:: SPOILERS BELOW ::
If you haven’t watched the Mandalorian or any of the various Star Wars animated series, and you intend to watch them spoiler free, continuing to read this piece is not the way.
:: SPOILERS BELOW ::
For Christmas in 1997, my mother gave me the VHS set of the Original Trilogy of Star Wars Initially, I stuck my nose up at it as Star Wars was for dorks. After being coerced into watching “A New Hope” I quickly jumped into “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” I must have watched those movies over a dozen times during the coming weeks and months. As the prequels came out I remember going to the movies right after school to watch “The Phantom Menace” (yes I know it was garbage, but at the time, we were excited). I saw “Attack of the Clones” on opening night, however waited to see “Revenge of the Sith” as I was serving my mission when the movie came out. I read the Timothy Zahn novels, watched the various animated series, and waited patiently for the Disney trilogy and other movies to come out. As a diehard Star Wars fan, I have often been disappointed in the movie theatre and felt that the last few rounds of Star Wars movies were hot garbage. “The Force Awakens” was just a retread of “A New Hope,” “The Last Jedi” was an absolute trainwreck, and “The Rise of Skywalker” was neither a rise or had much to do with any Skywalker. Since the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm, about the only redeeming cinematic outcome, was “Rogue One,” and “Solo” was, at best, mildly entertaining.
When the announcement was made about the new Disney+ Series “The Mandalorian” I was a mixture of excited and cautious, as I had seen what Disney had done with previously beloved characters. The only redeeming quality? The fact that the series was being helmed by Marvel pioneer Jon Favreau and Clone Wars’ Dave Filoni. (Brandon Morse wrote on this yesterday.) Favreau led the effort in launching the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) by directing and starring in “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2” before continuing in the MCU through his role as Happy Hogan as well as being Executive Producer on all four of “The Avengers” movies.
Filoni has been a longtime Lucasfilm alum, having led the effort with both of the Star Wars animated series “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels”. “The Clone Wars” is set in the timeline between “Attack of the Clones”, covering the stories referred to in “A New Hope,” when an older Obi-Wan Kenobi references Luke’s father’s involvement in the Clone Wars. “The Clone Wars” includes learning more about Anakin and Padme’s relationship, The Jedi Council, Maul, and Anakin’s young apprentice (and now Mandalorian Alum), Ahsoka Tano.
Rebels falls in the timeline between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, following the adventures of Kanan Jarrus, Hera Syndulla, and the rest of the rebel crew of the Ghost as they fight against the Empire and the evil Grand Admiral Thrawn. During their various adventures, they run into characters from the Prequel Trilogy, “The Clone Wars”, and the Original Trilogy, even by including casting the voice talent of James Earl Jones and Billie Dee Williams.
This is exactly what makes “The Mandalorian” so amazing. The show is all the live-action wishes we Star Wars fans had for the Animated Series, with some of the characters getting the treatment we have wanted for them for so long. When Season 1 did such a good job of introducing to us, some great new characters including The Child, or as the fans came to call him, Baby Yoda. At the end of Season One, when Moff Gideon sliced his way out of his crashed Tie Fighter, with the Dark Saber, last seen in the animated series, we knew we were headed into pulling that lore into the cinematic universe.
I’ve often felt that the story behind Anakin’s turn to the dark side wasn’t only linked to his fear of losing Padme. His turn in “Revenge of the Sith” seemed like a flipped switch, where Anakin went from loyal Jedi to sudden Sith Lord. I felt that had the Clone Wars stories been told before ROTS, Anakin’s turn would make a lot more sense. Instead, Anakin’s turn to the dark side comes off as more of a temper tantrum and less of an inner battle between good and evil. In “The Clone Wars,” which again leads up to the events in ROTS, we learn about Anakin’s other conflicts with the Jedi Council primarily surrounding Ahsoka Tano’s departure from the Jedi Order and the events that led up to it. When you look at Anakin’s turn through the lens of “The Clone Wars” it becomes less about the Emperor turning Anakin, and more about Anakin’s distrust for the Jedi Order being exploited. The Emperor didn’t pull Anakin into becoming Darth Vader; He simply nudged him after years of the Jedi Council’s questionable actions, against those for whom Anakin cared so deeply.
The problem is that these stories are told through animation, which sends many adults running for the hills. “Animation you say? I’m not a child.” The fact is though, the stories contained in “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels” bring you some of the best Star Wars legends we have seen thus far. I too ran from the animated series for years. It wasn’t until Netflix picked up the series and produced more episodes that I got on that wagon.
I think of all the lore that people miss out on in the different movies, as a result of not having seen any of the animated series. The characters you find in Season Two of the Mandalorian all have backstories that give you so much more insight into their motivations. Why does Bo Katan want the Dark Saber so bad? Why is Ahsoka Tano looking for Grand Admiral Thrawn? When it was announced that “a Jedi” would come looking for Grogu (Baby Yoda), the fact that it was Luke was only one of the options of who it could be. It also could have been Ezra Bridger, the Jedi Apprentice from Rebels, who was last seen being dragged off into hyperspace by Purrgil (essential space whales), with Grand Admiral Thrawn. It is possible that Ahsoka is looking for Thrawn to find out what happened to Ezra Bridger?
In “The Rise of Skywalker,” The Ghost, the ship from Rebels, is seen in the battle scenes. When the voices of the Jedi are heard calling to Rey at the end, among them are none other than Ahsoka Tano. Further back, when Maul appeared at the end of Solo, many people were shocked to see the Sith, whom they thought was killed at the end of TPM, alive and well. Had they been following the Animated Series, they would know that Maul was alive (as if falls down giant shafts in Star Wars hadn’t already been proven to be survivable).
What do all these stories have in common? Dave Filoni. Filoni has been the architect of these stories for more than a decade. With him at the helm, Star Wars is in good hands. If you thought the writing was good on “The Mandalorian” and you haven’t seen the various animated series, I strongly suggest you go back on your Disney+ account, and spend the next several weeks watching all of the stories contained in both “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels”. Not only do I believe you will enjoy it, but I also believe it will give context to “The Mandalorian” which will make the show better, and provide needed context to the movies that is so often missing. There are numerous guides to watching the show on the internet, providing various orders (as “The Clone Wars” is not chronological rather, various stories from The Clone Wars in multi-episode arcs) in which to watch the show. “Rebels” is a bit easier of a watch, and yes, at times “campy,” however later in those seasons is where super in-depth, Star Wars lore is combed through.
The fact that Disney made three sequel movies with little-to-no consultation from Filoni is almost criminal. Filoni is likely the biggest asset currently on the Star Wars storytelling team. He has proven, time and time again, to tell deeply compelling and engaging stories in the Star Wars Universe, connecting stories and characters in more meaningful ways than just forced cameo. As people have discovered the storytelling of “The Mandalorian,” to me it is old news, because Filoni has been doing this for years. If anything, I am glad that Filoni is getting the credit, he has deserved for so long.