Starring: Pedro Pascal
Genre: Space Opera
First Aired: 2020
Look at social media and you’ll see a common theme emerging: The Mandalorian has saved Star Wars. Now, I don’t really think Star Wars needed saving, but there is no denying the popularity of Star Wars’ live action TV debut. It’s proved that there is an audience for Star Wars TV, and in Disney+’s massive slate of upcoming releases, at least three of them are tied into the Mandalorian’s saga in some way. Like the vast majority of viewers, I love the Mandalorian, but I’m in two minds as to how things are going. I’ll get into that in a minute.
Starting with the positive, season two is a structurally better show than the first. It’s keeps the mostly episodic nature that is the show’s best strength, but fixes some of the flaws of the first eight episodes. One of my few complaints about season 1 was that every episode seemed to be setting something up, but there was never any real pay-off. That is not the case here. While some episodes are definitely setting up future events, we also get rewarded for paying attention to events and characters from the first season. There are familiar faces returning, most notably Cara Dune (Gina Carano), but also some that will likely come as a surprise to you, including one person I’d thought would be staying dead, naive fool that I am.
The overarching plot is to find a Jedi who can look after The Child (AKA internet darling Baby Yoda), and to find one of those, Din (Pedro Pascal) must find other Mandalorians. Minor spoiler: he finds his people, and I loved the development of the Mandalorians. I know they’ve been used widely in the animated series, but this is the most time I’ve spent with the Mandalorians this side of Canderous Ordo. These searches also take the show on a whistle-stop tour of the Outer Rim, showing the rocky transition from Imperial tyranny to New Republic governance. And the show isn’t afraid to shy away from the fact that the New Republic makes mistakes, and that even life under the Empire had its upsides. It doesn’t go into much moral greyness, but the white and black do now look more like a chessboard than before. While the first season largely used Star Wars as background, here events are much more closely tied to the larger narrative. And there, as they say, is the rub.
-MAJOR SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT-
‘There is almost nothing to tie this series into the main narrative, and that is its greatest strength.‘ – That is what I wrote about the first season, and is still true. The Mandalorian is at its best when it is allowed to be its own thing. Unfortunately, Disney appear to be taking a Marvel approach to things, and are integrating all of Star Wars into one story. Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), hero of the Clone Wars, makes an appearance that is clearly set-up for her newly announced series. I have no real feelings about Ahsoka, not being a Clone Wars viewer, but it was nice to see another Jedi. But then there is also the return of Boba Fett (Temeura Morrison). Again, this is wonderful. for the first time we get to see why this bounty hunter was the most feared in the Galaxy, and his every scene is a delight. But he too is getting a series, which will air alongside season 3 of The Mandalorian. The final moments of season 2 feature the return of a very familiar face in what must be one of the show’s greatest scenes. I won’t spoil who, even if the internet already has.
Taken alone, each of these moments is great. I love the easter eggs, the callbacks (Grand Admiral Thrawn!), but when there are this many, it takes away from the story. The Mandalorian was widely advertised as the adventures of a bounty hunter far from the main events of the Skywalker Saga, but that is no longer the show we are given. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a great show, but it is not currently the show I wanted to be watching. With any luck, the spin-offs will take the extraneous material, leaving Din free to hunt bounties and learn more about the way of the Mandalore, but I expect the series’ paths will cross in the near future. I’ll still be watching them, of course, and I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy them, but I can’t help but wonder what might have been had things been allowed to step out from the shadow of nostalgia.
At the end of the day, this is Star Wars made by the fans, for the fans. If you like the original films, you’ll love it. If you like the sequels, you’ll love it. If you like Star Wars in any form, then this is absolutely the show for you.