The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) strides across a barren landscape towards a solitary drinking hole, his boots clinking like a cowboy’s spurs as he walks. Inside, he swiftly dispatches a group of vagabonds with his two fists and one blaster, whipping the weapon around like a gunslinger who can shoot faster than his own shadow.
“Star Wars” has always been a space western of sorts, but arguably nothing in the world created by George Lucas leans as heavily into the genre of Sergio Leone and John Ford than the new Disney Plus series “The Mandalorian.”
“I think that George Lucas played with the Western undertones with the first movie, ‘Episode IV,’ and now they’re taking the suggestions of that tone and infusing it with steroids,” Pascal tells Variety.
The titular character, whom Pascal describes as Clint Eastwood-esque, is a man of few words — so few in fact that Pascal had to reach back into his acting school days to convey the character’s emotions simply with “posture and gesture.”
Add to that the fact the Mandalorian’s face is almost permanently hidden behind a shiny mask, and playing the role was hardly an easy pod ride for Pascal.
“Because of ‘Game of Thrones,’ I’ve been invited to be a part of these big movies [with] ridiculous sets in China and London, insane locations, and not to diminish the efforts of any of my previous experiences, but I can say sincerely that this is taking it to the next level for me in terms of the world-building and the attention to detail on the costumes, the creatures, the robots, the entire world,” he says. “It feels sometimes like not too much is left to the imagination in terms of what’s there.”
Creator Jon Favreau compares his new drama to “Game of Thrones,” but more in terms of the gripping audience reaction he wants to inspire than the scale. What he loved about the HBO show, Favreau says, was the time the show took to build its story. It “didn’t cascade down,” as perhaps other shows not on a weekly release schedule might do, he notes.
In a departure from the traditional streaming formula, “The Mandalorian” will be released on Disney Plus on a week-by-week basis, and it’s this serialization that Favreau believes will allow him and director Dave Filoni to bring a different twist to the much explored “Star Wars” universe.
“It’s fun not to have a preciousness in the way we’re telling these stories, because next week we’re coming back at you with another one,” Favreau explains. “With the streaming service it’s a bigger budget [and] it has a lot of the qualities and aesthetics of the films, but the novelization is where it opened up a lot of freedom and opportunity for us to not feel like we’re repeating or copying anything else that people have experienced.”
Pascal adds that Favreau and the other producers were never committed to a specific composition for each episode. One will likely feel “much more intimate,” while the next will be “epic and 15 pages longer than the previous one.”
From the brief footage screened prior to launch, the pacing for “Mandalorian” feels slower than for any of the “Star Wars” features, where the two-hour (sometimes two-and-half-hour) format means they can often hurtle from one epic set piece to the next.
Carl Weathers, who plays Greef Carga, the leader of the bounty hunter guild whom he describes as “a combination of a used car salesman and a puppeteer,” says the slower pace will hopefully “hook the audience along for the ride.
“The scenes have an opportunity to play themselves out, it’s not like a commercial where it’s cut, cut, cut and you’re moving on,” Weathers says. “The characters get a chance to say their piece, have an exchange that’s meaningful and grounded in some sort of reality, and at the same time has some emotional content in it.”
Weathers will get a chance to set the pace for himself when he takes the director’s chair for a Season 2 episode, an experience which he admits is “daunting, but also a dream.”
Another who was intimidated by the prospect of joining the “Star Wars” galaxy is Gina Carano, who plays the “tough, but deeply human” Cara Dune.
Carano was called to meet Favreau and says she “blacked out” when he revealed she was being considered for a “Star Wars” project. While she considers herself a fan of the franchise, she says talking with Favreau and Filoni made her realize she had a lot of catching up to do.
“’The Mandalorian’ is a really interesting balance between the old movies and the new: They took the innocence of the older movies — it has that in its characters, that freshness, that feeling that this is new again,” Carano says. “Jon and Dave put this together in a way that protected the new people to the franchise and the old people that adored it and the reasons they adored it.”
Both Weathers and Favreau have a slight glint of nostalgia in their eyes talking about the old serial Westerns they used to watch and bringing their sensibility to “Star Wars.”
Whether or not the legions of infamously vociferous “Star Wars” fans will let out Wookie cries of approval after watching remains to be seen, but Favreau also acknowledges the importance of pleasing “those who have been here since the beginning,” and says their reactions will play a part in shaping Season 2.
“To come back and return to this with the freedom this platform brings, because there’s nothing to compare it to — nothing that’s been on TV like it — is enticing,” says Favreau. “It’s a return back to the roots, in many ways, of the Saturday afternoon serial films that my parent’s generation grew up with that had cliffhangers, adventure, and drawing from that style of storytelling lends itself really well to what we’re tackling here.”
“The Mandalorian” premieres Nov. 12 on Disney Plus.