This Star Wars: THE MANDALORIAN review contains spoilers.
The Mandalorian Season 2 Episode 1
The Mandalorian’s season two premiere is a well-structured example of the show’s Space Western ethos, showing deft technical skill on the part of its director, showrunner Jon Favreau, a fun menagerie of monsters, and exciting action. While it didn’t move the story forward or offer new characterization for the titular Mando, Din Djarin, or the Child as one might expect from a premiere, the show is certainly good at what it does.
It’s expanding the Star Wars universe with anecdotes full of old-fashioned charm while updating creatures and aliens for today. It’s an entertaining start for a sorely needed season of escapism, even as I perpetually wish the show would go more specific and weird instead of retracing both Star Wars and Western ground.
Where season one left off, the Mando was searching for clues as to the origin of the lovable, Force-sensitive Child known in the fandom as Baby Yoda. The very first glimpse of them in “The Marshal” sums up the appeal in the show’s odd duo: the faceless Mando striding like he could walk through walls, followed along by the wide-eyed baby in his floating bassinet. Gruff father figure and toddling child is a staple pair of all kinds of media, from post-apocalypse to comedy, and it works here by stirring together elements of both. In the dusty world of Star Wars, the Child is inherently cute and funny. It’s easy to get invested in the bond between the two of them.
Fans looking for a reinforcement of that bond won’t really see it in “The Marshal,” though. Aside from the Mando’s surge to rescue the baby from something that isn’t specifically targeting him, the plot mostly revolves around Mando and a new hero. Timothy Olyphant of Deadwood and Justified fame returns to type as Cobb Vanth, a drawling lawman who first appeared in the Star Wars novel series Aftermath. As the marshal of the episode’s title, he’s in charge of a mining town that can’t catch a break. It’s been menaced by Tusken Raiders, mining gangs, and a Krayt dragon. In order to fight off the latter, they’ll have to team up with the former.
Last season made strides toward scrubbing the movie saga’s portrayal of the Tusken Raiders as mindless and vicious. Here, they’re a metaphor for indigenous people with their own language, traditions, and reasons for why they can come off as cruel to people who don’t live in the deep desert. Mando sums up the episode’s point of view on this: “They are brutal. But so is the Dune Sea.” It’s at least more nuanced than the original, the episode neither portraying the humans or the Tuskens as identical nor impossibly different.
Cobb Vanth’s little arc is also muted but functional. Although he’s wearing Mandalorian armor, he isn’t one himself. Din Djarin is disgusted, ready to kill him until the Krayt dragon shows up. In the end, Vanth trades the armor for Djarin’s help. Is the lesson here that sometimes appropriation is accidental and stolen property can be earned back by astounding feats of strength? The episode doesn’t really frame it as relevant to the real world as much as it is to last season’s emphasis on the Mandalorian’s religious traditions. Seeing Vanth take off his helmet seems mildly scandalous.
Olyphant’s winning smile, easy drawl, and Western acting pedigree mean he fits nicely into the shoes of Cobb Vanth, even if the character isn’t anything new. He does not fit as nicely into the baggy clothing under Boba Fett’s old armor, which is hilarious because a lot of other Star Wars costumes don’t fit super well either. I love the intentionally unpolished-looking parts of the saga. And yes, that’s Boba Fett’s armor, and not the last reference to the infamous bounty hunter in the episode.
As well as playing to Western type, Vanth also retreads some of the same ground as the cocky bounty hunter from season one, Toro Calican, down to the similar shots of the two of them speeder biking across the desert. Part of Vanth’s purpose is to contrast his disregard for Mandalorian and Tusken tradition for Din Djarin’s religious and cultural side. Djarin knows what it’s like to be part of a community forced to live on the margins. He can be cruel — like when he left Gor Koresh (John Leguizamo) to the dogs in the very beginning of the episode — but he does have a heart. And so, it turns out, does Vanth. It is a significant but small change, extending the lawman’s fondness for his own people out to his fellow denizens of the desert. It doesn’t feel groundbreaking, for good or ill.
Speaking of denizens of the desert, the Krayt dragon is the highlight of the episode. First seen as a menacing skeleton in A New Hope, the monster in the flesh is frightening and cool. It doesn’t quite look like either a Dune sandworm or a dinosaur, but you can see elements of both as well as where it got the dragon name. Swimming through the sand, it looks beautiful and strange, coming from unexpected angles and diving through the landscape. It fits nicely into the world, almost the same color and texture as the rocks. However, only ever showing its head means it feels a bit like playing with a toy with no tail at times.
I continue to marvel at the way The Mandalorian is shot, and how season two’s landscapes already feel more crowded and alive than season one’s, even though they are still pretty much the same deserts and cities. Close-ups on animals make the Tatooine ecosystem convincing. I haven’t talked much about the first few scenes because they aren’t directly connected to the Tatooine plot, but the crowded city and aliens are also convincing and fantastical. The music continues to add a great sense of wonder, and I loved the cameo from my favorite loud-mouthed mechanic, Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris).
And the finale does have a twist almost on par with Baby Yoda: Temuera Morrison taking on the role of Boba Fett, alive and scowling after seemingly escaping the sarlacc pit from Return of the Jedi. It’s a very brief cameo, and it’s unclear whether Boba will have a bigger role in the season than that, but it’s still a nice way to get fans talking after the credits have rolled. We wrote way more about Boba’s return here.
Half of my metric for The Mandalorian has become “Would my dad like this?” And I think he would. As for me, I’m still rooting for the show to go farther outside its comfort zone and move the plot along instead of telling these one-shot stories. The episode firmly convinced me of the threat of the Krayt dragon, of the coolness and value of Mandalorian armor, of the beauty of the off-white Tatooine desert. I just wish it had gone to a new planet, or even dived deeper into the characters. Boba’s appearance is exciting, but we’ve seen this story in the Expanded Universe before.
If this is average for season two, I look forward to seeing them really surprise us.