Star Wars: The Mandalorian Episode 2
Beautiful cinematography and an exquisite sense of place elevate episode 2 of The Mandalorianabove the first in terms of visuals. However, the streamlined, action-packed episode drags, in part because it all seems repetitive and familiar. In an effort to perfectly replicate Star Warswith modern effects, perhaps the show has sanded down most chances for the kind of creativity A New Hope was also known for.
That’s not to say that the effects, which appear to be a mix of CGI and practical, are a problem per se. Mud clumps and flows extremely convincingly. The side of a Jawa sandcrawler is just realistic enough to not be distracting, but also blurry enough to evoke a classic Wesern train heist. Beautiful Western landscapes glow in the golden hour, perfectly evoking wonder and scale as the Mandalorian trudges through them.
Pedro Pascal displays that particular Star Wars magic that makes acting in a mask alongside a puppet-like alien look easy. Overall, the episode is well-crafted, and well acted.
Prequel and Original Trilogy elements mesh seamlessly, making the Star Wars universe of The Mandalorian feel both wide and singular. The final battle achieves showrunner Jon Favreau’s vision of the show feeling like a high-budget version of playing in a toy chest.
So why did it fall so flat for me?
In episode 2, the Mandalorian finds himself stuck on the planet Arvala-7. He has retrieved his mark, a baby of Yoda’s species, but enterprising Jawas strip his ship for parts before he can head back to “The Client.” He tries to hunt the Jawas down, but their numbers and armored sandcrawler prove resilient. It’s back to Nick Nolte’s wizened Ugnaught character, Kuiil, for help. Maybe if Mando gets the egg the Jawas crave so much, they’ll trade him for the contents of his ship.
Don’t Jawas live on Tatooine, you may ask? Arvala-7 is essentially Tatooine, complete with lawless wastes, desert beauty, and moisture farms. Even moreso than last episode, this one is less interested in creating new places in the galaxy than evoking the feel of older ones. It shakes the toy chest to see what will come out: there’s an Attack of the Clones-inspired reek-like creature called a “mud horn,” for example.
The Mandalorian showed some moral ambiguity in the first episode: fond of children and unwilling to kill the baby, he blows a hole in the head of his ally-of-convenience, IG-11. In episode 2, he’s out for blood. To get his parts back, he launches an attack on the sandcrawler, tossing Jawas to their deaths and blasting them away. It’s reminiscient of Anakin Skywalker’s murder of a whole camp of Tusken Raiders, but this time the stakes are lower, no people are in danger, no fall to the dark side in sight. At best, when the Mandalorian flattens himself against the rock to avoid being crushed, it’s a heart-in-your-mouth scene that captures the energy of Mad Max: Fury Road. But then the Jawas start throwing items at him, and do so twice. The momentum of the scene dies, turned into a vertical video game about avoiding obstacles.
The episode’s final fight is repetitive too, until the very end. We’ve seen some of this exact choreography in Attack of the Clones — Mando being dragged by the mud horn evokes memories of Obi-Wan battling the reek. But the fight’s finale is wondrous. We know the baby has fellow-feeling for the Mandalorian, and why. The child has seen the bounty hunter’s vulnerability. Nevertheless, part of this feels like a toy box in a bad way. Instead of being a character of his own, the baby is exactly what it appears to be: a baby Yoda who can use the Force to aid Mando when he’s in danger.
And why is the baby Yoda there during that final fight, clearly in danger? It’s because the Mandalorian needs to keep him close lest people like some Trandoshan raiders steal his bounty, but it’s also because he needs to be. His presense during the fight felt like a mistake or a Chekhov’s gun in turn, and both possibilities took me out of the scene far more than they would have if the Mandalorian had stashed the baby behind a rock for a bit.
Characterization for the Mandalorian himself is sparce. “Weapons are part of my religion,” he says, and while this is technically true of the Mandalorian clan we saw earlier this week, it also doesn’t really add anything. It’s a precursor to a trope: the one where a heavily armed character dispenses of their weapons, only to reveal concealed ones later.
Something is obviously missing from the toy box: female characters. Perhaps some of the Jawas are women, obscured beneath their cloaks. But not one shows her face or speaks in English during the episode’s runtime.
I criticized the previous chapter for not letting its few lines of dialogue carry enough weight to cover the episode’s long silences. But don’t get the impression that I find those silences themselves to be a weakness. In fact, the first 10 minutes of the episode were delightful in part because absolutely no one spoke English during them. Like the conversation in Huttese in episode 1, this feels perfectly natural, and it’s a highly effective artistic choice. A fight between the Mandalorian and some Trandoshans is utterly forgettable, deeply evocative of men in suits performing competent but toothless melee moves. But it is also entirely without dialogue, and it’s preceeded by a long scene-setting shot where the Mandalorian turns from serene to nervous to prepared for an ambush, all tones created without any dialogue and minimal movement. That was really impressive.
The music also more than pulls its weight in episode 2. The soundtrack by composer Ludwig Göransson is one of my favorite aspects of the show. Hopeful, energetic orchestration makes the scenes where the Mandalorian walks across stunning landscapes feel fit for the movie theater. The Force theme is used sparingly but effectively.
Ultimately, while the episode definitely has its strengths, I would prefer Star Wars err on the side of creativity. While well-crafted, “The Child” is a bit unexciting.