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Is The Mandalorian season 2 betting too big on fan service?

A lack of appeal among casual fans could be a major pitfall going forward, says David Craig.

The Mandalorian

The latest episodes of The Mandalorian have been a treat for die-hard fans of the Star Wars franchise. Where the first season was a fun sci-fi romp that existed largely separate from the wider saga, this sophomore outing has been more embedded in existing lore by introducing characters from the expanded universe of novels and animated shows.

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But while these additions have made the most ardent followers very happy, one has to wonder whether one of the world’s biggest entertainment properties is becoming too niche for mainstream audiences.

Ever since word leaked in March that Rosario Dawson had been chosen to bring fan favourite animated character Ahsoka Tano into live-action, the arduous wait for her arrival has defined this entire season. Discussion around the teaser trailer and the first four episodes was largely overshadowed by speculation on her whereabouts, barring a brief intermission to discuss that fleeting Boba Fett cameo. And while Dawson’s debut was well worth the wait for the most passionate corners of the fandom, the question is: what about everyone else?

With an increasing number of avid fan communities cropping up online, it’s easy to forget that the majority of the Star Wars audience is comprised of more casual consumers. Some people might not want to believe that, but the fact is that you don’t get to The Force Awakens’ $2 billion box office gross without tapping into the mass market. With this in mind, a substantial number of The Mandalorian viewers have likely never watched a single episode of The Clone Wars or picked up an expanded universe novel – and for this group, the show must feel inaccessible at best.

The Mandalorian season 2

These people don’t get to share in the thrill of Ahsoka and Bo-Katan jumping to live-action, the re-emergence of the Darksaber or a namedrop for Grand Admiral Thrawn. Nor do they want hours of research to be a prerequisite for a completely satisfying Star Wars experience, which becomes a problem when knowledge of both The Clone Wars and Rebels is required for these reveals to have any major impact. Deprived of these pivotal moments, one has to wonder what is left to keep this quiet majority interested.

After all, it’s questionable just how much story The Mandalorian has to get truly invested in. Several of the standalone episodes have felt disposable, with little to offer besides some inconsequential world-building, while the overarching plot surrounding Giancarlo Esposito’s sinister Moff Gideon is taking so long to go anywhere that it hardly even registers. Assuming that the series is holding onto its audience (we cannot know for sure as Disney Plus does not release viewing figures), that grip could loosen in the coming weeks from a lack of casual appeal.

Giancarlo Esposito stars in The Mandalorian as Moff Gideon
Disney

No doubt some Star Wars fans would happily bid the masses farewell, keen to dive into the most niche and obscure corners of the universe without any holding back. But with the franchise arguably on a less-firm footing following the underwhelming box office performances of both Solo and The Rise of Skywalker (the latter making a profit of $300 million, of course, but still ranking as the least profitable film of the new trilogy), is shutting out the masses and doubling down on lesser known continuity really the correct way to rehabilitate it? Such a move might seem exciting in the short-term, but risks whittling down the audience of Star Wars in such a way that could prove harmful in the future.

Even ignoring that a fixation on convention and pre-established characters derailed the latest trilogy (looking at you, Palpatine), it also misses the point of why the franchise was created. In 2017, George Lucas controversially stated that he wrote A New Hope for “12-year-olds” and while the film was enjoyed across all ages, you can certainly see his point of view. From his perspective, this franchise exists to send children on an exciting journey to a galaxy far, far away, sparking their imagination and perhaps inspiring them to write their own adventure stories.

It goes back to the fundamental idea that Star Wars is, and should be, for everyone. In contrast, The Mandalorian seems increasingly targeted at only the most dedicated fans and runs the risk of losing what made the world fall in love with the franchise to begin with.

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The Mandalorian is available to stream on Disney Plus. Sign up to Disney+ now for £5.99 per month or £59.99 for a full year. Check out our list of the best movies on Disney Plus and best shows on Disney Plus, or visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.