It can be said that creative story telling can mitigate the limitations of limited budget, but an unfocused story can’t be fixed by throwing money at it.
Disney’s eight part Star Wars serial for the small screen was launched in Europe earlier this year after a very successful run in the streaming service late last year.
With a reported total budget of $100m for the first season each episode cost roughly $15m that went towards a total of 320 minutes of Star Wars magic.
If that sounds like a lot of money then consider that the most recent Star Wars movies cost closer to $1Bn when added together.
Put it another way, the Mandalorian probably weighs in at a fifth of the cost of any two of the most recent films and roughly the same length.
Watching through the series, it’s an episodical ongoing story the length of two Star Wars movies with episodes which don’t have to be a fixed 42 minutes long.
Set shortly after the events of Return of the Jedi – from the original Star Wars trilogy – it follows one particular job taken by a taciturn bounty hunter – the titular Mandalorian.
With the Empire breaking up and dissolving there are lawless areas on the fringes of the galaxy where bounty hunters can make a living.
The story is all very Kurosawa and Sergio Leone and while there are slow character driven moments between the action they add depth to the story.
And the actors hired give the show the kind of texture that’s been sorely missed in the Star Wars universe.
Some you will recognise, others you might not.
And there are certainly a number of talented directors overseeing each story.
It’s been heavily spoiled already but all I will say is there’s a compelling tale in there which make it well worth subscribing to Disney Plus to see – even if you have to take a week’s trial and binge watch it.
Old time Star Wars fans will like the subtle nods to the Star Wars universe and showrunner Jon Favreau has done such a good job with the technology and story telling that he will be rewarded with the reins to the Star Wars film universe with the Mandalorian potentially becoming part of a Marvel Cinematic Universe style connected storyline.
There’s also a supporting documentary series which helpfully explain the computer games technology that has made the realistic location scenes possible.
The payoff for using pre-rendered backgrounds is that the story has to be finalised far in advance with detailed storyboards so that special effects artists can get to work creating the background sets which are displayed inside a special 75 foot diameter circular sound stage covered in gigantic LED TV panels.
Such an approach, with a long pre-production set-up, makes for relatively quick shooting days and less green screen post production work.
It doesn’t completely eliminate set design or location shooting but used right it can stretch a budget very impressively.
Mandalorian stretches TV budgets further
We can compare Mandalorian with British seasons of the rebooted Doctor Who which the BBC apparently spend less than $15m for the entire series.
In recent seasons the budget for the BBC show appears to have reduced, with the total number of stories per season being cut from an initial 13 plus a Christmas special to the current 10 plus a New Year special while the Doctor Who Confidential behind the scenes companion series was quietly dropped for budgetary reasons along the way.
The TARDIS set in particular is a permanent set piece location and looked its best during Peter Capaldi’s era but during Jodie Whittaker’s stint it sadly looked cheap.
Its first appearance seemed to have been shot using wide open apertures to blur the backgrounds and mask the thrown together unfinished look.
Subsequent episodes have seen the Doctor and her companions spend a lot less time tha usual in the TARDIS set.
In contrast, some stories in modern Who have seemed to require flying the main actors and presumably a number of crew out to overseas locations at considerable expense.
Even if that expense is shared out by using those locations in multiple stories to share the costs out the fact is that travelling overseas to do filming is likely to be made extremely complicated in the short term due to Corona Virus concerns before we’ve even raised an eyebrow at the environmental cost.
Perhaps with more of an emphasis on storyboarding and advance planning the consistency of the stories can improve.
And even in a UK based studio environment social distancing concerns is likely to delay shooting for a lot of TV shows who were hoping to get restarted.
Either way, with a second season of The Mandalorian coming later this year there’s plenty of reason to be signed up to enjoy a second season of gritty Star Wars drama.
The Mandalorian (2019) (PG-12; moderate violence; total running time 320 minutes; 8x 31-46 minute episodes)
Series Showrunner: Jon Favreau
Director(s): Dave Filoni, Rick Famuyiwa, Deborah Chow, Bryce Dallas Howard, Taika Waititi
Cast Includes: Pedro Pascal, Carl Weathers, Rio Hackford, Gina Carano, Werner Herzog, Nick Nolte, Taika Waititi
Summary: THE MANDALORIAN is a fantasy adventure series, set in the STAR WARS universe. In this episode, a bounty hunter accepts a challenging assignment.
Rating: ***** (A return to the original values of Star Wars – A Western meets Samurai influenced compelling tale)