THE MANDALORIAN: Lessons For Screenwriters
THE MANDALORIAN has taken the world by storm. Disney+’s flagship inaugural series, the show has accomplished one of the rarest feats in entertainment of recent years. It’s a piece of Star Wars media that seemingly almost everyone agrees is great.
How has the show (and specifically writers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni) done this? The answer is devastatingly obvious in hindsight.
The show is about the titular Mandalorian, a clear inheritor of the Clint Eastwood Man With No Name archetype, essentially a spaghetti Western antihero transplanted into the world of Star Wars.
The Mandalorian’s visual similarity to Boba Fett provides a built-in familiarity to the audience, but he could just as easily be anyone else when it boils down to the central idea here. The essential idea of a strong, silent type whose skill with violence makes him needed by civilization for dirty work, yet also never a true part of civilized society, goes all the way back to westerns like SHANE (which themselves owe a debt to even older stories, but that’s for another post).
The Mandalorian’s mission is to retrieve a bounty and bring it back to his employer. In the pilot episode, he retrieves the bounty and it’s a… baby Yoda. While technically this being is not a literal baby Yoda, for all intents and purposes that’s what the audience is getting at the end of the pilot episode.
This means the essential pitch of the show is that, for people even with a passing knowledge of Star Wars, a Boba Fett-type is going to try and protect a baby Yoda. That’s the one-sentence pitch for THE MANDALORIAN.
Who is not going to be on board with that story? Who is going to say, nah, go ahead and let the villains kill the baby Yoda? No one. The universality of the story is why the show is so effective. Anyone who has children will relate to the presentation of the baby Yoda as curious, mischievous, and needing attention and connect to that emotionally.
Anyone who enjoys Westerns, or Star Wars films, will enjoy the show’s adventure plots and action. But the core emotional narrative is as old as Shane befriending Joey in SHANE (the novel the film was based on was written in 1949).
This is the takeaway lesson for screenwriters. Simple, universal stories are always going to work. The case study for that is THE MANDALORIAN, an extension of a brand so fiercely beloved by fans that THE LAST JEDI, a film that made a literal billion dollars, is often considered somewhat of a failure, for not pleasing fans enough.
By prioritizing a simple, universal, emotional story, Favreau and Filoni have created a sensation. What do you think of THE MANDALORIAN? How do you employ universal storytelling in your screenplays? Let us know in the comments below.