The Mandalorian and How to Do Fan Service Right

Like most geeks, I am thoroughly invested in Disney+’s The Mandalorian. Don’t ask me how I manage to watch the Star Wars live-action show week by week even though we don’t have Disney+ here in the Philippines. Well, I do have to use some rather unsavory methods to do so. I do blame Disney for this because, if they just made the service available here, you know they would immediately get a boatload of subscribers, with half of them just getting it so they can watch The Mandalorian the instant a new episode comes out. It’s that good!

Oh, and while I know a lot of you guys are watching each episode immediately as they’re released, there are going to be a few who still haven’t seen any episodes of The Mandalorian. So, with that in mind, I do have to put up the SPOILER WARNING right now because I will delve into SPOILER territory. Not only for The Mandalorian but other Star Wars properties like Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels. You have been warned.

Now, the past few episodes of The Mandalorian have been fantastic. They put in a lot of progression in the story. I’m all for a couple of standalone episodes but I do love it when the overarching storyline does come into focus. And, boy, did we get this in spades last episode! We had the return of Boba Fett, a super fan favorite in the Star Wars fandom. It’s never explained how the feared bounty hunter survived the Sarlacc Pit. There are clues, however. But no explanation was explicitly given.

Boba Fett isn’t the only returning character from Star Wars lore. During the episode entitled The Heiress, we got to see another Mandalorian in the guise of Bo-Katan Kryse, who enlists the help of The Mandalorian on an assault on an Imperial cruiser. She leads The Mandalorian to the location of a possible Jedi, Ahsoka Tano. Of course, a lot of Star Wars geeks squealed at the mere mention of their names because both are well known if you were a fan of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels. Both characters made their first canon appearance in the animated shows before being transferred almost perfectly to the live-action Mandalorian.

It was fantastic seeing both Ahsoka Tano and Bo-Katan appear in The Mandalorian as it does shows that both Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni really know their Star Wars lore, not only with the movies but the animated shows as well. That’s great for those who are really dedicated Star Wars fans, especially who’ve seen Clone Wars and Rebels.

But for the ones who haven’t seen Clone Wars and Rebels? Not so much.

This had led to some non-Star Wars geeks to complain that the Mandalorian is starting to lean towards too much fan service. This isn’t really something new; as early as the Razor Crest landing on Tatooine in Chapter 5: The Gunslinger, some sites have been reporting that The Mandalorian is adding too much Star Wars lore.

There is a point to this complaint, however. While I know a lot of people reading this are more than familiar with Star Wars and know a lot of the lore behind it, we’re kind of the exception. The general audience only watch Star Wars because it’s fun. But it’s nothing to get too worked up about. So, when these fan favorites from Clone Wars and Rebels appeared in the Mandalorian, fans who have watched them from those shows lost their proverbial minds. But the others who just like to watch The Mandalorian because “cool, it’s Star Wars” just didn’t have the same reaction.

But to me, this isn’t just blatant fan service. Yes, it’s still basically fan service as The Mandalorian is calling back to characters that fans love. However, they were written in to be as functional to the story as possible and, in a way, they are the best fit for what’s essentially happening in The Mandalorian because of how they’re kind of linked to one another.

And this is coming from someone who didn’t watch any of the shows they’re originally. from.

I don’t really have a personal connection with either Bo-Katan or Ahsoka Tano. I didn’t watch Clone Wars nor Rebels for one reason or another. In particular, I really didn’t like the CGI animation designs. But I’m still more than familiar with Bo-Katan and Ahsoka Tano. I guess I learned about them just through general osmosis because I do hang out with other Star Wars geeks who love the shows. I even got interested enough to look them up on the Internet to check on their backstories way back when. Not enough to watch entire seasons of Clone Wars or Rebels but my interest was piqued by how much fans liked them.

So I do know their general history, like how Ahsoka Tano and Bo-Katan have crossed paths before, both as enemies and allies. I also know that Bo-Katan was originally supposed to be the leader of the Mandalore as she was the last Mandalorian who held the darksaber; the same darksaber that Gideon Moff somehow managed to get his hands on. This does hint that she’s the person she’s hunting down as she wants to get the darksaber back from Gideon Moff.

With such a rich backstory, you would think that the people watching The Mandalorian would be confused as to who Ahsoka Tano and Bo-Katan are. But, no. They’re not. There are a couple of reasons for that. For one, their introductions are extremely cool. Cool enough to be a very solid introduction to who they are, what they can do and what they’re like.

Take, for example, Bo-Katan’s first appearance, rescuing The Mandalorian from a trap sprung by fishermen/pirates. You see them utterly beating them with ease while clad in their Nite Owl branded Mandalorian armor. She and her comrades then casually remove their helmets, something the show has told us that Mandalorians never do because they cannot show their faces in public. Mando even questions the action but Bo-Katan does try to explain herself.

That, right there, is a testament to really good writing by both Jon Fabreau and Dave Filoni as they kept in mind both hardcore Star Wars fans as well as the more casual ones. The hardcore fans will simply marvel at her and how good and accurate she looks in live-action while the the ones who have no ideas who she is can marvel at what a badass introduction she got! This is fan service but it doesn’t exclude the viewers who won’t go gaga over her.

The second reason why this works is because the characters they did introduce serves the story. They aren’t just put in there so loyal fans can point at the screen and yell “Hey! I know that and you don’t!” The characters are linked to the grand story of The Mandalorian for now. It’s shown that Moff Gideon has a “black lightsaber.” This is actually the darksaber, a symbol of Mandalorian leadership and something Bo-Katan used to have. Somehow, Moff Gideon manage to take the darksaber, so it falls to reason that Moff Gideon is the person Bo-Katan is trying to locate, hence, the attack on the Imperial cruiser. Also, Bo-Katan has both fought against and fought alongside Ahsoka Tano, so it only make sense that she would know where to find her, who just so happens to be one of the last remaining Jedi to survive Order 66.

All of this backstory I just mentioned came from both Clone Wars and Rebels. Once again, none of these are mention in The Mandalorian. So, does this make this fan service? Yes, it does as it is a reward for loyal fans who’ve seen both shows. Yet, does it really matter? Because of the way things are laid out in their episodes, newcomers just accepted it. Bo-Katan came off as so badass, so of course shewould know where another Jedi could be located in the vast galaxy! For newbies, it was more like “Oooh! We’re going to see another Jedi!” But for longtime fans, it was more like, “Holy crap! Ahsoka Tano! I’m soooooo hype!”

You see, there is a way to do fan service right. Sure, it does need to pander to the hardcore audience to make it feel like a reward for being a loyal fan. But bad fan service just stops there. Bad fan service tends to alienate newcomers and more casual fans because they don’t get the reference. Bad fan service is just there to get a chuckle from hardcore fans but it’s done for no other reason but for servicing the fans.

The Mandalorian manages to sidestep the reasons for bad fan service deftly by rewarding both longtime fans while also blending it into the story in a functional manner. Kudos to Jon Fabreau and Dave Filoni for understanding the needs of both hardcore and casual fans.

Can you give other examples of good fan service? Let me know in the comments section below!

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