Since Disney became the steward of Star Wars, the franchise has added four films, with a fifth, The Rise of Skywalker, soon to follow. Each of the trailers that preceded those installments struck a carefully calibrated balance between familiar and fresh, introducing us to new wonders while repeatedly reminding us of the series’ greatest hits. Those early looks, set to the strains of John Williams’s score, engineered fan frenzies by trading on nostalgia: Han and Chewie flying the Falcon, Lando laughing, Leia leading, Luke saying something mystical, lightsabers snapping to life—even a cackle from the thought-to-be departed Emperor Palpatine. Disney delivered new locales and characters, but it never strayed far from the faces and stories we knew.
The trailer for The Mandalorian, which premiered at Disney’s D23 Expo on Friday, disintegrates that traditional, lucrative formula. The minute-and-a-half-long look at the first Star Wars live-action series, which is slated to launch alongside streaming service Disney+ on November 12 and air the rest of its eight-episode first season on a staggered schedule, doesn’t do Jedi, TIE Fighters, or other retread ideas. Instead, it opens with images of dirt-streaked stormtrooper helmets buried in sand and mounted on spikes, symbolizing that this series, which is set roughly five years after Return of the Jedi, represents something new.
The trailer doesn’t divulge much that hadn’t already been revealed through earlier announcements and interviews and the several minutes of footage that leaked at Star Wars Celebration in April, in which the Mandalorian accepts a mysterious, risky assignment. We get glimpses of varied locales ranging from lush forests to dry deserts and dirty, lived-in city centers. We see some of the leads, including Gino Carano as former Rebel shock trooper Cara Dune, Carl Weathers as bounty hunter guild leader Greef Carga, and Giancarlo Esposito as a still-unspecified character who appears to be commanding a battalion of Death Troopers. We see blasters, speeders, an AT-ST, and IG-11, the droid voiced by Taika Waititi (who also directs some of the series). We watch the masked Mandalorian, played by Pedro Pascal, kick some low-life ass. And we hear a single line of dialogue, voiced by Werner Herzog, whom the leaked scene portrays as an ex-Imperial bigwig. “Bounty hunting is a complicated profession,” he rasps. “Don’t you agree?”
Bounty hunting may be complicated, but the recent history of Star Wars suggests that it’s simpler than making a show about bounty hunting. Based on the first footage, though, creator, writer, and showrunner Jon Favreau—who’s already at work on the series’ second season—may make it work.
The Iron Man director, who’s fresh off of executive-producing Avengers: Endgame and directing The Lion King—two of the 10 top-grossing films of all time—as well as appearing in Spider-Man: Far From Home, said in an interview published this week that he’s always wanted to explore the scenes glimpsed in passing in the Star Wars movies—what it was like on Tatooine, what went on in the cantina. “I love the idea of a darker, freakier side of Star Wars, the Mad Max aspect of Star Wars,” Favreau explained.
Captivated as we’ve been by the galaxy-spanning battle between dark and light, the tantalizing, smaller-scale stories that seemed to lurk at the periphery of the frame have always been central to the Star Wars spectator experience. People have been trying to tell stories about the seedy side of Star Wars for years, but Favreau (who did voice work in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Solo) is the first to succeed in bringing those stories to screen. The Mandalorian looks like the culmination of a stop-and-start effort to expand the Star Wars storytelling palette that started long, long ago.
At the third Star Wars Celebration convention in 2005, plans were announced for a live-action TV show, which entered development in 2009 and was tentatively titled Star Wars: Underworld. Fifty scripts were written, and many more planned, for the film-noir-inspired series, which was set between the prequels and the original trilogy and described as “Deadwood in space” and “Empire on steroids.” In 2012, former Lucasfilm producer Rick McCallum said, “If we can ever get it together … it’ll be the most awesome part of the whole franchise.”
Underworld never got off the ground, but its ethos survived in a number of doomed spiritual successors. First there was Star Wars 1313, an adult-oriented video game that was reportedly planned to tie into Underworld, take place in Coruscant’s criminal underbelly, and star an original bounty hunter (who was later replaced by Boba Fett). When developer LucasArts dissolved, 1313 went the way of Underworld.
Later, Visceral Games, famous for its Dead Space sci-fi survivor-horror series, developed a new Star Wars project, codenamed Ragtag, which would be “a gritty game about scoundrels and criminals.” Visceral envisioned the game as an offshoot of the main Star Wars story line that would be based on new characters, without a Sith or a Skywalker in sight. By then, though, Electronic Arts owned the Star Wars license, and EA execs bridled at the idea of releasing a Star Wars game that skirted so many concepts and characters closely associated with the series. For various reasons, Ragtag was canceled, and only a few seconds of footage from the game ever reached the public. Yet another game that would star “a scoundrel or bounty hunter,” codenamed Orca, was axed by EA earlier this year.
Even as these attempts to delve into unsavory Star Wars plunged into a series of studio sarlaccs, the desire to tell a story in that style persisted. In December 2015, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy invoked Underworld and 1313, declaring that the former’s subject matter was “something we very much would like to explore,” calling the latter’s concept art “unbelievable,” and concluding that “we may very well develop those things further.”
To some extent, the studio has. The spinoff films Rogue One and Solo told stories that were previously ticketed for Underworld, and the animated series Rebels—created by Dave Filoni, who also executive-produces and directs The Mandalorian—and Resistance took the franchise off the beaten path. All of those movies and shows, though, bore a greater resemblance to Star Wars proper than The Mandalorian does, relying on links to established characters and more kid-friendly features (even if reshoots were required to soften the tone). The Mandalorian is certain to make winking callbacks and connections to the franchise’s existing timeline and narrative, but it may be the boundary-breaking Star Wars story that the thwarted creators of Underworld, 1313, and other scrapped projects were trying to tell.
In 2012, McCallum explained that Underworld didn’t fit into the TV model that existed at the time. Cable TV lacked the money to make it, and network TV lacked the long run times and the freedom to tell the “adult” stories that Underworld’s architects envisioned. But “television as we know it,” McCallum forecasted, was “about to implode.”
In the ensuing several years, that prediction came true, yielding a third route for TV creators: deep-pocketed streaming networks. Disney, which bought Lucasfilm in 2012 at a cost it’s already recouped, is about to wade into the streaming wars with Disney+, and it’s depending on The Mandalorian to serve as its highest-profile launch title. Nothing we’ve seen so far suggests that the big-budget, visually advanced production won’t be up to the task.
In the era of never-ending IP, fans consume each helping of their favorite franchise not just as a standalone entity, but as part of a patchwork that pays off prequels and sets up sequels. With the trilogy J.J. Abrams orchestrated about to conclude and future film trilogies still indistinct and distant, Star Wars is entering a pivotal period, one in which legacy characters recede from starring roles and the franchise is finally free to experiment.
Star Wars can’t (and shouldn’t) shake its past completely; on Friday, Disney also confirmed that Ewan McGregor will be reprising his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in another Disney+ series, and Filoni’s animated series The Clone Wars will return for a final season in February. But between The Mandalorian, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (a new game due out in November), and a third Disney+ series featuring Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor in a prequel to Rogue One, Disney’s Star Wars script seems more flexible than before. This fall, we’ll finally find out whether seedy Star Wars will be what we imagined.