This Star Wars article contains spoilers for The Mandalorian.
A lone man stands against a failing Empire. By his side is a small infant, seemingly harmless and completely vulnerable without the warrior at its side. If you’ve been watching Disney+’s epic slowburn space western The Mandalorian, you might think that we’re talking about episode two of the show, which centers on the titular hero and his new charge, a young alien who appears to be the same species as Master Yoda. But, in fact, we’re describing the setup of Lone Wolf and Cub, one of the longest running and most iconic manga series of all time and a huge influence on the unexpectedly sweet story at the heart of the first live-action Star Wars series.
The astonishing story of Lone Wolf and Cub was created by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima. First published in the Weekly Manga Action magazine, the series tells the story of a disgraced shogun executioner, Ogami Ittō, who is forced to become a rogue assassin after his wife, Azami, is murdered during a power grab by a local clan. Brutal and brilliant, the grim setup sees Ogami and his surviving son Daigorō charged with treason and ordered to commit ritual suicide. But when the father gives his infant son a choice between a child’s toy and a ceremonial weapon, the baby chooses the latter and sparks a quest for redemption and vengeance.
Lone Wolf and Cub debuted in the 1970s just like Star Wars, though the epic story predates A New Hope by seven years. George Lucas has always been open about the impact that Japanese storytelling had on his work, from the fantastical archetypes of Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress — which the director lifted wholesale for his first Star Wars film — to lone wolf samurai stories like Zatoichi, which shaped the tone and story of the space western. It’s no surprise then that once again the galaxy far, far away is delving into the fantastic storytelling that inspired the man who created it. In fact, the introduction of Baby Yoda seems to be the most direct nod to Japanese storytelling since Lucas took the Princess, General, and the bumbling comedy duo from Kurosawa’s 1958 masterpiece and threw them into the depths of space.
The original run of Lone Wolf and Cub lasted six years and was so massively successful in Japan that, just two years after it debuted, three feature films were released based on the series. Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance introduced Tomisaburo Wakayama as Ogami and was followed by Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx and Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades. All three follow the bleak adventures of the wandering ronin and his child as they face life on the well worn paths of Edo era Japan. With six entries altogether, the Lone Wolf and Cub films are unusual in their commitment to gore, violence, and drama despite featuring a young child as a core protagonist. Just like the manga, the movies are a mix of classic period action with a little heartfelt family drama, as Ogami tries to find a place in the world for him and his son while the pair also dismember and decapitate bad guys with their tricked out baby cart.
Though we’ve only seen three episodes of The Mandalorian so far, the second chapter takes heavily from the premise and tone of Lone Wolf and Cub. Now that the Mandalorian has secured “the asset,” we’ve learned that he’s willing to kill to protect his young charge and that the pair are — just like Ogami and Daigorō — on a greater journey that goes beyond the relationship between bounty hunter and bounty. In episode three, it’s Mando and not his little ward who makes the choice to go on a different path than the one set for him by the bounty hunters guild, saving Baby Yoda from Werner Herzog’s “Client” and going on the run.
There are other obvious connections, like the Mandalorian and Ogami both being assassins for hire and Daigorō and the young alien both being far less weak and vulnerable than they first seem. If we think outside of the tropes and archetypes that the groundbreaking manga series established, there are some more interesting narrative and tonal similarities that might be able to tell us about the Star Wars series going forward.
With 28 volumes that span over half a decade of publication and almost 9000 pages, it’s hard to highlight everything that makes Lone Wolf and Cub so stunning — which is why you should read it! — but there are a couple of key things that seem like they could come into play on the show:
Slow burn would be an understatement when it comes to the atmospheric and often fluid pacing of The Mandalorian. This is something that Lone Wolf and Cub traffics in, especially during one of the most epic battles ever put on the page. An astonishing feat of sequential storytelling, the final duel between Ogami and his nemesis lasts an unbelievable 178 pages. Favreau and company are clearly fans of Koike and Kojima’s creation, and although they’re unlikely to delve into a full series fight sequence, could we possibly get a Barry-style episode that’s nothing more than an extended fight sequence? It would be a unique way to riff on Lone Wolf and Cub, and after the 11-minute silent opening to episode two, we already know The Mandalorian team isn’t afraid of choices that might otherwise seem unconventional for Star Wars.
Speaking of unconventional choices, there’s always the chance that The Mandalorian could take from Lone Wolf and Cub in the ultimate way by echoing the tragic death of the father figure as a way of ending the cycle of violence. The power of having a masked and nameless character at the center of The Mandalorian is that the show can continue with perhaps a different bounty hunter taking the mantle.
During the climax of Koike and Kojima’s epic story, Ogami Itto dies after being sabotaged by an opposing ninja but Daigorō ends up facing down Retsudō, the man who his father called an enemy. The battle ends with Retsudō giving up his life to the young man in an emotional and intimate moment, ending the war between the clans that has haunted the entire life of the young boy. Could The Mandalorian follow a similar route? We know that the hero’s young charge is powerful and that our titular character cares enough about him to go against the Guild who got him the job, so could he go so far as to give up his life for the asset?
After all, isn’t that the benefit of a streaming service like Disney+? The ability to make risky or strange choices like loosely adapting a 200-page fight sequence or killing off a key character? Whatever the creative decisions are going forward, if you’re enjoying the unexpectedly emotional story at the core of The Mandalorian, you should make sure to pick up the manga, watch the movies, or check out the anime adaptation of the classic series that has already had a massive influence on the newest iteration of Star Wars lore.
Rosie Knight is a freelance contributor. Read more of her work here.