Disney needs “The Mandalorian” now more than ever

Disney’s two biggest stars.
Disney’s two biggest stars.
Image: Disney
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

After a disastrous year and with more rough terrain ahead, Disney really needs The Mandalorian to keep leading the way.

The second season of the hit Star Wars series premiered on Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, today—and the early returns suggest it will be another success. Critics are so far impressed, while search interest has skyrocketed in the past week. Disney has not divulged how many subscribers stream the show, though it was largely credited with helping to sign up nearly 30 million customers in the service’s first three months. (As of August, it had more than 60 million.)

But that was because The Mandalorian was—and still is—the only real hit series on Disney+. When the first season came out in November 2019, it anchored the release of Disney’s nascent streaming service as its first significant original series. Expectations were high, and it was important the show meet them, but the company didn’t necessarily need The Mandalorian like it does now.

Last year, Disney was riding high off its historic box office run. And, of course, there was no pandemic. The company was in a solid financial position and already poised to transition into a streaming-first empire. The Mandalorian was meant to be only the first of many Star Wars and Marvel branded series to help the Mouse House compete with Netflix for streamers’ attention around the world.

That has all changed. The pandemic shuttered Disney’s parks, put a halt to new movie releases in theaters, and forced widespread production delays on many of those shows that were supposed to keep Disney+’s momentum going. Disney tried to compensate by putting some big movies, like Mulan, on the service instead of in theaters, but nothing could make up for months worth of lost box office and theme park revenue. The company reported its first quarterly loss since 2001 in August, losing almost $5 billion.

So into this precarious environment comes the second season of The Mandalorian, except it’s a lot more crucial than before. It’s the linchpin barely holding together a faltering empire that now sees its streaming business as its future. Disney is smartly releasing episodes weekly, rather than all at once (as Netflix does), in order to maximize the discourse surrounding the show and keep subscribers signed up and engaged for as long as possible.

WandaVision, based on characters from The Avengers, will hit Disney+ in December, but most other exciting projects aren’t planned for release until 2021, 2022, and beyond. There’s little immediate help on the way to complement The Mandalorian on a service that is lacking compelling original content.

The dearth of new originals on Disney+ is in stark contrast to Netflix, which hardly missed a beat during the pandemic thanks to a long lineup of shows that had already finished production. Netflix’s position is so solid that it felt comfortable raising the price of subscriptions in the US by $1 yesterday, even as the US economy struggles to rebound from the effects of the pandemic.

Disney+ still has a long way to go before it can prove it’s as indispensable to consumers.