Despite the Star Wars franchise’s massive hold on pop culture as a whole, there’s one domain it’s never quite conquered: Television. Oh, there’s been a handful of kids’ cartoons and a legendarily awful Holiday Special back in 1978, but that’s it — until tomorrow, when the Disney+ streaming service opens for business, and brings The Mandalorian with it.
All we officially know about the eight-episode series is that it follows a bounty hunter through the shadier, more dangerous parts of the Star Wars galaxy. However, hardcore fans have a vast database of Star Wars’ immense canon and can provide answers to more than a few of the show’s mysteries. These answers are very nerdy, very esoteric and wildly over-complicated — and they should be utterly unnecessary to understanding or enjoying The Mandalorian.
Still, better safe than sorry, right? Here’s a carefully curated collection of Star Wars minutia you 100 percent don’t need to know to enjoy the show, along with a few genuinely useful facts that accidentally slipped in with them.
What the hell is a Mandalorian, anyway?
I suggest you get cozy, because the amount of shit you don’t need to know about Mandalorians is immense. They’re the inhabitants of a planet named Mandalore, and they have a long cultural history chock full of wars and political intrigue, which includes a dark, ancient past as conquerors who were trying to make their own Galactic empire. They eventually ran afoul of ancient Jedi, and the fight between the two ended up so wild it messed up the surface of Mandalore. Nowadays, most Mandalorians aren’t into conquest anymore, those looking for action usually leave the planet to become soldiers, mercenaries and bounty hunters. Others have tried returning Mandalore to its warlike roots, which is why the planet has had two civil wars and was briefly ruled by Darth Maul (during his robot-legs days, as seen in Solo) over the past few decades.
Ever since fan-favorite character Boba Fett wandered into The Empire Strikes Back wearing his Mandalorian armor (if you’re not a hardcore fan, he’s that badass-looking bounty hunter who walked off with the levitating Han Solo-filled carbonite popsicle at the movie’s end), fans have gotten very interested in learning more about this specific area of the Star Wars galaxy, and the franchise’s tie-in media obliged. As a result, the planet and its inhabitants received all the aforementioned history and then some (you’re welcome to sift through their giant entry in the Star Wars fan wiki).
As fan favorites themselves, the Mandalorians have played massive roles in both of the modern Star Wars cartoon series, Clone Wars and Rebels, which is where the bulk of the lengthy, complicated planetary drama mentioned above was revealed. I feel confident in calling the Mandalorians the most high-profile peoples in the Star Wars universe who have never once appeared in any of the 10 currently released movies. As such, dedicating a big-budget, live-action TV show to one of these characters was a very smart move.
Honestly, all you really need to know is that the show’s titular character is one of the Mandalorians who left to become a bounty hunter — well, that, and the fact he’s played by Pedro Pascal, the actor who, despite being the star of Netflix’s Narcos series and a major scene-stealer in Kingsman 2, will probably always be remembered as Game of Thrones’ Oberyn Martell (i.e., the sex-positive guy whose head was literally and very graphically crushed like a melon). However, the trailers have only shown Pascal in his Mandalorian helmet and armor, never his face, which seems suspicious. We all know what Pascal looks like (i.e., devilishly handsome) so why does the show seem to be going out of its way to hide him? And why hire an actor as big as Pascal at all if he’s going to be kept hidden away?
So, uh… what is the show actually about?
In terms of the show’s plot, we know almost nothing about The Mandalorian other than its title and the fact that Pascal’s character is indeed another bounty hunter. Lucasfilm has cracked down on leaks for the show just as hard as it does for the movies, and without any pre-established Star Wars characters or settings in the promo footage to give us a clue as to what the hell is happening in the show’s trailers, they’re almost as useless as those “Next Week on Mad Men” previews.
While official information about the show is small, it’s not entirely nonexistent. The cast includes Gina Carano as Cara Dune, a former Rebel trooper-turned-veteran who seems to become the Mandalorian’s ally. Carl Weathers plays Greef Marda, the head of a bounty-hunting guild that the Mandalorian presumably works with… or maybe against. The bad guys will likely include Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito as Moff Gideon (“Moff” being a title for a high-ranking commander in the Empire), and the legendary Werner Herzog, whose character is unknown but seen surrounded by Imperial stormtroopers in the trailers, which is never a good sign. Agents of SHIELD’s Ming-Na Wen is playing an evil-ish assassin named Fennec Shand. But many characters in the show are still unknown, including Bill Burr’s, although he certainly knows his way around a blaster in the latest trailer.
If you only remember two bits of casting, though, remember these: First, Thor: Ragnarok director and actor Taika Waititi will be playing a skinny assassin robot named IG-11, who will almost certainly have a screw loose. Waititi nearly stole his own Thor movie playing the low-key, equally CG revolutionary Korg, so this should be just as fun. Second, Nick Nolte will provide the voice of a tiny pig-faced alien named Kuiil (an Ugnaught, specifically, who were also seen in Empire Strikes Back reassembling C-3PO and… you know what, never mind). Nolte doesn’t necessarily have any special talents that will help his performance as a tiny pig-alien, but I’m confident it will be delightful nonetheless.
Of course, the relationships between the Mandalorian and every single one of these characters are pure speculation, and thus totally worthless. What we do know is that this show is a space-western, as confirmed by showrunner/producer Jon Favreau (perhaps best known for directing Iron Man and helping launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe). Favreau Instagrammed a summary of the show, which included the line, “We follow the travails of a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy far from the reaches of the New Republic” (more about that below, naturally). At the 2019 Star Wars Celebration in Chicago, Pascal described his character as “a mysterious lone gunfighter on the outer reaches of the galaxy. I would say some might say he has questionable moral character, which is in line with some of our best Westerns,” deliberately calling out the similar gunfighters played by Clint Eastwood in his spaghetti-western days as an influence. “Ultimately he wants to do the right thing,” Pascal told Entertainment Weekly later.
If you look at the standard tropes of those Westerns where mysterious, amoral gunslingers ride into town, it’s extremely plausible that the Mandalorian will also get reluctantly pulled into some kind of larger conflict that helps him evolve some kind of loose code of honor. This is also a trope in a lot of movies beyond Westerns, where watching a protagonist reluctantly become a hero is rather common, yet almost always satisfying — for instance, just to pick a movie completely at random, Star Wars: A New Hope, where Han Solo did exactly the same thing.
In terms of the movies, when does this show take place?
The super short answer is that The Mandalorian is set in-between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. The longer, far nerdier answer is that it’s set in “9 ABY” — or, “After the Battle of Yavin,” the climactic battle in A New Hope — which makes it five years after Darth Vader threw his boss, the Emperor, down a galactic laundry chute and Luke, Leia, and Han toppled the Empire. This is in the early days of the New Republic, made up of a parliament of senators, each representing their own world. But things aren’t nearly as hunky-dory as you might think: Not every planet freed from the Empire’s grasp has been interested in suddenly joining a new governing body, and some planets are taking advantage of the chaos to attack their neighbors in hopes of expanding their own realms.
All in all, there’s still plenty of turmoil in the galaxy during the time of The Mandalorian, especially as you move further away from the center of the galaxy, an area usually called “The Outer Rim.” It is, for all intents and purposes, the Wild West of the Star Wars universe — usually dangerous, often lawless, and far away from the civilized star systems. “Our guy is operating in a much more unforgiving landscape,” Favreau told EW. “[It’s] a place where survival is difficult enough, let alone flourishing in that atmosphere and the politics have dissolved. It’s ‘might is right.’”
Again, all you really need to know is that The Mandalorian is a Space-Western starring a Spaceman With No Name, quite literally (for now). And that it seems the show won’t get caught up in any New Republic, Empire or even Skywalker-associated events, which is kind of a relief, honestly. There are plenty of other new characters to meet and places to explore in the Star Wars universe.
Sounds fun, I guess, but why are fans losing their minds over it?
Mostly because it’s the first live-action Star Wars TV show, unless you count those two awful Ewok-filled TV movies of the mid-1980s, which you absolutely should not. On a much nerdier level, it’s because of Boba Fett.
Boba Fett became one of Star Wars’ most popular characters, despite the fact he speaks only 27 words in Empire, remaining popular even after he died like a chump in Return of the Jedi. His cool factor took a much bigger hit during the prequel trilogy, which revealed not only that he was a decidedly uncool pretween clone boy, but was one of hundreds of thousands of clones, arguably making him one of the least special people in the galaxy.
The Mandalorian is the second coming of Boba Fett, whether Star Wars fans consciously realize it or not. In fact, maybe it’s better to call the Mandalorian character Boba Fett 2.0, because he evokes the original model so wholly in the trailer footage. Obviously the two bounty hunters share armor, jetpacks and their profession, but also their attitudes — they’re taciturn, cool-as-ice badasses who only care about themselves and their job. The only difference is that while Boba Fett continued past The Empire Strikes Back to get unceremoniously knocked into the Sarlacc Pit by a blind Han Solo, then given a very stupid origin story by the prequel movies, the Mandalorian has none of the lame baggage Fett managed to pick up. He’s Boba Fett without the bullshit, metaphorically speaking.
I need to clarify this because the person inside the Mandalorian’s armor is absolutely not the actual Boba Fett character, unless Favreau is lying to our collective faces: He directly confirmed that the show is Boba Fett-free during an interview with Good Morning America during Disney’s D23 Expo earlier this year. There’s also the much nerdier fact that it’s been confirmed the show’s title character is an actual Mandalorian, which Boba Fett isn’t: Instead, it turns out the original trilogy star is some dude who got his hands on a set of Mandalorian armor (through his clone daddy Jango Fett, seen in Attack of the Clones, who also turns out to be just some dude), to the great displeasure of the actual Mandalorians.
There’s one last reason the show is driving Star Wars fans crazy: Something very important is going to happen in it. In a report on Disney’s immense marketing for its streaming service, the New York Times offhandedly revealed that there’s a “dramatic Star Wars-universe spoiler” in The Mandalorian’s premiere episode. No one knows what it is, or how big it is, or if it’s a tie-in to the upcoming Rise of Skywalker movie or connected to the earlier films, or anything. And while there’s no real reason to suspect Favreau is lying about Boba Fett not being in the show, it’s very, very heavily implied in the current Star Wars canon that Fett made it out of the Sarlacc Pit after a heavily scarred set of Mandalorian armor was found on Tatooine in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy of novels. Getting some kind of confirmation that Boba Fett survived would be a huge deal for fans, even if he never appeared on the screen.
And… why should I care about any of this?
If all of this Star Wars trivia is meaningless to you — which would be completely understandable — there are still plenty of good, sensible reasons to watch this show. First of all, Disney and Lucasfilm aren’t half-assing this: The budget for The Mandalorian’s first, eight-episode season is $100 million — that breaks down to $12.5 million apiece, twice as much as the average Game of Thrones episode (not counting the final season’s extravaganza). That’s enough to afford the large, overqualified cast discussed above, as well as talent behind the camera, including: Waititi, fresh off of making the acclaimed Jojo Rabbit; Deborah Chow, who’s directed a plethora of prestige nerd shows, like American Gods; Jurassic World actor Bryce Dallas Howard, making her TV directorial debut; and more. That money is also enough to cover a very large special effects budget, which, if you’ve seen the show’s trailers, has also clearly been put to good use.
But Disney had to go all-out with The Mandalorian. Yes, when Disney+ becomes available it will have hundreds of hours of Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars movies, shows, cartoons, etc., but these will consist almost exclusively of back-catalog content. There’s not much new, original programming arriving upon launch — a High School Musical TV series, the live-action Lady & the Tramp movie remake, a handful of non-fiction titles and that’s about it. So not only is The Mandalorian the service’s highest-profile offering, it’s also the only real offering to the giant audience of tweens, teens and adults that’s made Marvel and Star Wars into the two most profitable movie franchises in the world.
If Disney wants any portion of that audience buying a Disney+ subscription on day one, its money — figuratively, but also kind of literally — has been put on The Mandalorian to make the sale. In fact, Disney has already doubled-down by ordering a second season of the series, which Favreau is currently scripting. It remains to be seen how many people won’t be able to resist watching the first live-action Star Wars TV series tomorrow, although I suspect many fans will join specifically in hopes of avoiding getting spoiled about the show’s big surprise. Because it sounds like this event might end up being the one thing everyone truly does need to know about The Mandalorian.