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Disney Plus’ ‘Star Wars’ series, ‘The Mandalorian,’ proves the franchise can make the leap from theaters to prestige TV

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Disney has been adamant that audiences aren't interested in more “Star Wars” standalone movies after “Solo” disappointed at the box office last year. But the latest entry in the franchise suggests there's still room for those kinds of stories in another medium.

Disney's highly anticipated streaming competitor, Disney Plus, launched on Tuesday and with it, the first live-action “Star Wars” TV show: “The Mandalorian.”

There's a lot riding on “The Mandalorian,” which takes place after “Return of the Jedi” but before “The Force Awakens.” While Disney has committed to slowing down “Star Wars” theatrical releases (the next movie after December's “The Rise of Skywalker” is slated for 2022), the company is leaning into the franchise on the streaming side. Beyond “The Mandalorian,” Disney is developing an Obi-Wan Kenobi series starring Ewan McGregor and a “Rogue One” spinoff starring Diego Luna.

Disney Plus

“There's a lot of curiosity about what 'Star Wars' can be outside of the Skywalker Saga,” Shawn Robbins, the Boxoffice Pro chief analyst, told Business Insider. “The reaction to 'The Mandalorian' will be indicative of how people feel about 'Star Wars.' This is an important time in the franchise.”

The first episode is now streaming and future episodes will debut each Friday. “The Mandalorian” wastes no time in showcasing its pricey budget. It opens with a bar brawl and within minutes a giant creature appears to torment the title character, a bounty hunter played by Pedro Pascal. Disney CEO Bob Iger said last month that the show's budget was “around $100 million” (at eight episodes, that would make each episode around $12.5 million).

The visual effects look closer to the original “Star Wars” trilogy than the prequels: practical but effective. And that's one of the show's biggest draws in its first episode. It feels like an old-school “Star Wars” story that could satisfy fans who grew up with the original trilogy while also reeling in new ones.

Disney Plus

“The Mandalorian's” first episode is swift but successful in establishing the kind of show it is: a good old sci-fi action/adventure. At 40 minutes, it's a better episode of television than the competition Apple's bloated first episode of “The Morning Show,” which clocked in at over an hour. If every episode moves at this pace, audiences are in for a treat.

But that also highlights one of the biggest questions facing Disney Plus: Is the weekly format for its original series smart? “The Mandalorian” certainly seems like it could be a binge-worthy show, especially after the first episode's exciting cliffhanger that opens intriguing new possibilities for the “Star Wars” franchise. Still, while it's too early to tell whether “The Mandalorian” could capture genre fans' hearts like “Game of Thrones” did, Disney Plus could build demand and word-of-mouth with its weekly-episode strategy in a similar way.

“Fans want 'Star Wars' to feel like an event,” Robbins said.

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