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January 13, 2021

This is the Season Two Way: A Review of "The Mandalorian"


Jon Favreau patiently develops [The Mandalorian]’s characters by building out each of their personalities and motivations.

Courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm

This review contains spoilers for The Mandalorian.

I don’t think it’s controversial or unpopular to say that the new Disney Star Wars films ranged from either really bad to mediocre at best. The Force Awakens offered nothing new or inventive within the Star Wars universe. Rogue One only became exciting when the battle sequence took place two hours into the film. The Last Jedi was a messy, convoluted movie that, for all its thematic promise, got bogged down with stupid moments like the Canto Bight sequence and Luke Skywalker drinking thala-siren green milk. As the final episode in the sequel trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker was somehow both so forgettable and absurdly stupid that I genuinely don’t remember anything that happened other than my constant urge to leave the theater. Even my favorite Disney-era Star Wars movie, Solo, felt unimportant and forgettable.

Therefore, I was incredibly surprised by the quality and heart of the first two seasons of The Mandalorian. Created by Iron Man director Jon Favreau and Clone Wars showrunner Dave Filoni, the show follows young Mandalorian bounty hunter Din Djarin or “Mando” (Pedro Pascal), who protects a young foundling—referred to as “The Child” and latched onto by me and the internet as “Baby Yoda”—and plans to return him to his kind while avoiding the wrath of the remnants of the Galactic Empire. The first season of The Mandalorian is, in my opinion, one of the best pieces of Star Wars related content since The Empire Strikes Back, reminiscent of old-school Star Wars.

The show isn’t bogged down by convoluted plots or themes, but instead tells a simple Western-/Samurai-style story about a lone gunman and Baby Yoda, whose true name is revealed as Grogu. Unlike the other Disney Star Wars movies, this show exudes so much life and personality, from its smartly written dialogue to likeable, interesting characters like Mando and Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) to the gorgeous cinematography. While not all the episodes in season one are great, the show is still nonetheless a breath of fresh air, so naturally I was incredibly excited to see season two. Does the second season deliver the same level of quality as the first? Absolutely.

Season two lives up to its stellar first season in every episode. With the exceptions of “Chapter 13: The Jedi” and “Chapter 15: The Believer,” every episode of The Mandalorian was written by Favreau, and both his talent as a writer and his passion for Star Wars are incredibly clear. From major characters like Djarin and Gideon to minor characters that only appear in one episode like Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant) and Migs Mayfeld (Bill Burr), every single character is incredibly well written and believable. Favreau patiently develops the show’s characters by building out each of their personalities and motivations, creating characters who are not only intriguing and charismatic but who also seem to have existed within this universe since George Lucas released the first Star Wars movie.

The writing is ably supported by the show’s top-notch acting. Every actor gives an excellent performance, but the ones I want to specifically praise are Burr, Temeura Morrison as Boba Fett, and Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano. Each has moments to flex their acting muscles, including Fett decimating the entire stormtrooper battalion after getting back his armor, Mayfeld struggling to contain his anger and frustration when an Imperial officer discusses the expendability of soldiers, and the confrontation between Ahsoka and the Magistrate. Overall, I did not see a single weak performance throughout this season, and I hope Favreau and Filoni continue to get great performances from their cast in season three.

The biggest praise I must give for The Mandalorian is its incredible direction. Almost every episode is helmed by a different director, each providing their own unique vision and voice while still ensuring that the show, overall, remains consistent with its tone and story. The show is interspersed with many moments of beautiful cinematography and well-crafted action scenes, especially “Chapter 9 (The Marshal)” and “Chapter 14 (The Tragedy).”

The longest episode in the entire show, “The Marshal,” directed by Jon Favreau, stands out not only for its gorgeous visuals and cinematography but also for showcasing Favreau’s talent behind the camera. As in his recent visual-driven films The Jungle Book (2016) and The Lion King (2019), Favreau captures the full beauty of his visual effects through a healthy amount of wide shots. The scene in which Mando, Cobb Vanth, and the Tusken Raiders leave several traps to kill the krayt dragon in Tatooine, for instance, showcases a moment in which the Tusken Raiders run away from the dragon after setting a bomb. The aspect ratio changes from the traditional 2.35:1 to full-screen shot in IMAX, fantastically capturing the enormous size of the krayt dragon.

Despite being the shortest episode, “The Tragedy,” directed by Robert Rodriguez, stands out for its intense, brutal action scenes. Rodriguez is no stranger to entertaining action in films like the Mexico Trilogy, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Alita: Battle Angel, and he certainly does not disappoint with “The Tragedy,” which also reintroduces the character of Boba Fett. “The Tragedy” has my favorite action scene in the entire show as all the action is shot clearly with lots of wide, steady cam. There are no quick cuts or annoying shaky cam in this entire episode but instead wide, gorgeously shot sequences of Boba and his gang overwhelming the stormtroopers. Rodriguez holds nothing back as he showcases scenes like Boba Fett smashing stormtrooper armor with a stick and gunning down an entire group of stormtroopers all on his own—an unflinching brutality unique to this episode.

Nevertheless, The Mandalorian is not without its faults. For one, I have issues with how incredibly repetitive the show’s structure turned out to be. Except for the final chapter, every single episode in The Mandalorian involves Mando travelling to one planet to find a person or persons, only to find out that they are not the person(s) he is looking for, causing him to go to a different planet and start the entire process all over again. While the actual story was interesting enough such that the repetitiveness didn’t bother me entirely, I still felt bogged down by the show’s cyclical structure, and I hope Favreau and Filoni will shake this up in season three.

Another issue I had was how many times the plot resolved itself with a deus ex machina. I know that the deus ex machina is a staple trope in not just every Star Wars movie, but in the sci-fi/fantasy genre writ large, but the number of times it was used in almost every episode of The Mandalorian was just ridiculous.

Its worst use comes in the season finale, “Chapter 16: The Rescue,” in which Mando and his team are backed into a corner by a legion of Terminator-like dark troopers. Gideon himself states that they have no way of surviving this battle, considering the trouble Mando had when facing one dark trooper, creating suspense. However, that suspense immediately dissipates when Luke Skywalker shows up out of nowhere and single-handedly cuts down the entire force of dark troopers. As someone who loves the character of Luke Skywalker, I thought this use of a deus ex machina was not only incredibly annoying, but downright stupid, on par with the Great Eagles in Lord of the Rings. While the action montage of Luke slicing up dark troopers looks cool at face value, you can’t help but think that this is all just bullshit. Perhaps the show hints at Luke’s arrival, for Baby Yoda sends out a signal for a Jedi to find him, but that doesn’t make this deus ex machina any less excusable. If Luke can magically save everyone at the last minute in the show, then why should I ever fear for the protagonists’ lives? This show relies so heavily on this plot device that I never once felt afraid that any major character would die.

Speaking of Luke, I have two problems with his inclusion in the show. The de-aged CGI looks ugly, up there with Rogue One Grand Moff Tarkin– and Princess Leia–levels of ugly. I have no idea why Disney really likes de-aging its actors with CGI. Indeed, the sight of a de-aged Mark Hamill looked so fake that it took me out of the show. The Mandalorian could have just cast a younger actor who resembles Hamill. Disney is no stranger to re-casting, given its casting of Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo in Solo, so I don’t understand why they couldn’t do the same with Luke.

Additionally, while I know fans lost their minds when Luke showed up in the final episode, I feel like this is a classic example of fanservice getting in the way of the story. Luke being the one to show up, save the day, and train Baby Yoda was not only an obvious attempt at pleasing fans, but it also just makes the Star Wars universe feel so much smaller than it is. The reason why the inclusion of characters like Bo-Katan Kryze, Boba Fett, and Ahsoka Tano works so well in this show is that their inclusion doesn’t overshadow the show’s main story of Mando and Baby Yoda. Luke’s inclusion just felt so jarring, and I would have preferred either a lesser-known Jedi we would not expect to show up to save the day or a completely original character.

Ultimately, I still think that season two of The Mandalorian is great. Not only is The Mandalorian one of the best pieces of Star Wars content that Disney has released, but it is simply one of the best shows on television this year. If you are a fan of Star Wars or just a fan of well-made television, and you still somehow have not watched this show yet, I highly recommend doing so. Given how good this season is, I feel a bit more optimistic about the nine other Star Wars shows that Disney will be producing. Hopefully, they will be as good as The Mandalorian. I give season two of The Mandalorian a 7.5 out of 10.

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