What's With 'The Mandalorian's' Episode Lengths?

'The Mandalorian'
'The Mandalorian'Credit: Disney+
The Mandalorian has such a variety of episode lengths... why? Is this the way? 

Every week I look forward to curling up in my baby Yoda—sorry, Grogu—onesie, and watching a new episode of The Mandalorian. It's a really fun show that takes us across galaxies in search of the Jedi, peace, and a home for our little green friend. 

In my opinion, it's the best Star Wars property since the original films. 

But here's my weekly battle. The episode lengths fluctuate from as long as 47 minutes to as short as 25 minutes. It's hard to know what you're going to get, week in and week out with Mando. Sure, some missions are genre mash-ups with heists, or western showdowns, or even bottle episodes. But you never know how long you're going to spend with the characters in terms of story length. 

This is directly contradictory to everything we know about television. We usually categorize dramas in a 60-minute runtime (or 45 minutes on network TV) and comedy in a 30-minute runtime (22 minutes on network TV). 

Sure, some stuff works as a 30-minute drama and some comedies that last 60, but we are used to episodes with standard runtimes. Enter The Mandalorian, which has been delivering what seem to be completely random episode lengths. 

So why would Disney program them this way? 

'The Mandalorian'
'The Mandalorian'Credit: Disney+

Peter Csathy, founder and chairman of digital media consulting firm CreaTV Media, told CNBC he had a theory for why, saying, "Many of the people who are watching it will be on their mobile devices, so it’s logical for them to program it differently."

He continued to say that while appealing to adults, Star Wars is for a younger demographic, and that could be why they favor episodes that don't run too long. 

The Wrap attributed the lengths to the old Flash Gordon show, which inspired Lucas to create Star Wars and ran only a half-hour every week. 

Another theory out there is that the show is supposed to be almost like a novel, with all the episode titles described as chapters. This means that week in and out we see Mando on serialized adventures. These adventures are all diverse and require different amounts of time to tell the story. 

What I find so exciting about this is while the episodes are all building toward a season, it really gives the individual writers and directors opportunities to work independently and to tell a small story to completion. 

This also really messes with audience expectations. If you go in expecting every episode to be an hour, you might settle in and not pay attention or think that the life-o- death stakes happening in minute twenty do not matter. Without knowing when every Mando episode ends, everything is important. 

There's also the fun thing about streaming. While we see how streaming has changed TV on other platforms, with Netflix dumping seasons for binging and the rise in adult themes in entertainment, you also have much more elbow room with episode length. Your shows no longer have to fit a format scheduled at night. You don't need two comedies from 8 to 9 p.m. and then two hour-long dramas that run from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

'The Mandalorian'
'The Mandalorian'Credit: Disney+

Without having to fit particular advertisers in certain spots, platforms like Disney+ and even Netflix have a lot of freedom. You can mess with episode length because people are just sitting to watch the show, no matter what it is being delivered week in and out. You're selling a world and characters, not the amount of time each week. 

While we have no concrete answer on why the show runs different episode lengths, we can all come up with theories. Put yours in the comments and let's run a little discussion! 

Can't wait to hear your thoughts.       

You Might Also Like

Your Comment

5 Comments

Oh, come on Mr. Hillerman do you need a little cheese with that whine? This is streaming not broadcast programming. Variable length programming started years ago with most of the pay networks. You certainly can schedule The Mandalorian at any time that is convenient to you, instead of being forced to watch on the network schedule. Of course even the network schedule has to change every time a live sporting event or a politician runs overtime. I always appreciate variable length programs on pay TV because the whole story gets told without regard to having to fit a portion of the show between commercial interruptions.

December 29, 2020 at 3:59PM

7
Reply

If you watch Chef, Jon Favreau's excellent movie, you may find your answer. He's cooking the recipes he and his directors want. Some are grilled cheese, some are lava cakes, some are Cubano sandwiches and so forth.

December 29, 2020 at 5:14PM

0
Reply

"Your shows no longer have to fit a format scheduled at night."
That's what I've always thought as the main reason. Without those constraints, I've always thought they edit the episode without ever thinking about it's length. It's just as long as it needs to be.

December 30, 2020 at 6:41AM

0
Reply

I totally appreciate what the show is doing, I just find it pretty radical. The best shows ever (Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Lost) all stuck with a pretty standard episode length. This is truly new and interesting. Almost like a movie of the week.

December 30, 2020 at 8:25AM

0
Reply
avatar
Jason Hellerman
Copywriter
Writer

I love it. I call it the Liberation of Duration and, exactly like you said, without having to fill time slots, the duration of a story can be dictated by the story.

I'm sure we'll see this in films, each of which can keep the more traditional 90mins, become shorter or turn into a mini-series of sorts.

We've also seen it with the advent of the shorter episodics like Steven Universe.

December 30, 2020 at 11:40AM, Edited December 30, 11:42AM

0
Reply
Brandon Kelley
DIT/Director
641

Television, with its rigid segmentations of shelf space, often wrecks stories by imposing arbitrary running lengths. Watch some of the better channels on YouTube and you'll see that they don't damage their stories on a Procrustean bed. Their content runs to the most appropriate length.

I was quite impressed that the Mandalorian's creators freed themselves from a limitation that makes no sense whatever for on-demand content. Television and Film are being disrupted by a platform without gatekeepers that allows channels to find their niche audiences and thrive if they serve them well. It's nothing to do with attention spans either, it's down to reduced tolerance of crap, homogenous content. I had a career in TV but haven't watched any in over a year, and I'm over 65.

Look for the words Disruptive Innovation being applied to the impact of YouTube on traditional media in the near future. TV is a dinosaur and YouTube is eating its eggs.

December 30, 2020 at 12:40PM, Edited December 30, 12:45PM

0
Reply
Simon Morice
Director
99