What Star Wars Games Can Learn From The Mandalorian

Fortnite isn't the only game that should borrow from The Mandalorian's playbook. Star Wars games themselves could benefit from the show's approach to the galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars: The Mandalorian Ahsoka Tano
Photo: Lucasfilm

The Mandalorian isn’t just one of the best TV shows in recent years and the best reason to subscribe to Disney+ this side of The Simpsons. For many fans, it’s a show that has reinvigorated their love of Star Wars.

As someone who has previously lamented the decline of Star Wars video games over the years, it’s that aspect of the show that fascinates me most. What has The Mandalorian figured out that recent Star Wars games still haven’t? What is it about The Mandalorian that turns even jaded fans into believers?

While The Mandalorian may not hold all of the answers, Star Wars video games could still learn a few things from the live-action TV series when it comes to how to tell exciting modern stories in the galaxy far, far away.

Please Use Jedi Responsibly

Early into The Mandalorian‘s run, there were heated discussions regarding whether or not the show should feature Jedi. A similar debate has been going on in the gaming world for years following the cancellation of titles like Star Wars 1313 and Project Ragtag, which promised large-scale Star Wars adventures with hardly a Jedi in sight.

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As The Mandalorian‘s latest episode (the appropriately titled “The Jedi”) showed us, the debate on the use of Jedi in Star Wars stories isn’t always an “all or nothing” proposition. That episode featured a notable Jedi in a prominent role but used the character in a way that took full advantage of both their individual motivations and the greater role of a Jedi in this universe.

Too many Star Wars games have treated Jedi as convenient video game protagonists in a medium often obsessed with action. The Mandalorian shows how you can feature Jedi that feel impactful without needing to always be the focus.

Tell Intimate Stories That Don’t Depend on Easter Eggs

The Star Wars universe really is a blessing and a curse. It’s both one of the most complete and fascinating mythological creations in Western pop culture and an albatross that burdens storytellers with unreasonable expectations.

The Mandalorian has (so far) found a way around this issue by telling stories that could honestly often work even if they didn’t take place in the Star Wars universe. When the show does dive deeper into Star War mythos, it often uses them to spice up a story you’re inherently invested in rather than trying to stretch those flavors into an entire meal.

There may not be a universal solution to the Star Wars universe problem, but if there is, it lies in telling stories that benefit from being in the Star Wars universe but don’t always depend on it. The story of a father and son on a journey of self-discovery is universal, whether it be in samurai adventures like Lone Wolf and Cub or seminal video games like God of War. That emotional core is the show’s true strength, not the fact that it’s full of easter eggs and references to the old movies we love.

Keep the Tone Grounded (But Not Necessarily Dark)

There’s an increasingly popular belief (at least among the most vocal online fans) that the only “mature” storytelling is “dark” storytelling. For them, anything not packed with violence, adult language, and perhaps even a dash of nudity is handling us with kid’s gloves.

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Yet, The Mandalorian tells what feels like one of the most “mature” Star Wars stories in years while sticking within the confines of a TV-14 rating. How? It’s all about the way the show keeps its tone grounded. Fantastical things do happen in The Mandalorian, but all within the confines of the show’s own logic.

Mando isn’t a larger-than-life hero like Luke Skywalker, or one who is even completely all-good. He’s still a bounty hunter and a mercenary and showed at the start of the series that he’d work for the Empire if the job paid a good deal of beskar. Mando’s world isn’t governed by the good vs. evil conflict that ties the film saga together. There’s a lot more gray area in the Outer Rim, and that’s what makes this story feel unique.

1313, which starred Boba Fett, and Ragtag, a game about a band of thieves, seemed poised to explore this grayness before they were cancelled. Maybe this is a direction Electronic Arts could revive now that it’s told several stories about good vs. evil?

Give Us a Protagonist Who’s Easy to Love

This may sound simple enough, but it’s a concept that’s eluded so many modern Star Wars games that it feels like someone should just spell it out. I really liked Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, but it’s the prime example of a Star Wars game that featured a protagonist whose most interesting quality was being a Jedi. You could replace him with a mannequin and lose very little of what makes that game work.

The Mandalorian‘s two main protagonists remained nameless for much of the series’ run, yet were complex, well-developed, and, above all else, fundamentally likable. There’s no guidebook for creating a likable character, but it’s time to stop settling for Star Wars game protagonists that are little more than functional. Being a Jedi doesn’t immediately make you interesting.

Look Towards Star Wars’ Real Roots

You don’t have to know much about Star Wars‘ history to know that the original film was heavily influenced by serial sci-fi adventures, Westerns, and the films of Akira Kurosawa. Unfortunately, too many modern Star Wars stories have spent more time being self-referential, with endless callbacks to classic Star Wars movie moments and characters, to bother saying anything new about the universe.

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The Mandalorian goes back to Star Wars‘ real roots by telling a tale that is paced and presented more like a Western or samurai movie than a sci-fi epic. That approach stands in stark contrast to recent Star Wars games like Battlefront 2, Jedi: Fallen Order, and Squadrons, which do vary in quality but generally rely more on the inherent appeal of the Star Wars universe rather than cool new uses of classic genres. We need a modern Star Wars game that feels less like a virtual tour through Galaxy’s Edge and more like the visual embodiment of those backyard Star Wars adventures we constructed as kids that went hand in hand with being a cowboy or samurai.

Explore the Non-Traditional Parts of the Star Wars Mythology

You can’t call the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy an outright failure. After all, it made billions of dollars at the box office. But if you do consider it to be one, you can’t blame all of its shortcomings on any one element, although many fans tend to agree that the most recent Star Wars trilogy relied too much on the Skywalker story.

Maybe that was the trilogy’s responsibility to a degree as a continuation of the Original Trilogy, but as recent episodes of The Mandalorian have proven, there are so many well-established corners of the Star Wars universe that are unfairly overlooked due to a misguided belief that most people just want stories that remind of them of the original movies. Nostalgia is inherently part of the Star Wars experience but it shouldn’t be the whole experience.

While there are Star Wars games that have explored other areas of the mythology, few of them stray far from the imagery, characters, and plot points that made the franchise popular in the first place.

Hire the Right People Behind the Scenes

I can’t vouch for the filmography of every key creative member of The Mandalorian‘s team, but I can tell you this: most of them were perfectly positioned to make a great Star Wars show. New directors like Bryce Dallas Howard and Carl Weathers, for example, not only bring new voices but talented eyes behind the camera, and they clearly understand what makes this franchise tick.

The fact of the matter is that the right talent makes all the difference. For too long, Star Wars video games have been dictated by market research and what will potentially sell instead of exciting creative voices behind the scenes. Jedi: Fallen Order and Squadrons offered a taste of what’s possible when the right studios get to make a modern Star Wars games, but Respawn shouldn’t be the only team out there being given the privilege.

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You could boil this point down to another rant about EA killing Star Wars video games, but the real takeaway should be that great Star Wars stories have typically come from passionate creators put in a position to succeed.

Keep up with all of The Mandalorian season 2 news here.