The disturbance in The Force this morning is emanating from Chicago, where Star Wars Celebration turns its attentions to The Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars television series and the vanguard Lucasfilm contribution to Disney+, the high-stakes subscription play launching in November.
Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy introduced filmmakers Jon Favreau (Jungle Book) and Dave Filoni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) to the delirious, sold-out crowd gathered at McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America. The Mandalorian is written and EP’ed by Favreau. Well-known Jedi universe storyteller Filoni is directing the inaugural episode and serves as executive producer alongside Kennedy and Colin Wilson.
Favreau and Filoni discussed the unique appeal of The Mandalorian setting and time frame — the events depicted in the series are set after the events of Return of the Jedi, which concluded with the fiery funeral of Darth Vader on the forest moon of Endor. Favreau and Filoni recounted their first meeting at Skywalker Ranch a dozen years ago when they were two Star Wars devotees working on their breakthrough projects, Iron Man and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, respectively. Filoni said Favreau and his son, Max, were the first people outside the Clone Wars production to watch the landmark animation project; and, conversely, Filoni was the first person to see Iron Man, the pioneer project that propelled Marvel studios to a historic first decade.
The two genial storytellers have an obvious affection for each other as they finished each other’s sentences, and each took turns warmly praising the complementary talents the other brought to the Mandalorian project. Filoni noted that Favreau seemed destined to work on the Disney+ TV series after playing a Mandalorian character named Pre Vizsla on Filoni’s animated Clone Wars TV series (a series with 129 episodes that aired from 2008-2013). The name “Pre Vizsla” was a winking reference to Favreau’s cinematic day job, too, plucked from”previsualization,” a fundamental stage of filmmaking process for sci-fi and other spectacle genres.
Favreau and Filoni played footage from the show for the McCormick crowd. But the content was not included in the official Star Wars Celebration live-stream feed.
UPDATE: Surreptitiously recorded video from inside the venue was posted online after the end of the panel. In one trailer, a spacecraft is seen approached a backwater planet and landing. The occupant is then rousted in a cantina by Imperial forces who appear to be cracking down on fringe elements in the arid outpost in a remote corner of universe. In quick-cut, close-quarters hand-to-hand combat sequence, we see the Mandalorian dispatch the stormtroopers with economic efficiency. “The Empire improves every system it touches,” a menacing commander intones. A command is given: “Burn them out.” Stormtroopers with flame throwers are shown in a martial crackdown. A montage shows lawlessness and wanton violence is the rule of the day. One authority’s grim prediction: “I see nothing but death and cataclysm.” More combat scenes are shows as the armed and armored figure of the Mandalorian whirls and mows down his opponents despite their considerable advantage in numbers. The teaser ends with the helmeted killer sizing up a long-range shot on his long-barreled rifle.
SECOND UPDATE: A second Mandalorian video surfaced on line and appears to be the behind-the-scenes featurette shown at the Disney Investors Day presentation. It opens with the booted footfalls of a lone gunslinger walking on planks — a visual that recalls the opening train depot sequence in Leone’s 1968 classic Once Upon a Time in the West — but this paladin has a high-tech tracking device that pings away in his hand and a menacing laser rifle strapped across his back. The loner on a mission appears to be walking on a narrow platform that is surrounded on all sides (including below) by roiling clouds. It leads to a seedy looking hideout. The door whooshes open and the Mandalorian enters the bar with the familiar posture of a professional killer on the job. Favreau appears in behind-the-scenes footage and says the series will be set five years after the death of Darth Vader. The protagonist is “a citizen of the underworld on the outer reaches of the galaxy…a character you’ve never met before, a period of time you’ve never seen.”
The series has been described as a gunslinger odyssey that evokes Old West tones with sci-fi trappings, a sub-genre Favreau visited previously with Cowboys & Aliens. The title role will be played by Pedro Pascal of Game of Thrones and Narcos, who got.a strong ovation when he was brought to stage to talk about his title role, a bounty hunter and a gunfighter. The title of the show is a nod to Pascal’s role as a native of the planet Mandalore, which Star Wars fans know as the homeworld of the notorious bounty hunter Boba Fett and Jango Fett.
Pascal was giddy to see the gathered interest in the early-look image that flashed on the venue’s big screen.
“Just look at the image…that’s what it’s like! Fantasy fulfillment that’s what’s like. I don’t know what I can and can’t say. The Mandorlian is a mysterious lone gunfighter on the outer reaches of the galaxy. Some would say he has low moral character…he’s. badass.”
Pascal said he was born in 1975 and grew up in thrall of Star Wars films and toys. He initially was ready to play “a bug” or “a robot,” but instead he got a plum career role. Favreau told him early on to brush up on his Sergio Leone films to find a North Star to follow. “He’s got a lot of Clint Eastwood in him,” Pascal said.
Gina Carano (Deadpool) and Carl Weathers (Predator) joined the panel as well to share tidbits about their previously unidentified characters. Carano marveled at the packed venue’s energy and carefully chose her words about her role — the hesitancy was due to the shroud of secrecy that has covered the project for months.
“She’s an ex-rebel shock trooper…not what you were reading online,” Carano said about role rumors. “I’ve never been a part of anything so secret. I’m a bit of a loner, not a stretch, and having a little trouble reintegrating myself into society.”
Carano (who Favreau described as “a gamer” for her stunt-intense performance) said she “really felt like I was part of something special” on the set, with the impassioned leadership and detail work Favreau and Filoni. “It felt like magic,” Carano said, recounting that Favreau at one point had tears welling in his eyes while describing the backstory of one character.
Favreau quipped that he was introducing a screen newcomer when he brought veteran Weathers to the stage. The man who played Apollo Creed in Rocky back in the Bicentennial came to the stage amid chants of “Apollo! Apollo!” Weathers explained that he plays the leader of a guild of bounty hunters. In his quest to acquire a valuable commodity, he hires Pascal’s mercenary gunslinger to “get the job done” in a universe where there are “a lot of nefarious people.”
Weathers also was struck the power of the fan reaction. “It’s beautiful hearing the fans react to it,” Weather said.
The filmmakers talked about the world creation for the series and the space craft design for Razor’s Crest, the title character’s persona craft, which Favreau described as “a reflective silver old army gunship.” The pair talked about recruiting cosplay members in the 501st Legion to portray stormtroopers in the series and a visit by George Lucas to the set. Filoni said the visit was especially meaningful for him, considering Lucas’ mentorship.
“I don’t think I ever would have been interested in directing live action without his teachings or his guidance,” Filoni said.
The cast also includes Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), Emily Swallow (Supernatural), Omid Abtahi (American Gods), Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man), and Nick Nolte (Affliction). Directors lined up to helm early episodes include Deborah Chow (Jessica Jones), Rick Famuyiwa (Dope), Bryce Dallas Howard (Solemates), and Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok).
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