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?
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.
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.