For a long, long time, television was a clear step below the movies. It wasn’t an unbridgeable gulf – Clint Eastwood stared off as an actor on cowboy TV series Rawhide – but it was big enough of a moat to make crossing it very difficult.
The idea of taking a still viable cinema franchise and doing a version for television – say, making a James Bond series in the 60s or 70s – was crazy. If you’ve heard anything at all about the internet’s newest fave Baby Yoda you probably already know where I’m going with this.
Disney’s plans for total media domination aren’t exactly a secret, and streaming Star Wars series The Mandalorian is a big part of them. Which is a little surprising, because the show itself is basically a big-budget version of the kind of television series that was standard 60 years ago: a bunch of stand-alone episodes that involve a lone hero doing what he’s got to do in a dangerous time. Some call it a western, other, slightly more snobbish types call it a samurai series, and those with half a brain know that during the 50s and 60s the samurai and western genres fed off of each other and trying to separate them is kind of silly.
The big touchstone here now that Baby Yoda is floating around is Lone Wolf and Cub, an (excellent) manga series that spawned as series of (pretty decent) movies, and then television series and other movies and comic book sequels and loads of rip-offs because the idea of a super-deadly tough guy wandering around protecting a baby / small child is a really good one.
But again, Lone Wolf and Cub is a product of the early 70s, and so not exactly cutting-edge television. But we all know what else is a product of the early 70s’ fading fascination with westerns and samurai and lone heroes and so on: Star Wars. Doing a Star Wars take on Lone Wolf and Cub is such a Star Wars thing it’s no wonder people are excited, because it suggests that there are still relevant areas of the pop culture past Star Wars can rip off to stay alive.
So while the Star Wars movie in cinemas now is being pitched as “an ending” – storylines will be wrapped up, characters might die, whatever comes next will have moved on – what will really be ending is the idea of telling big stories in the Star Wars universe.
Disney thought they had another Marvel, where characters make big decisions that affect the course of the world around them; what they really had was another James Bond, where characters battle against an unchanging backdrop and you have to space things out because when things don’t change things get boring fast. But where James Bond has firmly remained a movie character, the future of Star Wars – even if it keeps coming back to the big screen – is good old-fashioned serial drama, better known as television.
Culturally The Mandalorian is going to be the biggest Star Wars hit of the year even if the new movie makes a trillion dollars; the spaceships stayed big, it’s just the screen that got small.
Written by Anthony Morris