When Jon Favreau set out to make The Mandalorian, the Star Wars franchise’s first-live-action series, he had a strong sense of the world he wanted to create: Intimate as well as grand, the series should harken to the vision of the original Star Wars trilogy, while taking the universe established by George Lucas in new and exciting directions.
“This was an opportunity to prune everything back to the beginnings again,” the executive producer said during Deadline’s virtual Contenders Television: The Nominees. “And having new characters allowed us to do that.”
The central character for Favreau would be Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal), a lone Mandalorian bounty hunter who chases down criminals in the outer reaches of the galaxy. In pre-production, the creator looked back at Star Wars’ beginnings with A New Hope, intending to surround the character with elements of the genres that inspired Lucas to begin with, including samurai films and Westerns. But in doing so, he came to an epiphany. “What was really mind-blowing is there’s so much to trying to create that authenticity, to make it feel akin to what George had done,” he said, “and then you realize that George was doing it without a road map.”
From Favreau’s perspective, the experience of developing the series spoke to the challenges faced today by a great number of filmmakers in a landscape dominated by pre-existing IP. “To have a way to create a freshness, while still being respectful of what came before, I think is one of the challenges of storytellers in this moment, because we’re inundated with so much content,” he said. “Now, everything’s at the touch of a finger, so everybody has a tremendous cultural context…You know, everybody’s checking your work.”
To explain how he grappled with this pressure—the inevitability of comparison to Lucas’ Star Wars films—Favreau offered an analogy. “We’re DJs, playing Beatles songs. He’s The Beatles,” he said. “And the trick is, how do you recombine that?”
Among the collaborators Favreau tapped to help pull of that trick were director/executive producer Dave Filoni and Oscar-winning composer Ludwig Göransson, both of whom joined Favreau on the Disney+ panel.
Long an influential figure in the world of Star Wars, Filoni played a major role in the creation of an instantly iconic, new character—The Child, otherwise known as Baby Yoda. “Dave had done a sketch of kind of a Michelangelo/E.T. moment, and that was a source of inspiration,” Favreau shared about the Child’s first scene, drawing parallels to Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” and Steven Spielberg’s famous alien. “Then, Doug Chiang and the whole art department started generating drawings of it, and the Legacy [Effects] people built it.”
Getting his first shot at live-action directing on The Mandalorian, on Episodes 1 and 5, Filoni certainly was met with a learning curve. At the same time, he would rely heavily in the process on lessons he’d learned from Lucas on Clone Wars, about shooting and editing, within the context of virtual production.
Göransson, on the other hand, was able to pen a completely unique score for a universe most closely associated with five-time Oscar winner John Williams, using a set of woodwind recorders as a starting point. “For some reason, I gravitated to this instrument that I used to play as a kid, so it was just going to the studio and playing around, away from the computer, with instruments that I could touch, like piano,” he said. “When I saw Star Wars for the first time and heard the music, I remember that feeling it had, and I kind of wanted to re-create that feeling.”
Working over the years primarily in film, Favreau is a major fan of the experience one gets in a theater. Releasing The Mandalorian on a streaming platform, then, was a new experience, though it was certainly no less communal. “[It] has created this really interesting flow, creatively, through the digital world,” the creator said, “that I’d never encountered before.”
On July 28, when this year’s Emmy nominations were announced, The Mandalorian stunned by snagging 15, including breaking into the Outstanding Drama Series race in its first go-round. At September’s virtual ceremonies, the series will also compete in the categories of Guest Actor, Cinematography, Production Design, Music Composition, Picture Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Special Visual Effects, Stunt Coordination, Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes, Prosthetic Makeup, and Character Voice-Over Performance.
The Mandalorian will be back for a second season on Disney+ next year.
Check out the video above, and click here to watch all of Sunday’s Contenders TV panels.
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