(WARNING: Slight spoilers up ahead. I call them “slight” because they give away a couple character reveals that you’ve probably seen inundating social media for the past two months. Definitely nothing related to the finale, though—that will be saved for the spoilery space.)
What’s new, readers? Let’s start in on the The Mandalorian, the Star Warsseries that debuted on Disney Plus in 2019 with an eight-episode first season. Set five years after the collapse of the Empire at the end of Return of the Jedi, Season 1 centered on the eponymous bounty hunter—whose signature armor evokes Boba Fett and his father Jango—as he made it his mission to protect the snuggly ball of fifty-year-old outrageous cuteness that is Baby Yoda/The Child from his Imperial pursuers in the distant regions of the galaxy. While S1 suffered from some plotting and pacing flaws, I found it to be an overall fun and action-packed show that, in the careful hands of executive producers Jon Favreau (the director and writer of the premiere) and Dave Filoni, succeeded in simultaneously forging its own compelling narrative and immersing itself in the wider world of Star Wars. With the last two episodes being particularly top-notch, I was left keenly looking forward to a second season that could sustain the high quality.
Those hopes were in no way upset when Season 2 rolled in two months ago with Chapter 9, “The Marshal,” which Favreau wrote and directed. On the contrary, they thrived on the opener, with its prominent Western influences, explosive action, exceptionally movie-quality visual effects dedicated to an acid-spewing Krayt Dragon, an appealing Timothy Olyphant exuding Raylan Givens vibes as titular lawman Cobb Vanth (who was actually introduced into Star Wars canon back in Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath novel series), and a final-shot reveal that fans had tons of fun geeking out over.
As it turned out, the season only climbed from that point. Aside from Chapter 2, “The Passenger”—parts of it are enjoyable enough, but it’s generally the weakest out of all the S2 entries for me—each additional installment either lived up to or topped the steep standards set by the series. “Expansive” is the word I would use to describe this season, with it taking the adventure-of-the-week format from S1 and stepping it up with phenomenal production design. The direction, the settings, the CGI, the practical effects, the costumes, the fight choreography, the sound design, pretty much everything rivaled the level of quality expected from a big-budget flick. You can tell how much dough Disney poured into the show after realizing what a hit they had in their hands. I highly recommend you look up the innovative visual effects of The Volume and how it helped the crew shoot the show in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown.
The episodes themselves are tailor-made for viewers who love spectacles brimming with exhilarating action, snappy humor, and stratospherically high physical and emotional stakes. Typically, they each focus on a separate mission, a side quest of sorts, that contributes in some way to the primary narrative of Din Djarin staunchly guarding his charge. It helps that the scripts and direction are first-rate. Favreau, who wrote all but two of the S2 episodes, and Filoni have such a deft touch when it comes to making these stories feel like they genuinely belong within the deeply historied Star Wars franchise. The directors, some of them show veterans, flexed their own talents as well, such as Robert Rodriguez relying on his action background to shoot dynamic fight sequences in “Chapter 14: The Tragedy,” or Rick Famuyiwa balancing the well-paced thrills of an Imperial base infiltration with the quiet thoughtfulness of characters meditating on their fundamental beliefs in “Chapter 15: The Believer.” Even when plotting slip-ups emerge and challenge my suspension of belief, they’re ultimately negligible enough to avoid marring my viewing experience.
Just like in S1, Pedro Pascal (whom audiences are seeing as business tycoon Maxwell Lord in Wonder Woman 1984) continues to be the perfect voice for Din, his husky and tight-lipped tones reinforcing his ability to fill the dual roles of formidable mercenary and devoted parental figure. The casting is spot-on for the guest roles as well, including newcomers like Olyphant as Cobb, Katee Sackhoff as The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels’ Bo-Katan (Sackhoff is the first Star Wars voice actor to transition from animation to live-action in the same role), Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano (the show executed Ahsoka’s live-action adaptation so well, and I very much wish her spinoff series was coming sooner than 2022), Bruce Lee’s goddaughter Diana Lee Inosanto as an authoritarian magistrate, Michael Biehn as her lieutenant, and Titus Welliver as an Imperial dirt-wipe. Returning actors pull their own weight, too; standup comedian Bill Burr delivers a surprisingly affecting and dramatic turn as ex-Imperial sharpshooter Migs Mayfeld, Temuera Morrison is nothing less than magnificent as legendary bounty hunter Boba Fett (RIP the original Boba, Jeremy Bulloch), and Giancarlo Esposito dominates whenever he’s onscreen as the chillingly measured bad guy Moff Gideon. My only issue is with Gina Carano, whose performance as ex-Rebel shock trooper Cara Dune ranges between passable and wooden. With a background in mixed martial-arts, Carano shines brighter in the brutal action scenes. It’s fine if she ends up being one of the supporting characters in the Rangers of the New Republic spinoff, but if she were to be the protagonist, she won’t be able to drive it the way Pascal does for The
To go back to Gideon for a minute, I would go so far as to call him one of the best villains I’ve seen in pop culture in the past few years. Favreau wrote this role specifically for Esposito, who—after playing Gus Fring in Breaking Bad and Anton Castillo in the Far Cry 6 video game—has ample experience playing cutthroat figures who are all the more menacing for their calm demeanors. That’s why I want the show to sustain Gideon’s utter hateableness rather than turn him into a tragic and sympathetic figure à la Darth Vader or Kylo Ren. Not that we don’t want complex baddies, but sometimes all we need is a despicable embodiment of evil for our heroes to triumph over, like Emperor Palpatine, Negan, or the Joker. In general, I think Star Wars has run into some villain trouble as of late, though it isn’t nearly as bad as the MCU. I’m satisfied with Kylo and Supreme Leader Snoke’s arcs, but as for Captain Phasma and General Hux, they were two Imperial dickweasels who had such strong starts in The Force Awakens, then got stuck with the sequels watering down their malevolence and reducing them to bland minions.
What I especially love about this show is its equal accessibility for casual and hardcore fans. There are a few homages and quotes that feel awkwardly jammed in, but most of the time they’re woven into the narrative so seamlessly that they bring out hurrahs of glee from full-blown nerds without jarring casual viewers who aren’t deep into Star Wars lore. Perhaps my favorite example is the scene where Din asks Boba, “Are you Mandalorian?” and he answers, “I’m a simple man making his way through the galaxy, like my father before me.” This is a twosies Star Wars callback—the first half being the phrase his dad Jango tells Obi-Wan Kenobi in Attack of the Clones, the second being a nod to Luke Skywalker’s “I am a Jedi like my father before me” in Return of the Jedi.
Enhancing The Mandalorian is Ludwig Goransson’s understated and whimsical score. Its old-timey Americana roots smoothly mesh with the show’s Western bent, heightening the tension of action sequences and the heart of emotional beats. It’s intriguing to study Goransson himself as a composer who has a knack for merging disparate musical styles and keeping his sounds fresh. His breakout came in 2009 when he was hired to compose for the sitcom Community, where he met cast member Donald Glover (who has his own place in Star Wars as Young Lando Calrissian) and partnered with him on his rap music as Childish Gambino. He proceeded to work on Creed, Black Panther, Venom, Trolls World Tour, and Tenet, taking home multiple awards in 2019—an Oscar and a Grammy for the Black Pantherscore, and two Grammies for Song and Record of the Year for Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.” Keep an eye out for this guy, because he has quite the composing future ahead of him.
Here’s my ranking of the S2 chapters, which is tough in a season where almost every one of them has a shot at finishing in the top two or three.
1. Chapter 13, The Jedi, directed and written by Filoni
2. Chapter 16, The Rescue, directed by Peyton Reed and written by Favreau
3. Chapter 15, The Believer, directed and written by Rick Famuyiwa
4. Chapter 14, The Tragedy, directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by Favreau
5. Chapter 12, The Heiress, directed by Bryce Dallas Howard and written by Favreau
6. Chapter 11, The Siege, directed by Carl Weathers and written by Favreau
7. Chapter 9, The Marshal, directed and written by Favreau
8. Chapter 10, The Passenger, directed by Peyton Reed and written by Favreau
I’m raising the spoiler alarm from now on so I can have space to offer my thoughts on the astonishing S2 finale.
Windup score: 95/100
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
“The Rescue” was a mind-blowing way to wrap up a hugely satisfying season. Sure, there’s a quibble I have with the CGI face, but it ranks high up there as one of the most rewarding season finales I’ve seen on television. I’m happy that it’s garnering an overall positive reception from the fandom—a significant contrast to the disparagement reaped by the divisive sequel trilogy. Even before Luke Skywalker swoops in to save the day, the episode is a display of breathless thrills with the Lambda shuttle ambush, the storming of Gideon’s light cruiser, the Dark Troopers (whom Goransson backs up with a terrific techno theme in his score), the duel between Din and Gideon, and the revelation that Din is the rightful ruler of the planet of Mandalore after defeating Gideon and winning the Darksaber from him. I especially love that the squad mostly consists of badass women; it feels much more organic than the A-Force sequence in Avengers: Endgame, a trite bit that comes off as a slap in the face to an audience that demands better female rep from the MCU.
Unfortunately, I did get spoiled before watching the finale—not to the extent of knowing Luke himself would be in it, but I knew Mark Hamill might be involved somehow, which is virtually the same thing. That’s why I advise you to avoid checking all social media, even on the morning of a new episode, and please don’t post spoilers that will inevitably ruin at least one viewer’s experience. Just be patient and wait twenty-four or forty-eight hours to let the latest installments of the Star Wars and Marvel shows on Disney Plus cool off before tweeting your thoughts.
It’s admittedly fan service for Luke to fly in with his X-wing and obliterate the Dark Troopers, but hey, I’m a fan, and if I’m going to be serviced, this is an overwhelming and delightful way to do it. We’ve never really had the chance to see Luke flex his powers as a Jedi Master, so I appreciate the show giving us a maximum demonstration of his exceptional Lukeness. Goransson elevates the scene as well with the Star Wars motifs in his score. Luke’s interaction with our heroes on the bridge wrapped me up in enough elation that I didn’t mind the CGI face at first. On the rewatch, however, it leaned more heavily into the uncanny valley, particularly with the fuzzy lips. In the end, it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the finale, but I’m perplexed as to why they brought in Max Lloyd-Jones for the scene and overlaid him with Hamill’s face and vocals. This isn’t like the studio having to resort to stand-ins because Carrie Fisher or Peter Cushing aren’t around. It would have been a cinch for them to bring Hamill on set and employ the de-aging visuals for those few minutes. As for casting Sebastian Stan or a similar actor as a young Luke, it actually would have been more off-putting for me than the CGI effort. If the rumors about the Luke spinoff series are true, though, recasting is the most practical route. A CGI face is fine for three minutes, but not a whole show.
The farewell between Din and Grogu, in my personal opinion, hits me even deeper in my gut than Luke’s arrival. If you think about it, the buildup to this began all the way back in the S2 premiere, where Cobb removing his helmet confounded Din and made him believe the marshal wasn’t an authentic Mandalorian. This progressed to Din running into Bo-Katan and her allies, the three of whom also took off their helmets and introduced Din to the realization that the Death Watch in which he was raised is an extremely strict and traditional branch of the Mandalorians, and there are other Mandalorians who take a lenient approach to the teachings that Din has rigidly observed for much of his life. Then he had the introspective talk with Mayfeld on how much sense his rules really make out in the real world, followed by his being forced to show his face and get it scanned at an Imperial facility. After all that, it feels utterly gratifying to see his arc reach the point where he removes his helmet without an ounce of reluctance so he can savor his last moments with Grogu. Kudos to Pascal for selling the tenderness of this scene. This doesn’t mean he’ll cruise across the galaxy sans helmet next season, but it does signify how much he’s starting to cast off the Death Watch’s fanatical tenets. Grogu meeting R2-D2 is a great bonus; it does make me wonder if R2-D2 had a double take upon encountering this being who looks an awful lot like Yoda.
And then the show goes the way of the MCU with a post-credits scene that reveals a corpulent Bib Fortuna as the kingpin of Jabba the Hutt’s criminal empire on Tatooine (why do we constantly return to this puny planet?). Fennec Shand (played by the peerless Ming-Na Wen, who has the achievement of being the only actor to portray a Disney Princess and roles in Star Wars and the MCU) ends up breaking into Jabba’s palace to eliminate the guards and free the slave Twi’lek. Boba Fett strides in next, shoots Bib dead, shoves his body off the throne, and takes a seat while Fennec perches on his right armrest with a bottle of blue-colored spotchka in hand. Then we cut to black and text pops up: “The Book of Boba Fett, coming December 2021.” Disney must have felt very confident to hold that little tidbit back on their investor day. Needless to say, I am pumped for this. Hopefully, it turns out to be a multi-season show rather than a limited series. I couldn’t get enough of Olyphant as Cobb, and I think it’s possible he’ll come back to enforce the law against Boba and Fennec’s underworld dealings.
I personally don’t give much credence to the fan theory that Ben Solo, or rather Kylo Ren, will murder Grogu at Luke’s Jedi temple, since it would be a straight plunge into boiling hot water for Disney and Lucasfilm. If you thought the fandom could get toxic and enraged over the various perceived issues in the sequel trilogy, imagine how they might react to the exemplar of all that’s adorable and sweet being ruthlessly killed off. Again, if there really is going to be a Luke show, it could flesh out his arc between taking Grogu under his wing and retiring to a life of cynical solitude on Ahch-To, making his narrative in The Last Jedi more fulfilling for the fans it disappointed. I’m actually part of the minority view that it was realistic for him to go down that path, considering his headstrong tendencies and the darkness he struggled with as a young man.
It will be interesting to see what Din will pursue next without Grogu occupying his time. Exploring his capacity as the leader of Mandalore is an obvious possibility. Judging from how willing he was to surrender the Darksaber to Bo-Katan, though, he has absolutely no desire to take on such a weighty role. It could be compelling from a storytelling perspective for him to butt heads with Bo-Katan over their clashing ideologies. However, I don’t want Din to spend too long on Mandalore and get the show bogged down in tedious politics. If the main plotline sees him accepting another bounty and traveling between sundry locations akin to the narrative of S1, I’ll be satisfied with that.
On Rebels, Sabine Wren (I hope to see her and Ezra Bridger make their live-action debuts in the future) gave the Darksaber to Bo-Katan without having to lose it in combat. Now that The Mandalorian has retconned that detail, will S3 back it up with an explanation? Maybe after the Empire ravaged Mandalore and Gideon stole the Darksaber from Bo-Katan, she feels it’s inappropriate to merely accept the weapon and the command that comes with it, and this time she needs to earn the Darksaber. Considering how Bo-Katan rejected Din’s dogmatic custom of always wearing a helmet, it would be nice to bring things around full circle by having Din reject Bo-Katan’s stubborn belief that winning the Darksaber is the only way to legitimately govern Mandalore.
Gideon is a despicably dazzling villain, as shown by the psychological games he played in “The Rescue,” and it will be nice to see more of him in S3. He’s ex-ISB, or Imperial Security Bureau, which is basically the CIA of the Empire, so he’ll have plenty of intel for the New Republic to pry out of him. Don’t forget, the Empire intends to genetically engineer bodies with the midi-chlorian-rich blood they extracted from Grogu. What those bodies are exactly has been left as a hanging thread, but I’m inclined towards the theory that the blood could lead to the creation of Snoke and/or the cloning of
Well, it’s been a journey these past two months, and I’m eager for not only more of The Mandalorian, but also the incoming plethora of other Star Wars content. All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay healthy, stay strong, and happy holidays!