Why Are ‘The Mandalorian’ Episodes So Short?

Lucasfilm is going in an unusual direction by giving “The Mandalorian” episodes that last only a half-hour

“The Mandalorian,” the first ever live-action “Star Wars” TV show, has spawned what is no doubt the meme of this year’s holiday season thanks to Baby Yoda. But aside from the near-universal love for that cuteness, “The Mandalorian” has gotten the same range of responses that pretty much every new “Star Wars” thing does. And one aspect of the series that a lot of fans agree is kinda weird is the short length of the episodes.

The first episode dropped at a svelte 39 minutes — or 36 if you subtract the credits. Then the second episode landed last week and it was even shorter — listed at 32 minutes, with a running time of about 27-and-a-half minutes when you subtract the credits and the recap of the previous episode at the beginning. And then the third episode came in listed at 37 minutes but, again, the real length without the recap and credits — which are very long for a TV show by the way — is only 31 minutes.

And, finally, the fourth episode landed with a listed time of 41 minutes — but it loses nearly six minutes without the recap and credits. It’s an interesting thing, given that it’s so rare for any drama series, even network ones with commercial break, to have such short episodes.

Episode length is neither a good nor bad thing in a vacuum, of course. Making episodes of “The Mandalorian” an hour long wouldn’t make them inherently better, and it wouldn’t be inherently worse if they were ten minutes long. But setting that aside, it’s definitely unusual for a show like this to have episodes that are this short. That’s just a fact.

It’s not the only drama series in recent memory to have done shorter-than-normal episodes. “Homecoming,” the Amazon Prime Video series starring Julia Roberts, also had half-hour episodes. The creator of that show, Sam Esmail, said he wanted to do short episodes as a way to disorient the audience — “Homecoming” is intended to make the viewer uncomfortable, and he thought he could add to that by ending episodes “before the audience is expecting it to.”

By contrast, Jon Favreau and co. haven’t, as far as I can tell, given any kind of creative reasoning for the short lengths, so we’re left having to wonder and speculate wildly. Maybe the shorter length just felt like a good fit to them. Maybe it was originally planned to have fewer episodes overall but something will happen in the later episodes that would be a spoiler for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” and so before shooting they split up the episodes to make sure that part aired after the movie comes out. Maybe literally any other reason.

This topic does not ultimately matter. As Julia Roberts noted in that “Homecoming” article I linked above, this is all about expectations. “To me, drama is an hour,” she said, describing her initial reaction to the half-hour running times. “Only teenagers can get drama done in 30 minutes. I was like, ‘What are you talking about? We’re tall. We need an hour.'”

By the time we finish the season, maybe nobody will care about this anymore because the whole thing will feel like a four-hour movie. But right now it still feels kinda confusing and weird for those of us who expected each episode to be at least as long as a network drama sans commercials — which would be 42 minutes or more. That they haven’t talked about the reasoning for going with shorter episodes only exacerbates the confusion and fuels internet arguments about why they’re doing this.

But, hey, it’s always nice to have something knew that doesn’t matter to argue about.

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