Establishing a wider universe, great characters and Easter eggs galore, in only 2 seasons The Mandalorian has gone some way to undoing the damage of the past 20 years of Star Wars movies. It’s been said to death but when determining the future of Star Wars… This is the way.
***SPOILERS FOR THE MANDALORIAN SEASON 2***
Star Wars is… well, Star Wars. Despite the unprecedented success of the MCU, the acclaim of the Lord of the Rings trilogy or the book/film success of a Harry Potter, this story that happens a long time ago, in a Galaxy far, far away is truly the pinnacle of cultural phenomenon.
And yet despite a 9 film saga, a few offshoot movies, TV shows, books, comics and video games, the sad truth is this; there hasn’t been an undeniably good live action Star Wars property in… nearly 40 years. The original trilogy is pretty solid, but both prequels and sequels didn’t hit the mark overall, despite good moments. Rogue One was ok, followed up with a pretty awful Solo: A Star Wars Story which was the first cinematic “failure” in the franchise.
Lucasfilm have however produced a number of strong offshoot projects. Clone Wars and Rebels are genuinely brilliant shows on their own, and video games such as Knights of the old Republic and Jedi: Fallen Order succeed as both Star Wars stories and amazing games in their own right. The Mandalorian is the first live action show produced in the Star Wars universe. It may also be one of the best shows in the galaxy.
In truth, the first five episodes (reviews here) contained a lot of filler, and if I was to have any criticism of the series as a whole, it could have benefited with a little better pacing throughout. The memes were rife, with a recurring pattern of “Mando needs A, He asks B for A, B will give Mando A in exchange for C.” It wasn’t bad per se, but as I wrote in my review of Chapter 12, after weeks waiting for an arc to occur, the show was starting to meander.
That being said Chapters 9 and 13 were brilliantly crafted individual episodes, introducing fun new characters to live action that had previously existed only on the page or in the animated shows. The portrayals of Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olephant), Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) and Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) were all big hits, and newer characters of which many were introduced largely stuck the landing too. It helped to kick off the new season with a bang, and Chapter 13 took the wandering plot and laser focused it going into the home stretch. It also re-introduced Boba Fett, who after four decades of underwhelming really made an impact ahead of his own show (more on that later)
The final three episodes of the Mandalorian season 2 somewhat meld together in anticipation of the finale, and so I opted not to review each one individually. The main purpose of Chapter’s 14 and 15 were to bring Boba Fett and Fennec Shand into the team, set up the final battle, and drop one or two last bits of character development, signaling what we may expect from the last episode.
The series caps off with Mando and his rag tag team of Mandalorians, bounty hunters and Rebel assaulting Moff Gideon’s (Giancarlo Esposito’s) cruiser to return Grogu. On paper it’s a simple rescue mission but in reality, it was probably the best 40 minutes of live action Star Wars since the end of the Empire Strikes back.
A mixture of incredible production values, gritty, tense action and real, tangible stakes for characters that we have grown attached to made this feel more like the third act of a summer blockbuster than episode of a streaming show. None of these characters appear in the sequels and there was no guarantee of success, so during the action I couldn’t help but give in to genuine nerves. I found myself legitimately questioning who would survive, and if their mission would really succeed. After all Rogue one wasn’t afraid to fire when ready.
With hindsight it was perhaps a little too one note, and nobody of note even suffered serious wounds come the close. But there were spectacular moments to cherish, particularly Mando’s two hardcore battles, with the Dark Trooper and Moff Gideon respectively. I also enjoyed that without it feeling forced (heh) we saw the distraction team entirely comprised of female characters from varying ethnicities. Not many people may mention it, but this is the way that diversity and empowerment can seamlessly fit into a movie or TV show, without cringeworthy or patronizing expositional speeches.
Moff Gideon was a decent baddy, if not blindingly cliché. Like a lot of other baddies from the Mandalorian he was a twirling moustache, some rope and train tracks away from the black and white villain, tying Grogu down and cackling manically as the train approaches. Esposito is getting a bit typecast by now as a 2020 Alan Rickman (RIP) and he seemed a bit lost at the end. From shooting Bo-Katan (completely ineffectively) to expositing how they were all going to kill each other for the Darksaber (as if Bo-Katan hadn’t accepted it as a gift from Sabine in Clone Wars) he just seemed to be there. No matter though, he wasn’t really the revelation from this episode.
When the Dark Troopers re-boarded the ship it was pretty obvious that the foreshadowed “Jedi” would be coming to help them. In my Chapter 13 review I speculated from the likely (Ezra Bridger) to the ridiculous (Mace Windu). I discounted the most obvious choice, due to the historic separation between movies and television as well as the age of the actor. It was Luke, fricking, Skywalker.
A few people complained the de-aging was a little wonky, or the voice was a little off. Maybe, but who cares? What we saw for the first time on screen was badass, in his prime Luke Skywalker destroying an army of droids. It was reminiscent of the Rogue One Vader scene, where modern effects and choreography brought the “myth” of an age old character’s proficiency into reality. Lucasfilm have historically kept it’s core characters away from TV and Video games, in an attempt not to dilute or harm the continuity. So I have to admit when the green lightsaber shot into frame, I lost my s*** a little. Whooping may have occurred. I mean after arriving he kinds of stands about looking severe and then sods off, but too much of a good thing and all that.
The keen eyed among you may notice that so far I haven’t really touched on, well, the Mandalorian himself, Din Djarin. In many ways, Mando was the least engaging character in his own show, a gruff monotone helmet jumping from side quest to side quest, surrounded by more personable, recognizable or adorable sidekicks. What Din lacks in personality though, he more than makes up for in depth.
By the end of Season 2, Din has experienced a truly massive arc, on both the granular and the personal level. When season 1 starts he is a bounty hunter barely scraping by, no friends, no family, no attachments. By Chapter 13, he is challenging his beliefs, instincts and really his wider identity out of what can only be described as parental love.
The transformation is expertly executed by the writers, who foreshadow each and every development leading up to the scene where Grogu leaves Din. The relationship between the two, the growth and the obvious internal struggle of Mando has been leading to this moment, and Pascal smashed this scene without even saying a word. Is there an acting award for best acting when using either voice or facial expressions but never both at the same time? The removal of the helmet and the physical contact between the two put a tear in my eye.
What is next for Mando? It’s unclear. His quest is done, Grogu is safe (?) and really a season 3 will start more or less anew. I guess there will be a Bo-Katan/Darksaber emphasis, though I didn’t get the big deal there. She literally pinched it off Sabine Wren at the end of Rebels without a battle. Perhaps it will lead to the re-taking of Mandalore, which would be great to see in live action.
The Star Wars… Galaxy?
As for the other characters that appeared this season, Favreau knows his blockbuster multi-film universes, and the building blocks were done to perfection here. If nothing else, the Mandalorian has been able to establish nearly a dozen additional characters in live action, as well as hinting at others such as Thrawn, Bridger and co. The animated shows are a stellar example of how impactful a story can feel, even when we already know the eventual outcome of the wider universe.
Perhaps with the acknowledgement that the Saga didn’t pan out quite the way they hoped, it looks like Lucasfilm are more willing to delve into the wider SWG (I’m calling it that now). Disney recently announced 10 shows coming to Disney Plus, and the post credit scene (in a TV show?) revealed another in The Book of Boba Fett. It’s a bold new direction and probably about time. The Mandalorian was an experiment to gauge the appetite of Star Wars on the small screen, and the success has only fuelled the Lucasfilm engine.
I loved the Mandalorian Season 2. It can’t be denied that there was a definite “dip” in the first half of the series, but that is only in comparison to the extraordinary quality of every other episode. It’s staggering how much Lucasfilm managed to do here, keeping in continuity, introducing new and less well known characters and making a fantastic story in its own right.
A complaint often levelled at the sequels, prequels and other Star Wars properties is a vague, off hand suggestion that despite everything we know to the contrary, “it’s not Star Wars.” This is usually disregarded as nostalgic ramblings, but there may be something a little deeper to it. Star Wars may always be about galaxy deciding stakes, destinies, planet destroying weapons, evil empires, cackling villains and space wizards, but at it’s core there is an undeniable charm at the centre of it all. It focuses on characters, who endure so much pain and hardship, in the face of overwhelming odds. Their motivations aren’t grounded in saving the whole galaxy, but fighting for their friends and families in the hope that they can make a difference. This is what captured the imagination of millions, not space wizards and blue milk.
The Mandalorian is not about saving the galaxy. It is, at it’s core a story about a man who lost everything, who finds something to believe in. It’s a story about friendship, family and hope with just a sprinkle of that humble charm which has been missing for a long, long time. It’s been a difficult year, and perhaps the Mandalorian can be the new hope for some that Star Wars is going back in the right direction.
What did you think of the Mandalorian Season 2? And What are you hoping to see in Season 3? Let me know in the comments below!