The Mandalorian first premiered on Disney+ nearly one year ago to audience and critical acclaim.
Star Wars fans were ecstatic about the show's potential. The series promised a welcomed break from the overstuffed and increasingly disappointing theatrical releases set in the Star Wars universe.
Showrunners Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni introduced a new protagonist completely separated from those of the "Skywalker Saga." Each episode had refreshingly low stakes.
Where the Star Wars films felt they needed to keep compounding in scale and space wizardry, The Mandalorian kept things approachable. The future of the galaxy was never in jeopardy. The fall of the empire is the backdrop, not the focus.
This is a show about a mysterious bounty hunter trying to protect Baby Yoda ("the Child").
Season 2 premiered last Friday and as far as we can tell, not much has changed. That much is to the show's credit.
The first act was designed to gently bring viewers back into the world of The Mandalorian. It moved slowly, but that was nothing new. Every episode of the series thus far has been relatively slow and methodical in its build. To be fair, almost all Star Wars media moves at a snail's pace compared to the JJ Abrams nightmare carnival, The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
Mando is back, Baby Yoda is back, even Strangers With Candy's Amy Sedaris returned for the premiere. I guess Peli Motto action figures have been flying off shelves since last season.
So what has changed?
Well, for one: I was bored. This is coming from a giant Star Wars fan: Season 2 Episode 1 of The Mandalorian is boring! I found myself checking my phone during my first viewing, then rewinding to make sure I caught everything. That's not a good sign.
To explain what was boring about this episode, and more importantly, why it was boring, we need to get into SPOILERS.
The series premiere of The Mandalorian ended with the introduction of Baby Yoda. From a marketing standpoint, that character is genius. Out of nowhere the internet was flooded with content about the little womp rat.
People that would never have spared Star Wars a passing thought were posting Baby Yoda memes. It generated more excitement than $140 Million in marketing could for The Rise of Skywalker.
It would have been nearly impossible for the Season 2 premiere to achieve that level of audience reaction. The problem is, the Season 2 premiere barely tried.
What did we get? Uninspired fan service confirming that the wildly overrated Boba Fett is still alive.
This "revelation" is lazy for many reasons.
Boba Fett surviving the events of Return of the Jedi has already been widely explored in the Star Wars expanded universe (now "legends"). Fandom surrounding this was even parodied in Parks and Recreation in 2013 with Patton Oswalt playing the proverbial fanboy.
It's as if LucasFilm heard fan criticism over Disney ignoring the original EU and decided to throw them a bone: "Hey, here's that thing you keep saying on Reddit you want to see on screen in live action. There you go."
Baby Yoda is fan service at it's best. It took something familiar (Yoda's species) and gave us something new and intriguing. Plus you didn't need to be a hardcore fan to find Baby Yoda adorable. Any fans Star Wars gained solely off Season 1 of The Mandalorian likely watched this latest episode and just thought, "Okay, who was the old dude at the end?" while credits rolled.
The only people excited about seeing Boba Fett alive on screen are the same old fans that clapped whenever a character they recognize showed up in the Sequel Trilogy.
2. Member Berries
Red Letter Media
To be fair, Season 1 of The Mandalorian had plenty of this. The series premiere needlessly threw in carbonite freezing and used it wrong. Bill Burr's character in S01E06 awkwardly referenced Canto Bight, a planet that had just been introduced in The Last Jedi (2017). But this first episode is full of nostalgia-milking.
Here is a *brief* sampling of "'member berries" in order of appearance:
Remember Tatooine? That's where Luke Skywalker is from!
Remember repair droids?
Remember Boba Fett's armor?
Remember krayt dragons?
Remember Anakin's podracer? (Its engine is now the speeder Timothy Olyphant's character rides).
Remember when the second Death Star exploded? (If not, here it is on instant replay several times).
Remember Tusken Raiders?
Remember womp rats? (We're gonna mention them a lot)
Remember the actor that played Boba Fett's dad in Attack of The Clones (2002)?
All Star Wars media inevitably feeds off nostalgia, but audiences are expecting more from The Mandalorian after allowing themselves to become so invested in the last season.
Learning that krayt dragons can spit green slime isn't going to cut it in terms of world building.
We are supposed to be exploring the outer reaches of the galaxy, and we keep hanging out in the same damn cantinas on the same damn planets!
I'll preface this final section by admitting my takes on this are subjective, and many readers will disagree.
Pedro Pascal deserves a ton of credit for portraying a compelling character without showing his face or saying much. While I found some of his dialogue oddly formal and repetitive (he says "I've been quested to bring this one back to his kind" at least twice in this episode), he is as much the titular Mandalorian as he was in Season 1.
However, with supporting characters and extras things begin to fall apart.
Timothy Olyphant is a good actor. For some reason I just like seeing him on screen. I bought every bit of his smug salesman character on The Office.
With his pretty, clean cut features I do not buy him as the hardened Cobb Vanth, "the Marshall" and de facto avenger of his formerly enslaved village.
There is a scene where Olyphant's character is shown walking through the desert after days with no food or water and I had to laugh. What on Earth was director Jon Favreau telling him to do?
In another scene Olyphant and Pascal are speeding across the desert, whipping dust everywhere. Then they turn to each other and have a casual conversation speaking at the volume you would use to talk to a friend in line at Starbucks. Maybe wind works differently on Tatooine.
Amy Sedaris is back, playing the kooky aunt or something. Not much to say here. I really love her and don't think she is being properly utilized. At least she seems to be having fun.
Finally, the extras…
When a story is compelling enough, you probably don't even notice the extras. However, when you can tell within the first 5 minutes that the episode's story will have little to no bearing on the rest of the season (excluding Boba Fett, I guess), you start to notice small things.
Some asides showing extras' reactions were laughable.
I get that this is a series largely aimed at kids, but come on! Episodes of The Mandalorian reportedly cost around $15 million per episode. They can afford to do a second take.
4. Special Effects and Set Design
Right away this episode deserves enormous praise for sequences involving the krayt dragon. You can really feel the scale of the creature, and it looks beautiful. The creatures movements are believable and weighty. The details, from scales to guts are vivid.
My guess is that the dragon ate up the episode's SFX budget.
I know this is a TV show and the budget and time constraints are very different from that of a feature film. However, I can't help but think certain things could have gotten another pass before being uploaded to Disney+.
The repair droids' modeling is unrefined and doesn't blend well with the environment. This stood out to me in Season 1, as well. I almost wonder if it's a deliberate choice intended to remind people of how they looked in The Phantom Menace (1999). Honestly, they don't look much better.
I have my doubts about that theory when it comes to the speeders. I'm not a special effects artist, so I can't tell you exactly what doesn't work here, but speeder sequences in this show suffer heavily from green screen syndrome. These are the types of visuals where JJ Abrams shines. They should have given him a call.
Again, it's understandably too much to ask that a Star Wars television series look as good as the films. And again, the krayt dragon looked brilliant in every frame.
However, with a set design this sparse, a bit more time spent on CGI could have helped.
The opening of the episode is conveniently shot on a super dark planet where everything takes place in dark rooms and alleys. The rest of the episode is set in a desert with almost no landmarks or life. Tatooine makes sense for the plot of the episode, so I'll give them a pass. But Star Wars really needs to get out of the desert. It's becoming a metaphor for the creativity left in the franchise.
Finally, what the episode suffers from most is a lack of memorable moments. I had to watch the episode several times before I could say much more than, "They killed a dragon in the desert, and Boba Fett is alive." Even now I'm struggling to recall details.
The plot is simple and ripped directly from the type of spaghetti westerns and adventure serials George Lucas loves.
It goes something like this: Protagonist comes to a village and learns about a big bad creature terrorizing its people. Protagonist plots to kill the creature to ensure the safety of the village. The people of the village must work together with their sworn enemies to defeat the big bad creature for the common good of the land.
With that linear of a plot we need more impactful moments or performances to hang our hats on. Baby Yoda didn't even have any particularly interesting screen-time. You had one job, showrunners, one job!
Overall solid episode: 9.5/10
Catch The Mandalorian Season 2 Episode 2 Friday, November 6th on Disney+.
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