From show creator Jon Favreau, the Disney+ original series The Mandalorian is a story that’s set in the Star Wars universe, after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order. The eight-episode first season is a new story that follows new characters in a portion of a familiar world that is as yet unexplored, as a lone gunfighter (Pedro Pascal) sets out on a harrowing journey in the outer reaches of the galaxy.
At a conference during the press day for the launch of this new streaming service, executive producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, along with cast members Pedro Pascal (“The Mandalorian”), Gina Carano (“Cara Dune”) and Carl Weathers (“Greef Carga”), revealed absolutely no secrets (of course!) but talked about what this new project allows them to do with the storytelling and technology, the excitement of getting to be a part of the Star Wars universe, the collaborative environment for the directors, what they learned from Season 1 that they’re applying to Season 2 (which has already started shooting), the experience of having George Lucas come to the set, and why they chose to reference the Star Wars holiday special.
JON FAVREAU: For me, as somebody who grew up with Star Wars and really having been formed around what I experienced when I was little, with the first film, there was some aesthetic to it that I really gravitated to. My whole taste in movies was probably formed, in a big way, from seeing George Lucas’s original film. I learned about cinema through the lens of that film. My father would explain to me, “This is a lot like samurai movies,” or “This is a lot like westerns,” or “This is a lot like World War II films.” And so, that became my inroad. And then, there was The Power of Myth, with Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, that was filmed up at the Ranch, and that opened me up to mythic structure, and my understanding of mythology and storytelling. And so, to come back and return to this with the freedom that this new platform affords, because there’s nothing to compare it to, nothing has been on TV, other than the holiday special, the idea of telling the story over more than just a couple of hours, told every few years, opens us up to this novelization of story and a return back to the roots, in many ways, of the Saturday afternoon serial films that my parent’s generation grew up with. Drawing from that type of style of storytelling lends itself really well to what we’re tackling here. It’s funny not to have a preciousness in the way that we’re telling the stories because we’re coming back to you next week with another one. To engage the audience, in the way that I enjoy being engaged, with a bigger budget and a lot of the qualities and aesthetics of a film, but the novelization of serialized storytelling is where it really opens up a lot of freedom and opportunity, where we don’t feel like we’re repeating or copying anything else that people have experienced with Star Wars.
DAVE FILONI: It’s exciting for me ‘cause I get to be a part of it. As a kid, growing up, I would watch Star Wars, every week. And as television got more and more genre, over the years, I remember when Star Trek: The Next Generation came out with the promise of better visual effects on television, and it took a big leaps. As somebody that’s always been into fantasy and science fiction, you were always waiting for a moment where you thought that the images on television were as good as what you were seeing in the theater, but there was a big separation, when I was a kid. Now, it’s gotten so close. We can make something like Star Wars because the technology has advanced. That’s one of the dreams that the George [Lucas] had. Even when I worked with him on Clone Wars, he would talk about the future being streaming, and the future being episodic, serialized Star Wars. So, it’s cool to get to help make it.
FAVREAU: Part of what’s fun about this and this new service, everybody, wherever they are, if they have this new service, they’re seeing it first. It’s nice to have people be able to experience something, at the same time, which is what I really loved about watching Game of Thrones. There’s that sense of, “What’s gonna happen this week?,” and it’s not a cascading down. Now, of course, the service isn’t available everywhere yet, but as it rolls out, hopefully everybody, around the world, will be able to have that same experience. For us, there’s a really fun dialogue that we’re looking forward to, that we usually normally only get at the conventions, where you get to show it, people get to react, and then you get to talk about it. That gets us excited as filmmakers, and that dialogue unfolds. I’m happy it’s being released at a rhythm. Although we’re not able to react in what we’re doing ‘cause all of those episodes are done, it certainly will inform what we’re doing in the second season, which we’re actually in the first week of. The first week of the second season is under our belt.
For the actors, what was the moment that you realized, “I’m truly in the Star Wars universe”?
PEDRO PASCAL: Well, putting the helmet on, for sure. They had it handy, in our first meeting, to see if it would fit, and it fit perfectly. Very simply, trying the costume on, for the first time, and looking in the mirror, you can’t see very well with the helmet, but I got a pretty clear impression of it. If you grow up, playing with Star Wars toys and seeing the movies, and then you’re staring at yourself and you are the image of that childhood imagination, it’s a super pinch me moment.
GINA CARANO: For me, it was my first day on set, seeing the whole costume come together. Jon and Dave came and made such a big deal, and were like, “Oh, my gosh! Look how great you look!” And I was like, “Wow, this is really great!” But then, I saw that they did that with everybody. But it really, honestly was one of my favorite unforgettable moments, being on set and seeing the other cast members, either behind a helmet or as a creature. Actually, my first day on set, I was up on a Blurrg, on this big thing, and I was like, “This is it. This is my life now.”
CARL WEATHERS: Jon did a slow roll on me. He was like, “Okay, I’ve got this thing that I wanna talk to you about.” I knew Jon, so we’ve had a lot of interaction, even though it wasn’t really personal stuff, and I really admire him. I’m sincere about that. This guy is super smart. He’s ridiculously smart, about much more than just making movies. So, I was fascinated. That’s the kind of people that I want to be around to know, so that maybe I can grab something that he’s got, that I really admire. When we finally had a meeting about it, I walked into the room and all of this art was on the walls. He is so passionate about it all, and it was all magnificent. It was some of the most beautiful artwork that you could ever see. If you were a collector, you’d wanna go through and take pieces off the wall ‘cause it’s that beautiful. And then, he started telling me what this was about and about this character. I was like, “Are you kidding me? I’m working on something that Disney is gonna be behind. I’m working on something that Jon Favreau is gonna be marshalling through. And I’m working on a Star Wars invention. Then, I got the chance to meet David Filoni and I was like, “Oh, shit, we’re in good hands. We’re in really good hands.” That was my introduction, and I’m happy to be a part of it.
FAVREAU: We really did rope him in. He’s not kidding. It started off with, “Hey, maybe you’ll do a couple of episodes.” And then, we really liked his character. We worked him into the show, a lot more than he agreed to. And now, in Season 2, he’s a part of our directors’ brigade. I know him through the Director’s Guild. We met and I was a fan of his acting, but he’s been directing more lately. So, this whole high tech, innovative set that we’ve developed for these specific stories, by Carl being there and being a part of it, and seeing how we were putting this together and experimenting with it, and seeing it all come together, he was perfectly qualified. He understood the story, the characters, the cast, and the technology, so it’s really fun to be working with Carl now.
WEATHERS: I’ve gotta hit the ball back because honestly I don’t think it would have happened with a lot of people. Because Jon knows that I wanna direct, more and more, he promised, last year, when I agreed to do this, that if it got a second season, he’d give me a shot. And I’ve gotta tell you, I’ve been around enough to know that people don’t always keep their word. Being a part of this is one of the greatest things that’s happened in all of the years that I’ve been in entertainment.
Speaking of directors, there are a lot of names that you’ve pulled in. What have their contributions been?
FAVREAU: You’re gonna see a lot of people that are working in this incubator of story and technology, come together ‘cause they love Star Wars with an enthusiasm that seems to be very contagious. There’s a real enthusiasm that’s very organic, as we’re telling the stories. It’s a very collaborative environment. We talk a lot about story, and I write most of it, but that’s just the jumping off point for the directors to be very involved and very collaborative. For all of the people who are involved, whether it’s ILM or Lucasfilm or the cast of The Mandalorian, it’s this really fun collaborative thing that takes on its own life and own personality. I think you’ll see, with each of the directors, unlike a lot of television, the directors are really being given an opportunity to have authorship over it, as though it were a film. So, it’s been very exciting for us to have that kind of environment to come to work to, every day.
Taika Waititi is one of the series directors, and he’s also voicing a character in the show. What does he, specifically, bring to this, and what’s it like to work with him?
FAVREAU: When you bring in a director like Taika, he’s clearly doing it because he wants to. The guy is just such a powerhouse right now, creatively. Everybody’s really discovering what a talent he is. People who follow comedy or independent film knew about him long ago, and now, he’s really enjoying a wonderful run. So, when he shows up, it gets everybody excited because it’s a fresh energy on the set. He finds opportunities for humor. He brings his style of humor to it, but he’s also a fan. To me, that was the bottom line and the prerequisite. You didn’t have to be the most experienced. You didn’t have to have worked on Star Wars before. You didn’t even have to have ever directed live-action before. We had a few people that hadn’t done that. The thing was that you had to be willing to collaborate, you had to love Star Wars, and you had to want to do something great and help invent this new thing. To have Taika in there as somebody who’s a battle-hardened veteran, who could come in with tremendous instincts, and to work with the actors and bring that, for me, to just be able to work with him was great. I had known him for awhile, from the Marvel world, and we had been sharing experiences that we’d had, but to actually have him be on the set, and to witness what he did was, was tremendous. And then, to have him do the voice of IG-11 and bring that specific tone to that character, but also the tone to what he directed, was fantastic. I’m grateful for that.
In making the first season, you learn the infrastructure of how to put it together and what you can accomplish in the time frame. What did you learn, making Season 1, that you were able to carry over to Season 2?
FILONI: I learned a tremendous amount, every day. For me, one of the things is that I was on set, every day, the whole season, so I learned from watching every single one of our directors and from watching our great cast, and from everyone, behind the scenes. I treated it as boot camp for me to learn this type of filmmaking, but then, I also tried to offer the knowledge that had been passed onto me by George, for Star Wars things and just the way that he liked to shoot things. It definitely affected the way I look at a day and what I can accomplish in a day. That’s a big difference for me, filmmaking wise. We arrived on a backlot and the DP, Greig [Fraser], “Well, the sun is up, we’ve gotta get going.” And I was like, “Oh, right, ‘cause it’s gonna go down.” We don’t really have that problem in animation. It would get to be 6 o’clock and everyone would get squirrely and go, “The sun is going down!” And you’re like, “Right, and then we’re screwed ‘cause the whole set is going down.” There are very tangible things that happen. I love having this experience. There are there advantages and disadvantages to each live-action and animation. At this point, I don’t prefer one or the other. I like both experiences, and they’re both unique. There’s something about the concrete nature of live-action. It’s incredibly spontaneous. It’s gonna happen right there, in the moment, and then, that’s it. Whereas in animation, I can tweak a tiny eyebrow or a tiny smirk, or give a little bit of a push in a direction that will dramatically change the character. You have to get all of these variables to come together and be aware of it. It’s not like you’re controlling any of it, as much as you’re guiding it. You’re looking at everything, all at once. Whereas, in animation, it’s like a recipe that I can keep adding ingredients to. You have a lot of flexibility in digital, thank god, and in post, you can do a lot. But capturing that moment, right in front of you, is the real magic of it all, and is something that I’d been craving to try. Luckily, we have an incredible crew and cast that can capture those moments. That’s what I learned.
Jon, you posted a photo of yourself and George Lucas on set. What was that day like?
FAVREAU: I met Dave up at the Ranch mixing Iron Man, and he was secretly working with George on Clone Wars before anybody had ever heard of it. I showed him Iron Man, and he showed me Clone Wars and I was like, “If you ever need a voice on this, I’d love to do it,” which turned into me playing a Mandalorian, named Pre Vizsla, on his show. George had worked with Dave for 10 years, so a lot of what’s wonderful about working with Dave is that continuity of vision. George came by with Kathy [Kennedy], ‘cause they have a long-standing relationship. The thing that really stood out, and he didn’t say it in front of Dave because he didn’t want to embarrass him, was that I could see he was very proud that Dave was taking the next step. When George discovered Dave, Dave was just an animator that he brought in, and he thought it was a joke and that his friends were pulling a prank on him. And then, after he met with George, George said, “Do you wanna run this show?” And so, it’s been a long relationship, in understanding filmmaking, understanding Star Wars, and now, as we get into live-action, taking the next step. So, a big reason that he was there was ‘cause he wanted to make sure that I was continuing Dave’s journey with him. I thought it felt very special. It was a very special day.
Dave, is there anyone from Star Wars canon that we should look out for in The Mandalorian?
FILONI: No. It’d be terrible to learn about anything here, now, rather than watching it. That’s really the most organic moment, and everybody will be excited. This has been a real special thing for me. I became interested in live-action from working with George, and the way that he talked about how we should shoot Clone Wars. He’d always speak in live-action terms. I didn’t always understand how to apply the terminology, but over the years, I got a little better with it. He was so steeped in technology and pushing technology, on Clone Wars, that it just became a part of the language of filmmaking for me, as well. And working with Jon was really natural because it continues that. He’s very forward-thinking with technology and tools to help enable greater storytelling. I saw that with The Jungle Book, which was so very inspirational, and the work that he did on The Lion King. So, for me, it was a great opportunity to work with somebody that works in a similar vein, but I could really be challenged. Jon has challenged me, creatively and storytelling wise, and you need that sharpening. You need to improve and continue the legacy. I see this whole path as very Star Wars, for me. I’ve had a couple of mentors now, and I’m very privileged to have the ones that I’ve had. My storytelling is definitely better from Jon taking me in and showing me the ropes of doing live-action and my own writing. So, are there any surprises? There are always surprises. You’ll have to wait and see.
If a Mandalorian never takes off his helmet, will we ever see him without it?
FAVREAU: Do you really wanna know that?!? You don’t wanna know that!
Pedro, are you always in the costume, when you have the helmet on, or is it sometimes your stunt double?
PASCAL: Stunt doubles are essential to every large production, just so you know, even for the strongest and most agile people. None of it can get down without the incredible stunt work. You have no idea, the amount of star power, from every department that goes into making something like this. There’s a person working on the shine of my shoulder, and a person who built the entire ship that we’re shooting on, or the whole set. I’ve seen some pretty big shit, and I haven’t seen anything like this. So, yeah, there are stunt people.
WEATHERS: (Joking) I do all of my own stunts. I’ve never, in all of my years, had a stunt person do anything.
CARANO: I did not wanna see anybody else in the Cara Dune costume. I was like, “Oh, is she running? Okay, I’ll run.” I did not wanna see anybody else in the costume ‘cause I didn’t wanna share, at all.
PASCAL: I was a little more generous.
This show has a lot of references to the Star Wars holiday special, where we saw our first Mandalorian. Jon, why did you want to connect the projects?
FAVREAU: I didn’t realize there were a lot of references, but I guess there is. There’s definitely the gun, the pulse rifle. Here’s the thing, we’re starting with new characters. There’s all sorts of conjecture about whether this is gonna reveal that it was really Boba Fett, all along. Is it a character that we already know? We wanted to start fresh with a whole new set of characters that you’ve never met before. What’s nice about that, is that it reminds me of when we were starting with Iron Man. For new fans, these are new characters, with new actors and a new world. Even that version of the MCU was new, so it was a really nice entry point for people who didn’t know anything about Marvel, and who just wanted to see a movie and they liked the actors that were in it. We assumed that you didn’t know anything, so we taught you and introduced you to everybody. But by the same token, the foundation of all of genre are the fans that have been there since the beginning and the people who grew up with it, so how do you balance those two things, at the same time? For much of the time, with superhero films, there was the notion, going back decades, that the fans will be there anyway, so just make it as approachable and accessible as you can to the general audience, but I think that’s changed a lot. I think that Kevin Feige and Avi Arad, and all of the people who started off with the MCU, smartly realized that, no, those are your fans and that’s who’s been there, all along, and you build out from the grassroots. You never lose touch with the people who’ve put in the time and who care. And so, there are ways that, even though we have new characters and you can jump in because it’s Chapter 1, we wanted to make sure that, if you were watching and you knew about it, and this is where Dave has really been a treasure trove, we try to work stuff in, whether it’s humorously, like making a reference to Life Day, or making a reference to a prop that has been appreciated by a core group, over time. So, we’ll put those little Easter eggs in, or have big movements in the story that reflect storylines in either the legends or in canon, that people have known. And by the way, there’s all of the animated content that Dave’s been working on. How do you weave all of it together, so that you don’t have these divided, segmented parts of the audience, but you can start to bring it all together and coalesce it, in a way that creates an over-arching narrative, and rewards the people who’ve been putting the time in, over the years, since they were kids, growing up with it. So, that’s a long-winded answer for I snuck a Life Day joke in there. Some of it was, what I was writing it, I wanted to see if Dave caught it and what his reaction would be. He had veto power over everything. He’s talked about learning from me, but I’m learning just as much from him, and just tuning in on what is too far and where we can push it.
FILONI: It’s very fun. With the scripts, ‘cause I was in San Francisco, we’d talk on the phone and come up for something for an episode and Jon was like, “Okay, it’s in my head. I gotta go.” And then, a day later, he’d be like, “Here read this.” And I was like, “Oh, wow, there’s a script now.” It was cool. It was really fun. It’s fun reading Jon’s take on Star Wars. I’d read something and be like, “Oh, I see the holiday special is back,” and I’d give him a hard time about it.
FAVREAU: Well, it happened! It’s there!
FILONI: It’s his way of saying that he really liked the holiday special. It’s fun. There’s nothing wrong with that. He has the gun in the show because he liked it and wanted to have it in there, and now it’s in his office. I get that. I’ve just never experienced that before. You can say, “I wanna design this, so I can have this.” And then, somebody literally makes it, and walks up and hands it to you. That’s amazing!
FAVREAU: The artwork is the thing that makes the show. I’ll something and then give it to them, and by the time it goes through the Play-Doh Fun Factory, with the artists and ILM, I see these beautiful images. And then, you just write more. Sometimes I’ll even give just some pages to them, have them draw on it, and then look at what they draw and start writing things that are impacted by that. That’s what I mean by a collaborative environment. That’s what’s been really great about it. And there is a discipline about it, to make sure that we are authentic, disciplined and cohesive, and that no matter where you’re coming from or what your background is in Star Wars, what we’re doing is being done after really deliberating over it and discussing it and thinking it through. And so, if we depart, in any way, we know that we are, but it’s with a plan. And then, the other part of it is about what the big arc is.
FILONI: We come up with the plan, and then we wonder what people are gonna think of it. That’s the fun part of it. Especially in series, we can make that work even better.
FAVREAU: It’s media, so it is a communication tool between us and you, and back again. That’s part of what we’re excited about.
The Mandalorian will be available to stream weekly at Disney+, starting on November 12th.