In Clint Eastwood’s 1960s collaborations with Sergio Leone—the films that both made Eastwood’s star and created the Spaghetti Western genre—he played the Man With No Name, a grizzled bounty hunter who wasn’t so much a “hero” as he was a guy whose self-interest sometimes rubbed shoulders with decency. Throughout the 100-minute runtime of their second film, For a Few Dollars More, Eastwood’s face rests at a 60-40 ratio of “ruggedly handsome” and “intimidating.” Watch the final duel again: He swaggers in, chewing on his hand-rolled cigar, stare a mile long, instantly and totally in control of the situation. The bandit deigns to make a move for his pistol. Then time slows down, and Eastwood, as cold as you could never be, shakes his head no.
It was the poncho, draped just so, that did it for actor Jeremy Bulloch. While shooting the The Empire Strikes Back, he noticed his character Boba Fett wore a cape just like it. Bulloch decided to model Fett’s mannerisms after Eastwood in Fistful, which is to say that the space bounty hunter, like the Man With No Name, is impossibly self-possessed. At least until that iconic Wilhelm scream Fett lets out as he falls—with his jetpack?—into the sarlacc pit. It was a pretty stupid death befitting a character George Lucas assumed would be minor in the long run, and not one generations of fans, filmmakers, and showrunners would find cool as hell. And this is despite him speaking only four lines of dialogue in his first on-screen appearance.
I’m thinking about Boba Fett, and Clint Eastwood, and poncho-wearing men that do wet work with minimal fuss, because The Mandalorian is out next week on Disney’s new streaming service, Disney+. It’s the first of several Star Wars properties launching on the service—a Cassian Andor vehicle! Obi-Wan Kenobi show coming 2020! The seventh season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars! It also looks cool as hell. We’ve got a rundown outpost on a barren, dusty planet. We’ve got Werner Herzog talking over moody shots of scores of Stormtrooper heads on bladed pikes. We’ve got no-look headshots. We’ve got our aspirationally indifferent lead delivering a single line of dialogue that reveals absolutely nothing about him.
Who is “The Mandalorian”? Well, maybe I should start by telling you who he’s not. Sort of like how Fett’s cloak only resembles Eastwood’s woven poncho, Fett’s connection to the titular Mandalorian is circumstantial—they dress the same, and they’re both bounty hunters, but that’s where the similarities end.
Remember, if you can stand it, Attack of the Clones. At one point a young Obi-Wan Kenobi goes to check out the stormtrooper assembly line on the rainy planet of Kamino. What Obi-Wan discovers is that all of the stormtroopers are copies of the Mandalorian Jango Fett, a fearsome warrior even by the standards of an entire race of fearsome warriors. Jango lived there on the Kaminoan base with his son (and his clone) Boba, who survives him when Jango is beheaded by Mace Windu. With Clones, and with a shot of Boba holding his father’s decapitated head I’ve never really stopped thinking about, Lucas cemented that Boba Fett was never a real, blood Mandalorian, from the planet Mandalore, but a bereft son wearing a culture as a costume.
The Mandalorian, played by Pedro Pascal, is an actual, dyed-in-the-wool Mandalorian, hiring out his services on the outskirts of the galaxy, sometime after the collapse of the Empire following Episode VI, but before the rise of the First Order. In other words, the show takes place in a lawless wasteland where survival walks hand in hand with tightfistedness, which is exactly how the scene should be set for a western. “Our guy is operating in a much more unforgiving landscape,” showrunner Jon Favreau recently told Entertainment Weekly. “How does somebody earn a living when there’s no structure to society anymore and everything is collapsing in on itself? How do you work your way through the world?”
By killing people, for money, it seems. While that’s sort of cut-and-dried in terms of ethics, Favreau talks about the Mandalorian—who has no name through a teaser, two trailers, and months of coverage—as far more complex than Boba Fett. Fett was a reprobate—he worked for a slave trader, he tortured Han Solo, he worked for a slave trader. The Mandalorian, deep down, Pascal is convinced, wants to do the Right Thing. “But his duties could very much be in conflict with his destiny and doing the right thing has many faces. It can be a very windy road,” the actor said to EW.
If all the shootouts and glaive fights and tense conversations in dark rooms are anything to go by, it looks like a windy road indeed. And there’s still a chance that Boba Fett could turn up at some point: There are Star Wars fans the internet over holding out hope that the original bounty hunter isn’t quite for certain, 100 percent dead yet. I’m imagining what that would look like: a much older Fett, standing just outside the cantina at high noon, locking visors with his successor. He reaches for his blaster. The Mandalorian, with much newer, shinier armor, as cold as you could never be, shakes his head no.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly identified the Clint Eastwood–Sergio Leone movie in which the duel took place as A Fistful of Dollars. The scene took place in For a Few Dollars More.