Jon Favreau’s First-Ever TV Series Made Disney+ an Instant Streaming Powerhouse

With The Mandalorian, Adweek’s TV Creator of the Year brought Baby Yoda into the galaxy

Writer and director Jon Favreau is Adweek's TV Creator of the Year. Courtesy of Disney

Ahead of Disney+’s debut last November, Disney executives needed a showstopping original series to convince even more consumers—not just kids and families who were already likely to subscribe—that their new streamer was a must-have service. With Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian, they got exactly what they wished for.

Written and executive produced by Favreau—Adweek’s TV Creator of the Year—the show marked the first time the Star Wars franchise had expanded into a live-action TV series. It was another first for Favreau, who despite acting in, directing and producing big-name projects like Iron Man and last year’s The Lion King, had never previously written for television.

With Pedro Pascal as the titular Mandalorian and the power of the Star Wars world behind it, the space western was highly anticipated and marketed, but the series’ real breakout star came with The Child, the pint-size character fans came to know as “Baby Yoda,” whom Disney kept under wraps until a big reveal at the end of Episode 1. Favreau knew The Child had found an enviable position in pop culture when he spotted a street art depiction of the green, wide-eyed child in France, where Disney+ was not yet available.  

“Something was going on where people were connecting with the characters, with social media allowing them to see aspects of the show before they even knew what it was,” Favreau recently told Entertainment Weekly.

Baby Yoda, created by Favreau along with executive producer Dave Filoni and concept artist Christian Alzmann, took the internet by storm, spawning endless memes, videos and crossovers—like the one of Baby Yoda repeatedly turning on the “Succession” theme song in the Mandalorian’s cockpit in a repurposed clip from the show.

But it wasn’t just Baby Yoda that won over viewers and critics. Weaving plot lines and memorable characters attracted high marks—even from a highly critical Star Wars fan base that went as far as to petition Disney to “strike Star Wars Episode VIII from the official canon”—and The Mandalorian racked up 15 Emmy nominations, including one for outstanding drama series. Ultimately, the show’s first season took home five Creative Emmys—Disney+’s first wins ever.  

Now, Favreau is hoping to continue that success with The Mandalorian’s second season, arriving this Friday. It comes at an essential time for the streamer, which thanks in part to the show’s freshman success has ballooned to 60.5 million global subscribers and met five-year subscriber projections in less than a year. As competition in the streaming space heats up even more, Disney hopes to convince households to re-up annual subscriptions or even enroll for the first time—and is counting on The Mandalorian to drive that excitement.

Disney has also had some luck on its side: The series narrowly avoided the Covid-19 production shutdowns that sidelined most shows in March. “We were lucky enough to have finished photography before the lockdown,” Favreau said during this year’s ATX Television Festival. “Thanks to how technology-forward Lucasfilm and [VFX and animation studio Industrial Light & Magic] are, we have been able to do all of our visual effects and editing and postproduction remotely through systems that had been set up by those companies for us.”

The show’s highly anticipated second season will feature returning actors like Pascal, Giancarlo Esposito, Gina Carano and Taika Waititi, but new cast members’ identities remain under wraps, which may help preserve some of the mystery that made the show’s first season so enticing for viewers. “The new season is about introducing a larger story in the world,” Favreau told EW. “The stories become less isolated, yet each episode has its own flavor, and hopefully we’re bringing a lot more scope to the show.”

This story first appeared in the Oct. 26, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.
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