The first season of the first ever live-action Star Wars Television series ended on a nice satisfying note, with Pedro Pascal‘s Din Djarin and the Child safe, but also hinting at darker things to come (literally) as Giancarlo Esposito‘s baddie Moff Gideon emerges from his downed TIE fighter brandishing the fabled Darksaber (a Mandalorian relic last seen in animated series Rebels). One thing was for sure, we were definitely in for at least one rematch.
Season two wasted no time in diving into the grandiose, again delivering a serial, episodic format of; encounter problem, solve problem, move on. It harkens back to old serials like Flash Gordon that George Lucas took inspiration from for his first ideas of Star Wars. And it is fun, it reminds me of enjoying Saturday night dramas as a kid like Doctor Who, but this season also has much more of a focus on overarching plots and storylines, making stronger connections between each episode and giving Din more purpose. Where season one felt like it dipped and rose in quality from episode to episode, season two is consistently entertaining, with each episode retaining a uniqueness and a guaranteed reaction of ‘oh wow, now that’s cool’. Which is where we begin to cross into the realm of ‘fan service’. The Mandalorian is built on fan service, without Star Wars and everything that came before it, it would be nothing. We sit down and watch it every week because we, as fans, want to return to that familiar place, want to revisit those feelings and emotional responses to characters, places, plots, themes, visuals and music. And that’s what The Mandalorian does, but the reason that this pandering to fans has been working so well and hasn’t turned stale is the showrunners’ eye for turning the obscure or the unimportant into something predominant or even paramount to the narrative. Taika Waititi‘s assassin droid IG-11 is based on a background character that gets seconds of screen time in The Empire Strikes Back, the fearsome rifle that Din wields was taken from the first appearance of Boba Fett from the infamous Holiday Special, the Bluurgs that Nick Nolte’s Kuill tames and rides made their debut 34 years prior in the Television movie Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, and the container that Din receives his payment of Beskar in from Werner Herzog‘s Imperial boss is modeled after the hilariously infamous ‘ice cream machine’ carried by a fleeing citizen of Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back. And there’s plenty more Easter eggs, references and resurrections in season two that range from subtle nods to doing as much as can be done with characters and elements that have never been done anything with before.
I can’t say I was ever disappointed, I was surprised a few times, and maybe once or twice it got me to exclaim at the T.V. and if the series fails anywhere it’s with the plot, but the show is barely designed to get heads scratched or promote deep thought. What it does incredibly well is world-expansion through the visual mediums of set and character design. The way scenes are shot with minimal green screen and instead on a state-of-the-art LED soundstage (you can learn more about the making of in: Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian on Disney+) makes everything seem so real, and tangible enough that you can imagine yourself reaching out and touching it. When Din gets knocked down you feel it, when stormtroopers are blasted, when ships crash, when Mandalorians fly through the air, when lightsabers are ignited, you feel it. Coupled with a deeply affecting soundtrack from Ludwig Goransson (who worked on Tenet earlier this year) that hits the beats of the tribal tones of the Mandalorians, the mystical whimsy of the Force in the Child, and the action, drama and intrigue that we’ve all come to expect from Star Wars.
While I have enjoyed this season a lot more than the first, and it feels like a big step-up both in terms of narrative progression and quality of production, the season finale, ‘The Rescue’ felt like it was missing something integral, a real conflict. Filled with action, the stakes for the characters always felt higher on paper than they actually appear to be, with our protagonist(s) decked out in shiny plot armour ready for whatever might be there to face them. There will be talk about the season finale for a while yet to come (there has been so much already) because of the connections the show is making with the rest of the Star Wars universe, but after that neatly closed finale, it feels like the showrunners have now backed themselves into a creative corner, with Din’s overall character arc seemingly coming full circle. What I’d like to see is season three blast through my expectations and deliver something even better, but I’m sure we’re all hoping for it to be at least as good to what we’ve just been given.
The Mandalorian is taking big strides in production and in the future of storytelling, everyone grew up with some part of Star Wars. Whether it be the Original Trilogy, the Prequels, The Clone Wars, the Sequels, everyone has their own unique relationship with these stories. And the kids that are just discovering this vast universe through the eyes of Din and ‘Baby Yoda’ well, this show is for you.
All episodes of The Mandalorian are now available to stream on Disney+
Sci-Fi, adventure | USA, 2019 | 12 | 2 Seasons | Disney+ | Pedro Pascal, Gina Carano, Giancarlo Esposito