The Mandalorian has just finished up its second season and I wanted to talk about some of the obvious places where the show has picked up its inspiration. I’m not going to talk about the second season finale because that way lies madness and much exploding of heads.
The Star Wars universe is vast and weighty. It’s become practically byzantine what with the sequels, the prequels, the animated series, the novels, the comic books and all other manner of other spin-off product. The latest of these, in case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard, is Jon Favreau’s live action series for Disney+, The Mandalorian.
The Title character of the series is a mysterious figure. An orphan of war, he has been raised as a Mandalorian, a clan-based cultural group that is composed of members from multiple species all bound by a common culture, creed, and code. They originate from the planet Mandalore in the galaxy’s Outer Rim Territories and are legendary warriors against the Jedi.
Indeed, the Mandalorian follows a strict code, which he justifies with the phrase “This is The Way”
If the setup sounds familiar it’s because the show has been heavily influenced by the so-called “Spaghetti Westerns”, Italian Western films that were produced by Sergio Leone throughout the sixties and seventies. Films like A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.
Favreau is quite candid about that. “I like the image of the Mandalorian because it really hearkened back to the Westerns,” Favreau has said. “It’s a deconstructed version of Clint Eastwood in ‘The Man with No Name.’ That’s a great, mysterious, fun character to see the world through.”
Those films made Clint Eastwood a star and they proved to be huge hits. Although outwardly tales of the American West, Leone’s films were in fact heavily based on the Japanese Samurai pictures of Akira Kurosawa.
But the big plot point of the first and second season was the introduction of “The Child” who is more commonly referred to as “Baby Yoda” because he looks like an infant version of the Jedi Master. The Mandalorian travels the galaxy in his ship with the child in tow. They have a special bond, now. They are, as the Mandalorian puts it, “…a clan of two.”
And this, will be familiar to anyone who is a fan of Japanese comics, or Manga, because of a title called Lone Wolf and Cub.
Lone Wolf and Cub is a Japanese manga created by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima. First published in 1970 Lone Wolf and Cub chronicles the story of Ogami Ittō, the shōgun’s executioner. Disgraced by false accusations from the Yagyū clan, he is forced to take the path of the assassin. Along with his three-year-old son, Daigorō, they seek revenge on the Yagyū clan and are known as “Lone Wolf and Cub”.
The manga has been adapted into six films, four plays, a television series, and is widely recognized as an important and influential work. One of the works that it has influenced, I believe, is The Mandalorian.
I’m not alone in this. Many others have pointed out the similarities and although Favreau has not been specific about the influence, nor has Dave Filoni, the show’s executive producer, both Favreau and Filoni are clearly familiar with width and breadth of Samurai cinema. Filoni’s work on the earlier animated Star Wars series Rebels and The Clone Wars contain many nods to the samurai film genre.
And, of course, George Lucas has never hidden the fact that he based large portions of the original Star Wars on samurai movies he loved. Specifically, Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. In a 2001 interview for the Criterion Collection’s release of The Hidden Fortress, Lucas makes plain the influence that Kurosawa had upon Star Wars.
Ironically enough Kurosawa was inspired by the Western movies of the American director John Ford. It’s fascinating to think that there is a meandering line of influence that begins with Ford and John Wayne, through Kurosawa, then Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood to now Star Wars and The Mandalorian.
On a personal note, this is obviously my last post for the year. I’ll see you again in what I think we all hope will be a better New Year.