilm was having to watch a live-action Star Wars show on ABC and seeing an ABC budget. I still had worries with Disney+ that The Mandalorian would look more like Agents of SHIELD than a Star Wars film. I don’t think it looks quite cinematic (save for a few episodes) but I shouldn’t have worried because a large part of the high-quality expectation I have of Star Wars films is the sheer talent of the team at Lucasfilm. For Chapter 15: The Believer, the Lucasfilm Miniature Model Maker built the tabletop set that was scanned and projected in the background of the opening scene. Even more impressive, the digital artist team and VFX team talked about creating a Light Cruiser model and using a control rig to shoot several miniature shots, staying true to the style of filmmaking that makes Star Wars Imperial ships so visually stunning. It reminds me of the wonder I felt when I went to the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at LACMA years ago and saw the model sets created for Dr. Strangelove. It’s old school and it’s amazing. Along with interviews with the cast and directors, we hear from people like Doug Chiang (Co-Producer/Production Designer), Hal Hickel (Animation Supervisor), Roy Cancino (Special Effects Supervisor), Ryan Watson (Stunt Coordinator), Shawna Trpcic (Costume Designer), Alexei Dmitriew and Brian Sipe (Makeup Artists). It is cliché to write but these really are the stars of the show and that is reflected in the Emmy nominations and wins in technical and production fields. The attention to detail, character and costume design, makeup, and music can carry a lot of weight and overcome (and often has) questionable dialogue and acting in Star Wars. And I still think the best is yet to come, whether that is season three of The Mandalorian or another one of the 11 projects coming to Disney+, of production design and scale.
One of the areas of production that really shined this season (even more than last) is the music by Ludwig Göransson…and, weirdly, we don’t hear from him or the music department at all in this 65-minute program. I will just assume that Göransson was not available (he is a busy man these days) but I enjoyed his episode of Disney Gallery last season and it would have been cool to hear his approach to season two. Pedro Pascal was on set a lot more than last season as there are many shots of him in his Mando suit even for scenes in episodes where he did not take his helmet off. It’s good that he gets to take more ownership of the character instead of mostly doing VO work. It was surprising that there was no discussion or even a mention of bringing Luke Skywalker back for the finale (save for a slight nod from Peyton Reed as something on the page that has “potential for this extreme emotion). Perhaps they had a closed set that day to keep at least one surprise for viewers. It made sense to decrease the number of episodes for Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian and condense it to a single long-form program, but there is a lot to be desired. Perhaps next season they can strike a healthy balance between one 65-minute episode and eight 30-45 minutes episodes.