Disney+ is officially here, and with it we finally got the live-action Star Wars show we were promised all those years ago. A gritty space western that dives into one of the most interesting corners of the Star Wars universe – Mandalorians – and also features the cutest little creature since Salacious Crumb? The Mandalorian should be every fan’s dream come through. And sure, for the most part people are raving about Ludwig Göransson’s score and of course, the aforementioned cute little 50-year-old creature. But even outside the complaints over the short runtimes for the episodes released so far, one particular argument made against the show has proven a bit baffling to me.

When we first meet the titular bounty hunter, he quickly dispatches some thugs, and captures his target, who he freezes in carbonite. When the Mandalorian goes to collect his bounty, he meets the leader of his bounty hunter guild at the all-too-familiar sight of a cantina. In-between the shots of a variety of cool-looking aliens, the Mandalorian and his guild leader talk about something called a fob, a chit, and a puck? This prompted a lot of talk on social media and amongst critics who argued that the show is too dependent on the viewer’s familiarity with the vast Extended Universe of Star Wars. But really, this is what makes the series quintessentially Star Wars in the first place.

Heavy spoilers for the first two episodes of The Mandalorian follow.

A Galaxy Far, Far Away

The thing about Star Wars as a franchise is that it’s always referencing itself in order to build its absolutely massive world. Decades before Solo: A Star Wars Story overloaded the screen with way too many unnecessary easter eggs, the original Star Wars threw us head-first into the middle of a years-long conflict without a single explanation.

Well, one explanation. The opening crawls in Star Wars serve to give the audience just enough information about the state of the world, like a troubadour introducing a long-forgotten tale (after all, everything in the franchise already happened a long time ago). Originally, George Lucas had a much longer opening crawl in mind before his buddy, Brian De Palma, helped him trim it down. The final opening crawl just lets you know that there is a civil war going on, the bad guys have a very powerful weapon and the good guys have stolen the plans for the weapon and are planning to destroy it.

From there on, the original Star Wars doesn’t give too much explanation about its strange, alien galaxy. Other than explaining secret plans like the Death Star (which is at this point technically a secret), or the Jedi (which are all but forgotten at this point), we just hear characters name-drop things are we are supposed to take them for granted. While on Tatooine, we’re introduced to creatures like the Sand People and even the Jawas without a single explanation to who they are, yet we quickly understand the threat they represent for our characters. The blue milk, power converters…none of those are given a single ounce of explanation, and if you watch the movie today you could think you need an additional hour browsing Wookieepedia to understand what all of that means. But when the movie came out, audiences didn’t have any reference points; they simply trusted the movie to tell them what they needed to know and that’s it. 

When Luke meets old Ben Kenobi and finds out about the Jedi and about his father, he asks Ben if he fought in the Clone Wars. What is that? We never find out, as it is never again brought up, at least until 25 years later with Attack of the Clones – yet you simply assumed it was a war that somehow involved clones, and both Obi-Wan and Anakin fought in it. That’s it. The movie doesn’t feel the need to explain it to us because both Obi-Wan and Luke know about it. When you’re talking to a war veteran, you don’t ask them to explain that Vietnam or WWII were, you just know it. The one major thing that the film does explain is The Force, because Luke has never heard of it – and it makes sense, considering his uncle didn’t want him to have anything to do with his father. Even then, The Force is discussed by several characters, including Darth Vader, Yoda, Tarkin and even Han Solo, so even if the movie explains it, it doesn’t feel as an infodump but as an opinion being shared between characters. 

By comparison, this was a big criticism of the prequel trilogy. It just dropped a ton of information on the viewer that was unnecessary and overwhelming. The Phantom Menace starts with a huge infodump during its opening crawl. Beyond what you think of the movie as a whole, or even the fact that a movie aimed at kids begins with economic talk, Senator Palpatine himself explains what the taxation dispute is later on, making it unnecessary to tell the audience about it twice. Worse yet, for all the jargon being tossed around, we never see the impact of this dispute or the blockade. Where the original Star Wars showed you the impact the big intergalactic conflicts had on the little guy, The Phantom Menace skips all that and we’re instead told that the people are suffering – by lavishly-dressed Senators sitting in fancy chairs at a palace. The prequels have a lot of talk about the Galactic Senate, corruption and bureaucracy, but we never see it happen or the actual impact it has on people.

A Mandalorian Walks Into A Bar

Which takes us to The Mandalorian. The Disney+ show instantly looks and feels more similar to the original trilogy. No, this isn’t about the use of practical effects or puppets versus CGI, but about the lived-in feeling you get when you step into the show.

One of the things that made the original Star Wars movies so unlike anything seen at the time was how old and broken-down things looked. Unlike the utopia of Star Trek, the story of Star Wars happened “a long time ago.” The ships, the towns, everything in the original movie looked old, dirty, like it was just put together from scraps. This served to sell the idea that “it is a period of civil war,” as the opening crawl tells us.

The Mandalorian takes this idea and runs with it, throwing us into the first few years of a post-civil war galaxy. The Empire might be gone, but things are definitely not great. In the span of a single casual conversation we learn The Imperial Credit is worthless and clients are no longer willing to pay the high Bounty Hunter Guild prices, which has led to very few, low-paying gigs (they won’t even cover fuel these days!) and too many bounty hunters fighting for scraps. This, of course, brings to mind the scene in Mos Eisley cantina in the original Star Wars where Luke and Obi-Wan try to get off-world, but have very little money to afford a smuggler. It’s a simple, off-handed way of telling us about the state of the galaxy in casual conversation. But even more importantly, like the original movies, it does this through the eyes of a regular guy just trying to make a living in a cruel galaxy. That the Empire has fallen is not what matters, but that the fall of economic stability is forcing our main character to take under-the-table, dangerous jobs is what’s important to the story.

Likewise, in that same scene we get a whole lot of name-dropping to things like chits, fobs and pucks without an explanation as to what those mean. Of course, like many writers have expressed, this could be seen as a nod to fans of the Extended Universe, rewarding them for decades spent reading books and comics – but forcing everyone else to pause the show every 2 minutes to google the meaning of a term. On the other hand, you don’t need to google these things. Just as beskar iron is a piece of lore that has been established before and is definitely an easter egg, things like fobs and pucks are new to this particular story, so you won’t find it on Wookieepedia (well, you can now, but only due to the show). These things serve to expand the world of the show in the same way power-converters, blue milk and parsecs made the world of the original Star Wars feel lived-in without the need to overexplain everything to the audience.

If you haven’t seen the animated shows or read a single book or comic, The Mandalorian is slowly giving you everything you need to know about its titular character, his work and his culture. We don’t need to know how it all connects because it makes sense for the titular character. He knows that a credit chit or a fob is, so we don’t need to know. What we do need to know is how these things affect the characters and their motivations, and just like the original Star Wars did 42 years ago, The Mandalorian is using a little guy to tell us the story of a massive galaxy far, far away.

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