After Andor, It's Time For The Mandalorian To Evolve

The current state of the "Star Wars" franchise is a bit strange. There hasn't been a feature announced or released in four years, with the Disney+ shows giving us the only depctions of a galaxy far, far away. "The Mandalorian" kicked this new era into high-gear back in 2019, introducing us to both the titular anti-hero (Pedro Pascal) and his companion, a 50-year-old Force-full baby named Grogu. Combining big bombastic action with fan service, it proved to be a big hit, spawning other similar series like "The Book of Boba Fett" and "Kenobi." However, what was once entertaining quickly became boring, making these series feel less urgent to watch weekly.

And then "Andor" came around. The first season of Tony Gilroy's two-part exploration of rebel fighter Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) felt like a breath of fresh air in comparison to the other three "Star Wars" series. Not only did it give new depth to the compelling titular character we were introduced to in "Rogue One," but it also explored parts of the franchise that we had never seen before. It gave us a new look at how evil the Galactic Empire actually was outside of flashy space fights, while also reminding us that every triumphant moment of the franchise often comes at a devastating cost.

It felt uniquely human despite its space setting, and that is exactly what this new batch of "Star Wars" media needed. Unfortunately, it sure is looking like this new season of "The Mandalorian" is going to walk back on that much-needed evolution.

A franchise reckoning

Let's get one thing clear: "The Mandalorian" would not work as a serious drama like "Andor." When I say that it should emulate the latter show, I don't want it to become a bleak look at fascism or capitalism. There are many aspects of "The Mandalorian" that work, and its somewhat lighthearted tone and focus on adventure are often quite entertaining.

However, what "The Mandalorian" needs to adapt from "Andor" is its own identity outside of the larger "Star Wars" universe. This was something that gradually became a problem as the series progressed, eventually succumbing to uncomfortable fan service, such as the live-action introduction of Ahsoka (Rosario Dawson) and the reveal of de-aged Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) taking brief custody over Grogu. This problem also seeped into "The Book of Boba Fett," which eventually became "Mando" season 2.5 towards the end of its run.

What made "Andor" ultimately so refreshing to watch was that, despite obviously being a part of the "Star Wars" franchise, it did not feel tethered by obligatory franchise reminders. Other than Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly), we got no recognizable characters or Easter eggs. It built upon what we already knew about the Empire and about the larger "Star Wars" story, but it was written to be watched by everyone, regardless of their familiarity with the franchise. "Andor" was essentially a compelling space drama and character study first, and a piece of "Star Wars" media second.

Why The Mandalorian needs to follow suit

"The Mandalorian" has always been at its best when it deals with parts of the "Star Wars" universe we have never explored before. It doesn't matter whether it's finding out more about the mysterious Mandalorian sect that our hero was raised in, or seeing brand new creatures and enemies fight against him and his adoptive son — the biggest strength that "The Mandalorian" has lies in its newness to the larger story. Unfortunately, it has increasingly become more intertwined with familiar stories and characters, making it devoid of any real individual identity.

That doesn't mean it can't regain it. "Andor" proved that compelling, thought-provoking stories can exist in the "Star Wars" universe without necessarily tying themselves down to pre-established canon or characters. We already know that some of the best moments in "The Mandalorian" happen when it just stands on its own, so why not embrace that?

Of course, there is a chance that they will do just that. This upcoming third season is expected to explore Mando on a journey of rediscovery while he takes on some sort of leadership role, so depending on what happens with that, the show could finally come into its own. We won't know this for certain, however, until "The Mandalorian" season 3 premieres on Disney+ on March 1, 2023.