Jon Favreau Talks ‘The Mandalorian’ Writing Process and Bringing Back Luke Skywalker
It’s been a month since The Mandalorian season 2 came to a conclusion, and its impact is still resonating with Star Wars fans. Not only that, but the creative people behind the show are still talking about it, we are all ears when it comes to that. Last week, Jon Favreau talked to the Writer Guild of America West website about how the show came to be, and he gave very interesting answers.
Jon Favreau is the creator and showrunner of the show, but he is also the main writer. He wrote most of the episodes of season 1, and for season 2 he wrote all of them, except Chapter 13: The Jedi. We also know that the idea for The Mandalorian is one that had been in Favreau’s head since he was little, and he just reaffirmed that. Apparently, he had started working on the scripts before he even pitched them to Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. About this, he said:
“My pitch was very simple at first and Kathy Kennedy was receptive to the ideas I was presenting. I always found it easier to write than to develop as a way to present what my vision was for something. If you’re developing material, you’re having to advocate for ideas in the abstract, which is such a difficult thing to do. At this point in my career, I would rather just to write it out and know that I might be wasting my time if it’s not going to get made, but at least I know that if it is made, it’s going to adhere to a format and structure that I would like to dedicate my time to.
Also, I know enough as a writer, I don’t have the facility…it’s very difficult for me to write on demand. I find it the most daunting of all the disciplines that I have…writing is the one that is potentially the most rewarding, but also the most challenging because if it doesn’t come to you, there are no shortcuts. You have to either write or not write. And so if I have the inspiration to write, I often don’t wait for permission, I just start to go because I know that I’m not always able to do it.”
But then the idea was accepted, and he started writing for real after being paired up with Dave Filoni to develop The Mandalorian, to which he had this to say:
“Yeah, I was having a great time. First of all, I feel very gratified when I’m actually able to write something because that tap isn’t always available. It’s exciting because I still have a lot of reverence for it…when it’s going well, it feels like something I’m very grateful for.
The other thing was, I was paired up with somebody who I had collaborated with in the past, Dave Filoni. I’ve found, if you have a very good collaborator…even though I was actually writing the episodes, there were many, many hours of conversations, and I would show him things I was writing, and he was giving me a tremendous amount of feedback and helping guide me through the world of Star Wars. He had studied under George for I think a decade working on the animated shows, so I felt like I had a direct connection to the source code of this whole world with him.”
About the inclusion of Luke Skywalker, he said the idea was not there from the beginning, but rather it came up as he started writing:
“The story unfolded as I wrote it. The Mandalorian inherits a great deal from existing Star Wars stories, and when I write, that context is always a consideration. It became clear that, within the established continuity, certain things were likely to transpire.”
It is unclear whether he means they came up with the idea while writing season 1, at the beginning of season 2, or after they had written the Ahsoka episode. In any case, this proves it is possible to write a story without having it all planned out from the beginning.
The Mandalorian takes place in between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, so the interviewer then asked Favreau if he felt tied up in its writing because he had a limited playground in terms of the Star Wars timeline. He said:
“We have a tremendous amount of freedom afforded to us because of the gap in time between the films. Dave Filoni and I are in constant discussion regarding how each story choice is impacted by, and would impact, existing Star Wars material.”
Favreau went on to talk about the drawing process for The Mandalorian, which we know is something Dave Filoni has been very involved in. He said:
“Because [Dave Filoni]’s an animator, he started to do some sketches of moments, and then eventually, it would go to the art department and [design supervisor] Doug Chiang, so Lucasfilm art would start to generate images from the stuff I was writing. Even though the writing was a very solitary thing, there was a lot of creative collaboration on a larger level. Just having a receptive, understanding, appreciative audience for the beginnings of it, that put a lot of wind in my sails and continues to be the engine of the show.
You have to be very prolific in this new medium because so much writing is required when you’re putting that many hours television on the air. It requires creativity, which is a lot different than the burnishing of one piece of material as you do for theatrical. Here, it’s a river of writing and it’s not something where I have a big writing staff. I’ve taken on a lot of that responsibility myself, which isn’t to say that it’s not a collaborative process, but the actual typing out of it, where the rubber hits the road, ends up falling on your shoulders when you’re staring at your computer.
Having an understanding of how story fits into, not just our series, but the Star Wars universe, that’s something that requires a very collaborative approach. That collaboration is what inspires me to be able to go home and type and write scenes alone. We found a very interesting, cool balance that’s about as fulfilling as anything I’ve ever worked on in my whole career.”
Those drawings were then featured at the end of each episode, pulling back the curtain of the creative process for The Mandalorian:
“Absolutely. We also made the choice to not edit out things that didn’t make it to air or that changed, so it really shows the writer’s notes and this idea of this ongoing, pulpy writing process whereby you’re creating the story as you go, and people are waiting for the next chapter to come out…We think about it as novels or books, but there’s something really pure about this back and forth between an audience and storytellers that seems, in a weird way, through technology, to emulate the campfire storytelling. I really like the back and forth with the audience and I love the back and forth with the artists, directors and other people that I’m collaborating with. I’m writing for other directors most of the time, and that’s something I’ve never experienced either.
Directing became a way for me to chef my writing through the process, but now there’s the collaboration, so you get this very immediate gratification of writing something, sending it to somebody else to read, getting their feedback, or even getting artwork, and that artwork becomes a reflection of what you’ve written. You’re not having to wait a year to see it on the screen, you’re actually getting a glimpse of it right then and there, and that inspires you.
Writing is a learning process. Unfortunately, generally, you have to wait for something to actually get produced that you’ve written…Until you’ve actually seen your material go through the gauntlet of the editing process and the rewriting that comes in post-production, and wind up on the big screen, you don’t really have a full grasp of what writing for the screen is. Often it takes a full career to have enough experiences to learn those lessons. But in this case, there’s a feedback loop that’s so immediate that it’s actually affecting the way that you’re writing moving forward, based on what you’re seeing and also the feedback from the audience.
And this immediate world of streaming, where it goes out there and you get immediate feedback, is so different than movies, where you could sit in the back of the theater or read reviews. Here, there’s a conversation that’s flowing around you and it just depends to what extent you want to bend your ear to that, or isolate yourself from it, depending on what will most fully support you creatively. Some people like to wall themselves off, which I sometimes do. And some people like to really just wade into it. Now you can listen to every water cooler in every office, essentially, thanks to the internet.”
He then talked about how they managed to bring Baby Yoda/Grogu to life:
“A lot of the credit goes to the combination of creative people working on it along with us being able to keep the secret so there was a sense of discovery. To be able to surprise people in this moment in history is very challenging. So there’s a certain delight in surprise of the discovery. We also benefited a tremendous amount from the fact that in Star Wars, you will forgive puppetry. Whereas, if you presented it in a new format, I don’t know that it would have been as readily accepted.
We’ve benefited from legacy building, very sophisticated animatronics. ILM blending the things we couldn’t do with CGI in an invisible way was really helpful. Werner Herzog on the set, encouraging us to use the puppet and not use as much CGI as we thought we would have to to help blend over the rough spots was a big deal [in an anecdote Favreau has recounted Hertzog called the team cowards for shooting a back up version of a scene he was in with Grogu, insisting they should believe in themselves and what they were doing].
That was a character I was thinking about for a long time before this series, an idea that I had had that when the streaming service began, that was part of the initial pitch. That was a character I thought would fit well into Star Wars, but it wasn’t until it was drawn and rendered, that it started to work. And if you look at Disney gallery, which shows behind the scenes, we do a deep dive on it, showing how it developed over time. It was finding the right look with the artists, that was also a big deal. So there was the tradition of that relationship as well of the juxtaposition of this hardened gunslinger up next to this very emotive, vulnerable child seemed like it had a lot of good story tension.”
This answer doesn’t offer a lot of new information, but hearing about Grogu’s creation is always interesting in addition to understanding how nervous they were about it leaking. In an era where everybody is looking for the next scoop and learning what is going to happen in every movie or TV show in advance, we are fortunate Favreau, Filoni, and the rest of the team for preserving that surprise, no matter the cost.
There is a lot more to the interview, but the rest of it mostly covers details of Favreau’s writing process, without talking a lot about Star Wars in particular. If you are interested in that, make sure to read it here. The Mandalorian season 3 will return in 2022 at an uncertain date.
Miguel Fernández is a Spanish student that has movies as his second passion in life. His favorite movie of all time is The Lord of the Rings, but he is also a huge Star Wars fan. However, fantasy movies are not his only cup of tea, as movies from Scorsese, Fincher, Kubrick or Hitchcock have been an obsession for him since he started to understand the language of filmmaking. He is that guy who will watch a black and white movie, just because it is in black and white.