The Mandalorian‘s Season 2 has seen the show’s deserved ascent into the increasingly rare realm of pop monoculture.
The best thing about The Mandalorian is the feel of kids playing on a playground. What do I mean? Each episode has that joyous sensation of younglings imagining their own Star Wars heroics. What would little kids do with a bounty hunter adventure? Well, of course he’s going to meet Boba Fett – and here he is. Baby Yoda should definitely meet another Jedi, right? Here’s Ashoka. Who should save the day? Luke Skywalker, for sure. It’s a generous spirit of storytelling that seems designed entirely around what will be the most fun for the viewers.
It’s easy to be cynical about The Mandalorian‘s Season 2 from afar. The business and financials gears grinding behind the scenes are so clear that they show up as text at the end of the season finale, announcing the surprise debut of a new Boba Fett show next year. In 16 episodes, they’ve managed to sow the seeds for three imminent spin-off shows, created characters who will appear in a new spin-off of The Clone Wars show, and managed to intimately tie Din Djarin’s quest to the main storyline of the entire series. That’s a hell of a lot of “world building.” And yet, when you watch the show, it’s so warmly made and so genuine in its emotional beats, that it’s almost impossible not to find it affecting.
Here’s the thing these episodes hammer home most effectively of all – at its core, The Mandalorian is a love story between father and son. For all the genre fun, the show has been absolutely committed to the relationship between Din Djarin and Grogu.
We’ve had four more episodes of The Mandalorian‘s Season 2 since we last checked in on the series: The Jedi, The Tragedy, The Believer, and The Rescue. (And from this point on, there will be spoilers!) The Jedi sees co-showrunner Dave Filoni return to the director’s chair for the first time in season two to resurrect his greatest creation from his time running the Star Wars animated shows: Ahsoka Tano. Stealing liberally from Kurosawa films, Filoni manages to use the structure of a classic wandering samurai film to give us an action framing for a giant exposition dump about The Child’s back story. We learn he’s actually named Grogu and was once a Jedi trainee during the events of the prequels. For as awesome as the Jedi assassin action is – including a great battle between Rosario Dawson’s (Trance) Ahsoka and Bruce Lee’s goddaughter (Diana Lee Inosanto) – the biggest takeaway from the episode, however, is the emphasis on the connection between Mando and Grogu. It’s impressive how elegantly the show manages to shoehorn in an almost astonishing amount of world building through Mando’s ignorance about Jedi history and powers, but in the end the episode’s lasting impression is a Din Djarin who just wants to give his adopted son his favorite toy.
The Tragedy sees Robert Rodriguez (Desperado) take his first turn in the director’s chair of The Mandalorian‘s Season 2and he crafts a lean, mean episode that seems to be dragged directly from the brain of every 12-year-old boy who saw Boba Fett’s armor and thought “that looks cool.” Seeking his armor claimed by Mando in the season’s first episode, Boba Fett (now played by Temeura Morrison who played Boba’s father/clone donor in the prequels) tracks Mando and Grogu to a world important to the Jedi. With a resurrected, and roboticized, Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen, of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) by his side, Boba Fett confronts our hero. Just as the tension ratchets up between the two, dozens of imperial troops attack. And so we’re off, Mando and Boba Fett teamed up to take on the Empire. It is an episode of overwhelming fun and “fan service,” which also serves the purpose of setting the table for the season’s climax – the race to save Grogu from Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito, of Breaking Bad) and the Empire.
The Believer is, in concept, something of a wheel spinning episode that sees Mando shunted off on a lesser mission with a peripheral character. The reality is that it hits a critical character note, and allows the audience, and Mando himself, to really dissect his code a little bit. By bringing back Bill Burr (The King of Staten Island), who delivers every nerdy line with just the right amount of cynicism, the show deconstructs Mando’s rules a little bit. It is, of course, convoluted that among all the Imperial bases he has already infiltrated, or destroyed, this is the one that requires him to abandon his Beskar armor in favor of a stormtrooper disguise. Burr’s trollish prodding pushes the character on the meaning of his code querying if the “rule” is that Mando can’t show his face or if he can’t take off his helmet. When the episode reaches its climax, which sees Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) show his face for the first time this season, to facilitate finding The Child, it’s clear that the character is willing to contort, if not abandon, his code to get Grogu back. It’s the sort of sacrifice of self any father would make for a child. Director Rick Famuyiwa nails the action with some Mad Max: Fury Road inspired chase scenes, but really elevates the human beats.
The Rescue comes from Peyton Reed (Ant-Man) for his second stint in the director’s chair of The Mandalorian‘s Season 2. Unlike his first episode (the Frog Lady, Killer Spider episode The Passenger), here Reed is given the heavy lifting of bringing together nearly all of the season’s threads into one cohesive story. Very quickly, Boba Fett, Fennec Shand, old friend Cara Dune (Gina Carano, of Haywire), Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff, of Battlestar Galactica), and Koska Reeves (Mercedes Varnado, the WWE’s Sasha Banks) are all tossed into a mission to rescue Grogu from the Empire. What is perhaps most impressive about the episode is how easily Reed wrangles and utilizes the show’s largest single episode cast yet in service of its most important plot arc. The episode culminates in the arrival of Luke Skywalker (a reasonably effectively digitally de-aged Mark Hamill) – a moment of near overwhelming joy for fans – and the stage setting for future Mandalorian seasons. Despite all the bombast, and some utterly fantastic action sequences, the show remains centered on the Din-Grogu relationship. The episode really coalesces in the goodbye between our core tandem as Grogu heads off to train with Luke and Din heads to restore Mandalore. When Mando takes off his mask to show The Child his face for the very first time, the emotion has been earned. Pedro Pascal sells the hell out of the moment – it’s genuinely moving work, made even more impressive when you remember he’s acting against a puppet.
The show is deeply committed to bringing together every generation of Star Wars fans and it shows. The production values are some of the best in the history of the medium. From CGI effects that are of theatrical blockbuster quality to a score that’s… actually let’s take a moment on the score. The work Ludwig Goransson is doing here is some of the best in television history. He has created instantly identifiable and downright iconic themes for all of the show’s characters without relying on John Williams’ iconic score. That he manages to craft his own Luke Skywalker theme with only a slight tease of Williams’ score shows the level of confidence he’s writing music with. The way his score shifts to match the editing of the sequences in The Rescue moving from theme to theme as each character has a moment is as good a work as TV has seen since Game of Thrones iconic scoring of season six’s final episode, The Winds of Winter. That The Mandalorian‘s Season 2’s music has gotten to this level of quality in just 16 episodes speaks to Gorannson’s genius.
I don’t know what to expect from future seasons of The Mandalorian. When I wrote about the first season as The Mandalorian‘s Season 2 approached, I expressed fear that all the world building would overwhelm the simple joys of the show. I was wrong. Instinctively, I’m worried that the work of building out Ahsoka, Rangers of the New Republic, and The Book of Boba Fett and their eventual future team-up event will takeaway from The Mandalorian’s next season. I’m concerned that Mando’s path seems to be headed in a very direction from Baby Yoda’s, at least for next season – will that upset the show’s balance? But Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni have earned my faith. Bring on my future of having a new Star Wars TV episode every Friday, Disney Corporate Overlords!