This review contains spoilers.
The Mandalorian has returned; the show once again confidently striding into the domain of streaming services and putting down its competition in the blink of an eye, just like the eponymous character himself. It’s good to have the show back, and even better, as someone living in the UK, to have it on Disney+ at the same time as the rest of the world this season. My biological alarm clock was in full force and I woke up at exactly 6:59am, switching on my television at the prefect moment to catch that 7am release time. The season premiere wasn’t flawless or one I’d rank among the very best of the limited number of episodes so far, but it was a hugely entertaining Star Wars spectacle which opens up the once narrow-focused series.
The structure of the show’s first season was unexpected. The serialised opening and closing arcs gave way to a batch of adventures-of-the-week during the season’s middle. So, it was again surprising to see that the second season begins with an episode that very much feels like one of those more standalone adventures. Moff Gideon, Greef Karga and Cara Dune are nowhere to be seen and the Mandalorian and the Child head off the Tatooine (again) in the search of a fellow Mandalorian. The episode does tap into the serialised story at the beginning, and will no doubt launch a new ongoing storyline featuring Cobb Vanth and (shock) Boba Fett, but it does feel like a complete story unto itself.
While I enjoy that structure, I do wish we had delved further into the character growth of our two leads. Baby Yoda is almost a non-entity in this episode. He’s seemingly there just for the occasional cute reaction shot and I feel the episode was missing a scene between Din and the Child. I can’t remember a single interaction between the two of them, which is a problem when the show is built around their relationship. Will the Child be corrupted by the Mandalorian’s violence? Will Din be softened by the little green fellow’s overwhelming cuteness and his protective instincts? I’m sure the show will return to these questions, and the Child is clearly used to violence now and knows when to hide in his egg pram, but I got no sense of their relationship during the premiere.
Once again, the western vibes run deep and ‘Chapter 9: The Marshall’ offers another trope-y genre plot, just like several of the first season’s episodes. That’s not a complaint because the show does them well, zeroing in on simplistic and lower stakes plots in the often huge and convoluted Star Wars galaxy. Here, to secure Boba Fett’s Sarlaac-battered armour, the Mandalorian must help Cobb Vanth’s band of frontiersmen and cowboys unite with the native population to eliminate a greater foe which threatens them both. For a simple narrative, and a brief prologue, the episode does have an extended runtime of 54 minutes, and while people were clamouring for more content last season, I wonder if the episode might have slightly benefited from a shorter runtime. Especially with how familiar we are with this type of story. While the music in the show continues to impress, I did grow a little tired of the constant travelling shots, despite their beauty.
Stay tuned to OutofLives for Aadil and Ben’s breakdown of The Mandalorian Season 1 on Monday’s podcast!
I’m always wary when a Star Wars property returns to Tatooine. We’ve seen so much of the planet over six movies and numerous episodes of television, animated and live-action, but Favreau and his team convinced me in this episode that it was the right call. Despite its many screen appearances, this episode managed to world build on Tatooine like never before, introducing new aspects of the planet and expanding upon others. I love seeing the Tusken Raiders explored like this. They’re not simply the savage antagonists that A New Hope and The Phantom Menace would have you believe. They’re now a fully developed culture and the victims of colonists. While this is, again, generic, it does make you re-evaluate their past appearances throughout canon. This episode changes the way I see scenes in movies I’ve watched hundreds of times. Although, I do think it would have been better if we didn’t briefly see the Tusken Raiders in the travelling montage before they made their larger appearance later in the episode.
A Krayt Dragon! Finally, we witness that tantalising skeleton seen all the way back in 1977 made flesh and blood. Those scenes will certainly tide me over until the delayed release of Dune next year because the Dragon was clearly inspired by the Sand Worms from that seminal work of science fiction. While the show revels in tropes, the one I wish they had subverted is the way they defeat the Krayt Dragon at the end. We’ve seen loads of these types of fights and it was obvious the original plan would fail and someone would end up being swallowed by the creature only to blow it up from the inside. The entire action sequence was remarkable and sets a new high bar for television but I could see the story beats coming a mile away.
The visuals of this episode were truly phenomenal. I don’t know if the creatives have more of a handle on what they’re doing this year or if the budget has increased dramatically but this was the best the show has ever looked. The Krayt Dragon was movie quality and certainly far exceeds anything in that recent trailer for Monster Hunter. The wider aspect ratio and the way Favreau showed the scale of the beast was brilliant. However, some of the scenes shot on the revolutionary ‘Volume’ looked as if, well, they had been shot on the Volume. We cut from a huge set piece straight back to a scene shot on a small soundstage in front of a screen. This is just one of those aspects you have to push out of your mind and it was only a problem when the episode showed us Mos Pelgo. The settlement just felt far too small and a couple of shots made it seem as if it was only comprised of one lowly cantina in the middle of the desert.
Said cantina is where we first meet Cobb Vanth (Vanth Refrigeration). Or at least first meet onscreen. Vanth is actually a minor character in the Aftermath trilogy of novels, and while his origin is slightly different in the show (although I couldn’t tell you how exactly because it’s been years since I’ve read those books), the character is mostly consistent with his written counterpart. The Mandalorian looks set to bring in multiple characters from across canon this season and while that rapid expansion could be an issue (looking at you Ahsoka), Cobb Vanth is a great addition to the show. His appearance continues the theme of what it means to wear the Beskar armour and what truly makes a Mandalorian. Vanth took the armour and used its image (and rockets) to protect his people. To me, he had earned the armour at the end by moving past his prejudices and so I was surprised Din didn’t let him keep the armour. Although I imagine he will return it to Vanth in a future episode.
The premiere’s final image finally answers one of Star Wars’ most disputed questions: Boba Fett lives. This is unsurprising but it certainly is nice to get canon confirmation after all these years. His reappearance unearths a multitude of new questions however. Why is he in the desert? Why has he not sought out his armour? What will he do now he’s seen the Mandalorian? I can’t wait to find out the answers to these questions and I wonder when the show will return to Boba Fett. With one image I’ve gone from not wanting to see Tatooine again to hoping we return there next week. This episode also managed to build off my least favourite episode of last season – the only episode I haven’t liked so far – but surprisingly didn’t answer the questions surrounding Fennec Shand’s fate or the wearer of the spurred shoes. I imagine it was Cobb Vanth but we still don’t know for sure.
I’m also slightly baffled by how ignorant the Mandalorian seems to be on all things Mandalorian. It makes sense for storytelling purposes for him to discover things along with the casual fan watching the show but some of it borders on making no sense. He’s just a bit of a dummy. First, he didn’t know about the Jedi despite Mandalorian culture being built around their conflicts with the force wielders and now he doesn’t know about Boba Fett? The other Mandalorian bounty hunter working in the galaxy at the same time as Din and probably the most well-known of the era? I find it hard to believe that he didn’t take one look at Vanth in the Beskar and, in his best Han Solo impression, say “Boba Fett?!”. And while I’m slightly nitpicking, some of the character voices in this episode, such as the Weequay barman and John Leguizamo as Gore Keresh, didn’t sound like Star Wars voices to me. Maybe it was just the American accents because Star Wars usually uses British actors.
To conclude, let’s look at some of the fun canon connections present in the second season premiere:
- Gamorreans! The green pig men make a welcome return to live-action Star Wars and while the trailer made me cringe a little because they just looked like men with giant green heads, they looked much better in the finished episode. Not like some of the aliens in the Star Trek: Discovery season premiere who were just thin, fit actors with oversized fake Morn heads.
- R5 makes another appearance and I think I preferred him just being in the background last season. The close-up shot of his bad motivator felt a little too wink-wink and calling attention to something that didn’t need it. It was fun but a little overstated.
- Tusken Dogs, or “Mastiffs”, make an appearance after being introduced in Attack of the Clones. I love how The Mandalorian is linking so many different canon sources together. Now we just need something from the sequels. Maz Kanata could be a cool cameo.
- Mando hits Vanth’s jetpack just like Han did with Boba. He ought to get that fixed.
- Cobb Vanth’s speeder is made from Anakin Skywalker’s podracer engine! I love this detail and it makes sense that the old podracers would be scavenged for parts once the sport was outlawed by the New Republic.
- The pit droids return with some slapstick humour straight out of the prequels. I look forward to seeing how grumpy prequel haters try to justify pit droid comedy in their beloved and gritty The Mandalorian.
The Mandalorian has made a strong return to our screens which greatly pleased to canon fanboy within me but was maybe lacking some of the character exploration I was expecting from the premiere. Nevertheless, the show told us a well-worn tale and yet managed to make it feel fresh and exciting, with charming new characters and spectacular action scenes, while somehow also making Tatooine, that boring ball of sand so far away from adventure, feel like one of the most fascinating planets in the galaxy. If the premiere is anything to go by, we’re in for another fun season of Star Wars content, and Friday morning is my new favourite time of the week.
What did you think of The Mandalorian’s season premiere? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.