LOS ANGELES >> Never heard of a Mandalorian? You’re not alone.
Actor Pedro Pascal hadn’t either when he started talking to Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni about an ambitious new “Star Wars” series that would become a marquee offering for the Walt Disney Co.’s new streaming service, Disney Plus, which launches Nov. 12.
But Pascal, known for playing Oberyn Martell on “Game of Thrones,” knew that this Mandalorian character looked a lot like Boba Fett and that was enough for him. The stoic bounty hunter behind the helmet who made his debut in “The Empire Strikes Back” became a cultish fan favorite and happened to be Pascal’s preferred action figure as a kid. When he got out of the meeting and wanted to share the news, he could barely get the words out.
“I was like, ‘They want me to be — it’s not Boba Fett, but it’s like, you remember. They want me to be the coolest looking thing in Star Wars, you know?’” Pascal says, channeling his energy from that day. “It was a big geeky moment.”
Pascal and anyone else scratching their heads about how they might have missed this Mandalorian concept can rest easy: It’s not even a word that’s uttered in the original trilogy. But the idea comes straight from George Lucas himself. He had envisioned a race of warrior peoples called the Mandalore that ended up getting streamlined into one character in the films — Boba Fett. “Star Wars” literature and series like “The Clone Wars” helped keep the Mandalorians alive over the years, and it re-emerged again when Disney and Lucasfilm started thinking about non-Skywalker ideas for the new streaming service where it’s primed to get its biggest audience yet.
“The Lion King” and “Jungle Book” director Jon Favreau was enlisted to executive produce and write for “The Mandalorian,” which is set in the franchise’s Outer Rim five years after “Return of the Jedi” and 25 years before the events of “The Force Awakens.” The eight episode series, which will roll out on a near-weekly basis, follows the title character in his bounty hunting adventures.
The world around him is full of seedy and mysterious characters, like Greef Carga, played by Carl Weathers, who leads a bounty hunter guild, and former soldier Cara Dune, played by Gina Carano. As with all recent Star Wars properties, details are being kept as secret as possible.
“I had to cut my finger and sign in blood that I would say nothing about it, not even say I was doing it, that I was part of it. They’re very protective of Star Wars, the stories, the Mandalorian, the brand, and it makes sense,” Weathers said. “We all want to protect it also.”
But from early footage and the nature of the bounty hunting profession, “The Mandalorian” does seem a little darker than your average Star Wars story. It’s been described as a Western, leaving it open as to whether the lead characters are good, bad or somewhere in between.
“We can be pulled to any side, any one of us,” said Carano. “Even when you begin the journey with the Mandalorian, you aren’t sure what side you’re on.”
Pascal agreed that it’s meant to be ambiguous.
“They separate good and evil so perfectly in the world of Star Wars. And in this one it’s like we’re way more at the center,” Pascal said. “We’re past those borders, and past those very, very linear, very specific lines of definition.”
While Star Wars is no stranger to the small screen, those efforts have mostly been animated. So when initial trailers debuted for “The Mandalorian,” in glorious live-action, many observed how movie-like it seemed, as though it would fit right in on the big screen alongside the “Star Wars” spinoffs like “Rogue One” or “Solo.” A reported $15 million per episode budget probably didn’t hurt.
It’s also a gesture of investment into a new phase of the Star Wars universe under Disney. The Skywalker saga is coming to an end with “The Rise of Skywalker,” which opens in theaters on Dec. 20, and the next cinematic trilogy is going through its own restructuring with the recent news that its overseers, “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, have parted ways with Lucasfilm.
But “The Mandalorian” could help ease the gap as the future is plotted. And Favreau is already at work on a second season.
The involvement of Favreau and Filoni, who directed the pilot and has been behind “Star Wars” projects like “The Clone Wars” and “Star Wars Rebels” has everyone confident in the product.
“They are the Star Wars fans,” said Carano. “This is made for (fans) because two of their own are making it.”