Review – The Mandalorian: Season 2, Episode 1

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Overview

Directing Jon Favreau

Producing Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, Kathleen Kennedy, Greig Fraser, Karen Gilchrist, David S. Grant, Colin Wilson

Writing Jon Favreau

Starring Pedro Pascal, John Leguizamo (Voice), Timothy Olyphant, Temuera Morrison (Cameo) 

Genre Science Fiction/Action/Adventure

Platforms Disney+

Release Date October 30th, 2020

The long-awaited second season of The Mandalorian premiered on Friday. Mando and Baby Yoda are back and just beginning their quest to find the Jedi so the child can have a safe home. In order to do that, Mando needs to discover other surviving Mandalorians and finds himself face to face with a mysterious stranger on Tatooine. 

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Characters are shot with laser blasts and die bloodlessly; aliens are dissolved with acid bloodlessly (but it’s still gruesome), a monster is killed with a massive explosion.

Language/Crude Humor: Minimal contemporary harsh language, some Star Wars lingo that could be interpreted as swearing.

Sexual Content: None.

Drug/Alcohol Use: Characters drink at a bar.

Spiritual Content: Some references to alien religions.

Other Negative Themes: Large body counts, killing, murder, and criminal behavior.

Positive Content: Themes of honor, fatherhood, and cooperation. 

Review

One of the consistent subtexts of Disney Star Wars has been the act of waking up in the ruins of the old world. Characters in the new trilogy and The Mandalorian frequently find themselves scavenging the ruins of old empires and wars. They struggle with the legacy of the stories around them and have to deal with the fallout of old empires resurging in new forms. 

The metaphor has meaning for Disney itself. Kathleen Kennedy and JJ Abrams decided to tell their story subtextually, but talk about how it feels to be a new generation picking up the pieces of the most hotly debated and berated film franchise in history. They had to pick up the pieces where the prequel trilogy left a generation of fans alienated and find a way to rebuild the franchise with a new saga of films and characters. 

In The Mandalorian, this theme takes on new subtexts. Characters scavenging frequently fail to understand what it is they’re stealing and who’s suit they’re wearing. Even forty years after The Clone Wars, society has no memory of the Jedi or the Mandalorians outside of legends of great wizards and warriors.

In essence, The Mandalorian‘s new story is about the struggle of maintaining a dying culture, honor code, and legacy in a world that doesn’t understand the significance of your beliefs. In contemporary terms, part of the theme of the show is the idea of cultural appropriation and how other people abuse your culture without understanding it.

That said, it remains to be seen just how far the show will take that metaphor and what else it has on its mind. Certainly, the focus of the show is still on the central relationship between Mando and the Child. Certainly, that’s where the story seems to be shifting.   

Prologue


As The Mandalorian picks up, we’re reintroduced to the characters in a way that mirrors the shootout at the beginning of the first episode. It’s not clear just how much time has passed, but small details would suggest Mando and the Child have developed something of a “business as usual” attitude towards casual violence, which suggests they’ve been at this for a while.

Mando walks into a room and is ambushed by a large group of men who he systematically defeats by himself. The intro gets right to the point and reveals what Mando’s primary mission of the first part of the season is. 

This is one of the strengths of The Mandalorian. The show is smart enough to constantly give its characters a central goal they’re pursuing at all times. Granted, Dave Filoni’s writing style is very tangential and full of wheel spinning. He likes taking his characters on digressions and distractions to keep them at bay. These stories can be fun and reveal small bits of details about the characters, but it’s impossible to call them anything but filler in functionality. 

This very much describes the plot of the season premiere, as the character’s central goal is placed on the back burner for a side story. 

Episode 1

Mando’s primary goal in this season is to figure out a way to deliver the Child to other force users who can take care of him. This actually surprised me a bit. Initially, I assumed Baby Yoda was going to be returned to his own species and the franchise would finally break its long silence on details surrounding Yoda’s home planet and species.

That doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, it seems he’s going to hand the Child over to the first Jedi he can find. 

Regardless, his goal is focused, but he needs help to do it. From the start, we find out Mando is seeking other Mandalorian convents hidden around the galaxy and is asking members of the underworld for bits of information. When he finds out a Mandalorian may be hiding in a backwater city on Tatooine, he travels back to Mos Eisley and bikes out into the wilderness to find the strange being. 

Immediately, any half sensible Star Wars fan can sense where this is going. We all know which famous Mandalorian was last seen on this planet at the beginning of Return of the Jedi. Much to the surprise of anyone watching, the show isn’t quite ready to pull the trigger on that yet. 

When Mando arrives, he finds himself face to face with a Marshall wearing part of Boba Fett’s armor to protect the town from raiders, sand people, and giant monsters. 

When Mando demands he hand over a suit of precious Mandalorian armor so it can be returned to its people, the Marshall reluctantly agrees, so long as he helps defeat a giant Sand Dragon that’s terrorizing the town. 

Fans of Knights of the Old Republic will enjoy this episode a lot, as we see one of the monsters depicted in that game fully realized in glorious high definition. There’s also a lot of Dune and western vibes and motifs to the episode as well. The episode is definitely digging into the same creative wells that inspired George Lucas. 

As I said, the story is mostly a distraction. Mando needs to achieve Goal A, but has to work around Obstacle B so he can achieve Goal A in a roundabout sort of way. Being what it is, it’s a lot of fun. There isn’t much Baby Yoda interaction in this episode outside of the prologue, but the episode does well to focus on Mando, his culture, and abilities. It’s clear this is going to be the primary focus of the season going forward. 

Season 2 Direction

For a long time now, I’ve been concerned The Mandalorian was going to fully indulge in fan service and break down gradually. My fear of this has yet to pass. Thankfully, Episode 1 handles itself amicably, but the final cameo at the end of the episode suggests the series may yet relapse into full fan service at the expense of its story. 

We already have casting news and rumors for half a dozen characters like Ashoka Tano, Boba Fett, Captain Rex, and Bo-Katan returning in some fashion. It’s not even beyond the realm of possibility that characters like Luke Skywalker or Ezra Bridger could show up at some point. 

At the moment, I’m not overly worried. Dave Filoni is a very skilled Star Wars writer and has the sensitivity to make strange and cynical creative decisions work in the long run. He managed to resurrect Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and reinvent him into a completely compelling and original character against all odds. 

That said, most of the stories he is borrowing from are his own stories in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels. As nice as it must be for fans to recognize the Darksaber or Cobb Vanth’s first appearance since The Aftermath Trilogy, this series desperately needs to stand on its own and avoid falling into too much reflexive self-referencing. The most important thing is the series can dramatically explain everything we see on screen in a way that doesn’t isolate new fans.

If the series is building up to some sort of great confrontation against Mof Gideon for the rightful rule over the Mandalorian people (what the importance of the black lightsaber in the series finale would suggest), the series needs to build to a place where Mando is given the choice to make such a decision. It needs to take the story we’ve seen thus far and weave the Child and the Jedi storyline into it naturally. 

I’m not overly worried, though. The creative pairing of Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni really works as both creatives do well to even out each other’s weak spots. Filoni’s strength of building long-term story arcs may come in handy and build the show into something unique as it moves into its upcoming third and fourth seasons. We will just have to wait and see what the next seven weeks of new episodes reveal to us.

The Bottom Line

The Mandalorian is back, and while it's taking a roundabout route to its final destination, it's still fun and exciting.

 

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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