6 Storytelling Lessons from THE MANDALORIAN
Like many people in the world, I’ve recently signed up for Disney+ and binged the first season of The Mandalorian, and honestly, I really enjoyed it. Which is no surprise. Because as far as I can tell, this is a show that is engineered to make you love it.
Here are a few storytelling lessons a crafty writer can learn from watching The Mandalorian:
1.) Start with the action.
The opening scenes of the first episode show Mando in action. He’s a bounty hunter, so the show opens with him bringing in a bounty. He’s doing what he’s good at, and he does it well and with style. And okay, maybe your main character isn’t a world class bounty hunter who can walk into a bar and destroy any and all threats, but I bet that there is something that they are good at, and that they are passionate about, and you might consider using that in your advantage during their introduction.
2.) Add some depth.
Once the show establishes Mando as strong and skilled and stoic, they start adding some depth. He goes home and interacts with someone more powerful than him, and we get a glimpse of his childhood trauma. Mando might be the strongest bounty hunter in the guild, but he’s still learning and earning his place. And, he’s got his own issues and traumas to deal with that influence his decisions now. Adding this depth and vulnerability makes him more relatable and human. And this doesn’t only work for the strong silent types. Even the most bubbly and cheerful character can, and should, have hidden depths.
3.) Save the cat.
Or rather, save the Baby Yoda! Baby Yoda is utterly adorable. I think I spent every second of his screen time squeeing about how cute he was. It’s like the very best of internet cat memes. And the entire plot revolves around him. Not only does the act of saving “The Child” put our bounty hunter protagonist firmly on the good side of the sliding scale of morality, but it also adds stakes that the viewers immediately care about. "You can’t hurt Baby Yoda!!! Turn around, right now, and GO RESCUE HIM!!!!" And sure, not every story will have an adorable baby space alien, but you should make an effort to find something in your story that matters, that your readers are going to care about, and then put it into danger, so that your protagonist can be on the right side of that conflict.
4.) It’s good to have a code.
One of the stronger recurring traits for Mando is that he has chosen to follow the Way of the Mandalore. He has a code, and he actively chooses to follow it, even when those choices are difficult or painful. And The Mandalorian shows us that. We understand why Mando chooses not to take his helmet off, or why he risks so much to save the foundling, because we understand his code. Or at least enough of it to know that “It is the way.” Your characters should also have things that are important to them. Lines that they won’t cross, things that guide their choices. And if your readers understand their code and why it’s important, they will be rooting for them to make the right choice.
5.) You don’t have to do it alone.
Despite being a stoic and seemingly solitary bounty hunter, Mando is very rarely alone. From the roguish head of the bounty hunters guild to the helpful moisture farmer, Kuiil, to the skilled rebel mercenary Cara Dune, to the mysterious Armorer, the show is filled with unique and memorable side characters. Each of these characters have their own stories and motives, and they all have different reasons for interacting with Mando and each relationship is distinct from the others.
6.) The same, but different.
And finally, The Mandalorian does a really good job of taking elements that we are already familiar with—the Star Wars universe, the idea of a bounty hunting Mandalorian, wrinkly green aliens with pointed ears, and the power of the Force—and adding their own spin to make them feel new. And you can do the same in your writing. Find a way to take the elements of your story that readers will recognize and make them your own. Take something familiar and comforting (like a favorite romance trope) and come at it from a different angle. If you do it right, it will feel fresh and new.
What do you think, Swooners? Any other storytelling lessons you can find from The Mandalorian, or one of your other favorite TV shows?