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Here's how 'Cowboys & Aliens' was a key step on Jon Favreau's journey to creating 'The Mandalorian'
More than 10 years before Jon Favreau created The Mandalorian, he directed Cowboys & Aliens. Revisit the classic now on Peacock.
Before Jon Favreau became deeply involved in the Star Wars universe, he directed the star-studded movie Cowboys & Aliens. And while the 2011 film about a small town coming under attack from an extraterrestrial species in search of gold wasn’t a runaway hit, it’s arguably an underrated film that’s not only a fun rewatch, but also a stepping stone in Favreau’s career toward creating and writing The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.
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Cowboys & Aliens is now streaming on Peacock (just as The Mandalorian returns for Season 3), and watching it in this post-Mando time puts the movie in a different light. Here are the ways the film foreshadows Favreau’s Star Wars work.
It brings sci-fi and the Western genres together
The beginning of Cowboys & Aliens is all Western. The first scene has Daniel Craig wake up, barefoot and dirty, in the shrub-lined terrain in the mountains with no memory. He’s laconic, he doesn’t even speak a word until almost eight minutes into the film, and from the beginning, we learn that he can fight and kill better than most. Craig is the strong, silent hero of the film, and shares many characteristics with Din Djarin (a.k.a. Mando).
The sci-fi element comes into play later on in Cowboys & Aliens when the titular aliens kidnap several people in the small Western town Craig finds himself in. Craig’s character, who has since found out his name is Jake Lonergan, also has a piece of otherworldly tech on his wrist that can make it more of a fair fight with the aliens. All in all, however, Cowboys & Aliens is a classic Western with some otherworldly tech thrown in for good measure. That's a similar vibe to The Mandalorian, and one can’t help but see Favreau’s enjoyment of the sci-fi Westerns in both.
The aliens are like the Empire (kinda) …
The aliens invading Earth are looking for gold, and they’re more than willing to subjugate people weaker than them to get what they want, just like the Empire. Their mothership is also full of sharp angles and rooms where they experiment on/torture the humans they’ve kidnapped. Just like the Empire. The aliens also have superior resources and firepower than the humans they come across, and in all these ways, they are more similar to the Empire than not.
... and the “good guys” form unlikely relationships to fight a greater foe
One of the main arcs of Cowboys & Aliens is how Craig’s Lonergan and Harrison Ford’s character, the imposing and ruthless Woodrow Dolarhyde, form an alliance of necessity that then turns into mutual respect and, ultimately, friendship.
In The Mandalorian, Din Djarin has a similar arc with a few characters, including Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) and Shennec Fand (Ming-Na Wen). With Greef Karga, Din had a tumultuous relationship when he was the bounty hunger agent. Later on, however, Greef shows that he has more honor than Din expected. Shennec and Din also had a rough start — Din was trying to capture her after all — but even after he leaves her for dead, she comes back with Boba Fett, and the two work together to fight a greater evil. Din also has this relationship with Timothy Olyphant’s Cobb Vanth, the marshal who has Boba Fett’s beskar armor. The two are initially at odds but come together to find a sand dragon and come to an understanding of one another.
It stars Harrison Ford
Whether Harrison Ford likes it or not, one immediately thinks of Han Solo in anything resembling sci-fi. In Cowboys & Aliens, Ford’s character is gruff, vicious, and not the nicest guy. Kind of like Han Solo. Ford is older here, however, and his character also shares a trait with Din Djarin — he forms an attachment to a cute young kid and teaches him arguably inappropriate things about survival.
These are the major threads you can find in a rewatch of Cowboys & Aliens after seeing Favreau’s more recent work in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. All three are worth watching if you’re in the mood for a sci-fi Western.
In addition to being directed by Favreau, Cowboys & Aliens was written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof and produced by Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg. It’s now streaming on Peacock.