I grew up with the “Star Wars” prequels, and I was so into them I made it my duty to watch the little featurettes included with each film’s DVD about how George Lucas made those films.
While the writing and focus of those films were lacking, it is indisputable that they pushed the boundaries as to what early CGI was able to do at the time, and still to this day are technical marvels all modern CG films owe their foundation to.
“The Mandalorian,” the first live-action “Star Wars” TV series, pushed what Lucas accomplished in the prequels to the next level, as documented through an eight episode “making of” series hosted by Mandalorian creators Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni named “Disney Gallery: Star Wars: The Mandalorian”, which presumably won’t be the only Disney Gallery.
Favreau and Filoni host a myriad of people in what essentially are roundtable discussions with behind the scenes footage spliced in with what they are saying, from the series’ directors, to people from Industrial Lights & Magic (ILM), to composer Ludwig Göransson, who scored the show. Everyone interviewed, save for perhaps Kathleen Kennedy, who I will address later, had unique contributions to the production that are fascinating to watch.
Favreau came to the show having directed films that relied heavily on special effects, such as “Iron Man”, “The Jungle Book” and “The Lion King,” and as such, played an important role in flawlessly combining practical effects with VFX in “The Mandalorian,” and many techniques he learned from those films where used in the making of the show.
Perhaps the most impressive piece of technology the show uses is a room called The Volume, which is essentially a room made of high-res video screens that allow the directors to load in pre-filmed environments shot in VR through a game engine, that allows them to include scenes from anywhere, in what they call George Lucas’ garage. Practical sets are built in The Volume, but almost every background in the show isn’t actually there, which means the show had to be meticulously organized with a Pre-Vis team months in advance, in which Filoni’s background in animation helped out immensely.
Filoni serves as an executive producer for the series as well as an episode director, and he also is the lore guy, as he has a great ability to decode Lucas’ intentions for how the “Star Wars” universe works. Every episode in the show is also pre-rendered in CG months in advance, so by the time they film with real people, a lot of the rough edges of the story and blocking are already worked out. “The Mandalorian” had to work within tight budget constraints, so it had to be very efficiently made, and Favreau’s partnership with Filoni made that possible, giving the show’s directors plenty of time to fine tune each episode.
The behind-the-scenes series, while highly produced, comes off as honest as the Star Wars prequels “Making Of” featurettes, as while those served to expose incompetence on behalf of Lucas despite the fact that he was innovating with some amazing technology at the time, “The Mandalorian” has nothing to hide. It’s an excellent, finely-crafted show made by a bunch of Star Wars nerds who are excited to tell you how they did it, and they have a surprising amount of humility that is great to see.
The gallery shows how much time and effort went into meticulously crafting and trying to replicate techniques Lucas employed in the original trilogy films, while embracing obscure elements not only from the main series films, but also forgotten chapters in its Expanded Universe. The show intentionally brought character and heart to background elements in Star Wars, that allowed the show to be its own thing as a smaller story that takes place in the Star Wars universe.
The only person I really felt was out of place was Executive Producer Kathleen Kennedy, who never really had anything relevant to say about the show, and is barely in this series. She seems so disconnected from everyone who partakes in “Gallery”‘s roundtable discussions that it makes me think she had a very minor role in its production, which might have been for the best, given how the sequel trilogy turned out under her watch.
You’re not going to completely get this if you’re not a “Star Wars” fan, but I recommend that nonfans interested in filmmaking at least check out “Episode 4: Technology” to see how the show used The Volume, as that technology has the potential to drastically change how films are made. If you’re a fan, you’re going to enjoy this, and desperately wish Favreau and Filoni were chosen over J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson to direct the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy, as they ooze with love, respect and understanding for the franchise those directors simply don’t.
“Disney Gallery: Star Wars: The Mandalorian” is great “Making Of” series that will teach you a lot about modern filmmaking.
“Disney Gallery: Star Wars: The Mandalorian” Season 1 gets an 8/10