Not so long ago and in a galaxy that looks remarkably like our own, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opened in cinemas and went on to gross $1.1 billion. While a remarkable drop down from The Last Jedi only two years earlier—and a more alarming 50 percent below 2015’s The Force Awakens—a billion dollars is still a billion dollars. Which is to say it’s strange that we have gone five years and counting without another Star Wars movie getting ready for its big screen close-up.
That’s changing this New Year with the announcement that not only is there going to be a Mandalorian movie, but the property is on the fast track, with The Mandalorian & Grogu slated to commence production later this year. Even better, fan favorite Jon Favreau is at the helm as director of a character he created for the small screen. For most Star Wars fans this is happy news, as is the confirmation that Favreau will produce the picture alongside Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and Dave Filoni.
“I have loved telling stories set in the rich world that George Lucas created,” Favreau said in the official press release. “The prospect of bringing the Mandalorian and his apprentice Grogu to the big screen is extremely exciting.”
It really is. It also looks poised to act as a bellwether for the Star Wars brand as a whole, because we are at something of an inflection point when it comes to the health and vitality of the paterfamilias of modern movie franchises. And at the moment, it is debatable whether Star Wars is still seen by consumers as the stuff of myth and luminous beings.
Yes, the last Star Wars movie made $1 billion, however it had to crawl to that milestone at the end of the last “normal” year for moviegoing in 2019. Since then the 2020s have brought us a pandemic, shifting moviegoing tastes, and a series of costly streaming wars which left even Star Wars’ most reliable stablemate at Disney, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in a weakened state. In fact, the most recent MCU film, November’s The Marvels, flopped. And like The Mandolorian & Grogu, that superhero flick relied on casual moviegoers already being invested in characters who were introduced on the small screen.
This is perhaps the biggest question mark (and maybe opportunity?) facing Mandalorian & Grogu. While there have been no Star Wars movies for the past five years—and there won’t be one for at least six by the time Favreau’s Mando flick comes out—the brand has been omnipresent on Disney+. The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Andor, and Ahsoka are just a few of the series the Mouse House has flooded its streaming service with. However, the same phenomenon has visibly tired some audiences on the Marvel brand. Disney CEO Bob Iger even admitted last year that the company had placed a value on quantity over quality.
So while audiences didn’t seem to mind (at least while buying their tickets) that Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness only made sense if you saw WandaVision, they were less amused that the little-watched Ms. Marvel was also required viewing for The Marvels. Additionally, The Rise of Skywalker was heavily marketed on nostalgia in 2019 for “the Skywalker Saga” (i.e. all the characters and stories audiences had cared about for the past 40 years). However, the attempt to do a Han Solo movie without Harrison Ford one year earlier led to the first Star Wars movie in history to flop at the box office. This also followed what was a divided fan response (at least online) toward The Last Jedi.
In other words, the Star Wars brand was showing extreme vulnerability even before a long hiatus from cinemas. And in that time, audience interest in older IP brands like Marvel, DC, Fast and Furious, and even Lucasfilm’s other legendary property, Indiana Jones, has demonstrably waned.
Nonetheless, there is greater potential in The Mandalorian & Grogu than there was in most of Hollywood’s recent long-running misfires. While the new Star Wars flick is a spinoff of a Disney+ TV show, it is still a spinoff of what was at least a major hit on Disney+. It is estimated by Nielsen that Disney+ subscribers have collectively viewed The Mandalorian for more than a billion minutes. The Mandalorian was also reportedly the most-watched streaming original of 2023. It may be a TV spinoff, but The Mandalorian & Grogu spins off from one of the few streaming series that can still qualify as being a “watercooler show.”
Furthermore, to an entire younger generation of Star Wars fans, Mando and his Force-sensitive sidekick are Star Wars. Thanks to Favreau and Filoni, millions of children (aka Disney’s core demographic) have been introduced to Star Wars not as the big-screen adventures of Luke Skywalker, or the greater tragedy of the House of Skywalker, but as those Disney+ shows where the bounty hunter in a cool suit is at the center of a web of TV shows. Mando and Grogu are essentially the new center of gravity for the Star Wars brand.
The Mandalorian & Grogu is a chance to test the waters, then, at whether that generational turnover can translate into renewed box office gold after Disney exhausted (or some might say strip-mined) the so-called Skywalker Saga. Getting the filmmaker behind Iron Man and Elf probably doesn’t hurt. This, in fact, might just be the way.
No release date has been set for The Mandalorian & Grogu. You can check out the complete calendar of upcoming Star Wars movies and TV series here.