(SPOILERS) The Mandalorian Season 2 has received all the raves, and it’s easy to see why. If what you wanted from Star Wars was a one-dimensional Luke Skywalker avatar dispensing the kind of kickass Force-ful justice you used to have his Kenner figure inflict on stormtroopers, then you’re quids in. Which is to say, shallow as his appearance is, the response is entirely understandable and not a little earned after the carnage Kathleen Kennedy has wreaked on the Star Wars universe (and I say that as someone who rather enjoyed green milk-guzzling hobo Luke in The Last Jedi). His appearance is also motivated within the realm of the show itself, so providing a contrast with its obvious parallel, the kung-fu kickass Darth Vader sellotaped onto the end of Rogue One. Which let’s face it, was the reason fans responded to the movie, rather than the cardboard characters.
Mando: A Mandalorian and a Jedi? They’ll never see it coming.
I don’t think the rehabilitation of Luke – whose youthful fixup is considerably better than earlier attempts at Leia and Tarkin, which isn’t to say they should make an entire series that way – is the main takeaway from Season 2, though. Rather, it’s the rehabilitation of Boba Fett. As I said when reviewing Season 1, it’s only really Jason Wingreen and Jeremy Bulloch who count as the real-deal Boba for me. But Temuera Morrison, whose chance to shine in the prequel trilogy amounted to about one scene in a bedroom, brings a lot of presence to Jango Jr. As a well as a sizeable paunch. Somehow, Morrison manages to carry off the latter.
Migs: You know, for a second, I thought you were this other guy.
Regarding which, this “no fat-shaming” nonsense is just nonsense. Old Boba is clearly a porker when he isn’t being stunt-doubled, and action heroes are generally ineffective if they’ve ballooned to the size of Chris Farley. Morrison is stockier than he is super-sized, of course, but there’s nevertheless an issue dramatically with this kind of choice: see the infamous example of the fat Controller in Attack of the Cybermen for precedence in pursuing an original performer to return to a role two decades down the line. Okay, Morrison’s admittedly the fourth guy to take the part (if we’re being ultra-purist, Don Francks first essayed Fett in the Star Wars Holiday Special). But you get the idea.
Cobb Vanth: I’ve never met a real Mandalorian.
Morrison largely – ahem – overcomes this. Besides which, as Timothy Olyphant’s risible beanpole/IG-88 in Mandalorian armour showing in the season opener evidences, it’s definitely preferable to be a snug fit than an outright ill one. Admittedly, I’m not wholly sure about reenvisaging Boba as a man of conscience and honour, mostly on the basis that just about every bounty hunter or scoundrel we’re meeting in the show is destined to be revealed as all right really at some point (unless they’re Imperial… Oh wait, Bill Burr. Nick Nolte). But if the price for grizzled-on-the-outside – those Tatooine suns really do age you quickly – soft-on-the-inside new leaf is that we get decent exchanges addressing the retconned (as in, post-prequel trilogy) Boba lore, that seems like a reasonable sacrifice.
Bo-Katan Kryze: Can we at least buy you a drink?
To wit, the scenes between Boba and the Femdalorians, complete with their (allegedly) controversial curve-boosting armour, in The Rescue (yes, I know there’s a guy too, but he made such little impression, I wondered if he’d been killed off when they came back in The Rescue). “You are a clone. I’ve heard your voice a thousand times” Fett is told. It’s a potent insight into what will turn a good kid, well maybe not so much, into the kind who’ll hang out with Jabba for a lousy buck (“You’re a disgrace”). Fett gets some solid action business here and in the previous episode, and a nice epilogue (although was it necessary to kill off Bib, he chade su goodie?) Really, though, it’s The Tragedy that is his showcase, crunchy-munching stormtroopers and casually blowing up two transports with his rocket pack (I have to say, though, that amusing as it can be, playing up stormtroopers’ uselessness isn’t especially in the favour of the show’s – or galaxy’s – dramatic stakes).
Mando: The Jedi are the ancient enemy of Mandalor.
Much of this features Fett sans helmet, looking a little like Dengar – not the “Simon Pegg” version, God help us if that comes to pass – and equally as in need of bandages. And curiously, given he is only known for rocking a stylish lid and not much else – hence the unjustified backlash against him in recent years, that he was always shit, actually – Boba without the armour almost works better than with. In part because he looks a bit ungainly – see the paunch paragraph above – and in part because he doesn’t have his full ensemble. Which means Mando just looks plain cooler.
Bo-Katan Kryze: You’re a child of the Watch.
But as much as Morrison justifies a big bald Fett, Pedro Pascal’s occasional strides in the direction of head loose and fancy free are less convincing. In part, that’s because the show has scrupulously established this iconography, however daft it may be, so it needs to stick to its guns. Apparently, Pascal threw a hissy fit on finding other Mandalorians casting aside their helmets left right and centre – see Katie Sackhoff, who’s had some work done by the looks of things, and you obviously want to show off those expensive vanity bucks. If that’s true, he’s clearly your classic ineptly narcissistic performer who fails to understand that he gets far more kudos for being the guy who brought the masked guy to life than being the masked guy who has to take his mask off at any available opportunity (something movie Batmans and Spider-Mans have also struggled with, to be fair).
Lang: What is that thing?
Mando: I keep it around for luck.
In two successive episodes, we see Pascal’s puzzled features – some scuttlebutt says they’re getting rid of him completely in favour of The Book of Boba; certainly, I wonder how much mileage he has without Baby Yoda – so if we get the promised Seasons 3 and 4, this could well be the beginning of “I need a really good reason to remove my helmet each week” Mando. A gundark snatches it! It mists up completely! Strep! A really excruciating itch on the end of the old hooter! In fairness, I rather liked Bill Burr’s snark in The Believer, mocking the Mandalorian mask code like it’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Because it does go to expose the conceptual silliness – Mando putting someone else’s mask on. And then! Letting Baby Yoda see his face (the latter might actually have carried some weight if Mando hadn’t spent longer naked of face in the previous episode).
Imperial Captain: You might let me live. But he won’t.
Generally, the show has done a good job of keeping Mando central while incorporating a host of fan favourites who could easily overshadow him. It definitely happens for a spell in The Tragedy, and obviously Luke’s prize appearance in The Rescue, but these new arrivals generally do as much to reconfirm him as a force to be reckoned with, be it encountering others of his order, or having a fight with a Jedi (Ashto) or a Dark Trooper, or making short work of a duel with Moff Gideon.
Moff Gideon: I see your bond with him.
The season’s arc – a quest to find more Mandalorians and then a Jedi for Baby Yoda – is fairly rudimentary, but that largely works in its favour. And because these seasons are a third of the length of old network ones, the standalone episode approach tends to be more germane than in the likes of The X-Files (the most obvious antecedent in terms of a mix and match approach, albeit The Mandalorian retains more serialised continuity). I’ve seen a few – relative – complaints of the get-on-with-it variety about these standalones, but as long as they aren’t telling stale stories I’m good with them. It isn’t as if the main arc is The Godfather (although, again, those rumours, which seem to suggest an eventual retcon for the sequel trilogy is on the cards).
Migs: I don’t know how you people wear these things.
Some will doubtless claim, in the months to come, that Favreau’s show has been incredibly prescient with its take on revolution and its fallout: “You see boys, what everybody thinks they want is freedom. But what they really want is order”. But in a show that legitimises mask wearing the way it does, one might be inclined to lean towards the script being scripted. Besides, lest we forget, it was very clear who Lucas associated with the Empire, even before he cast the Ewoks as furry Viet Cong. Season 2 Worst to Best follows below.
8. Chapter 9: The Marshal
I’ve liked Timothy Olyphant in pretty much everything I’ve seen him in (although I skipped cannibal-friendly The Santa Clarita Diet). This does not use him well, though. Sure, he brings a natural charisma, but Cobb Varth is an inescapably bland guy as presented here, and Olyphant’s wiry frame is an absolutely dreadful match for Fett’s armour (as I suggested above). The big problem with The Marshal, though, which finally finds Favs directing, is that it’s The Mandalorian functioning on its most blatantly by-numbers 80s TV level: our hero turns up in a town and teams with the locals (and some Sand People) to take down the villain (or monster dragon worm thing). It’s designed to get the fans onside by baiting the trap of Boba’s gear, and his silhouette at the end, but it’s mostly redundant. And at fifty minutes, quite dull. As for the crash-diet Gamorrean fighters look. Rubbish. Gamorreans = fat. Boba Fett = thin. Stir and repeat.
7. Chapter: The Seige
Another standard-issue plot, capably delivered by Carl Weathers on dual acting-director’s chair duties. This time Mando leaves the Kid alone but no danger comes to the wee fella (so the writers were probably aware of their piling-up tropes). There’s some intrigue – the clone tanks, Midichlorian counts ugh – but nothing else feels very essential, and Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) is definitely on the slender side of effective comic-relief aliens (Baby Yoda and the blue macaroons is funny, though).
6. Chapter 10: The Passenger
A standalone that does what it does well, crashing Mando on an ice moon and having him try to defend Baby Yoda and Frog Lady (and her eggs, but from Baby Yoda). The escalation of the ice spiders’ onslaught is effective, in Aliens-derivative fashion, with Peyton Reed showing better action chops than he ever did in the movies. And if this is yet another episode where Mando is saved from momentous forces at the last moment by even more momentous forces – in much the same way as he always ends up leaving Baby Yoda alone when it’s the stupidest thing to do on his part, see above – it’s still a satisfying little piece.
I like the way his passengers are a complete pain in the ass, Baby Yoda boosting his predatory instincts as he pops Frog Lady’s unfertilised eggs like candy, while she nips off for a leisurely soak than only leads to mortal peril (as Baby Yoda tries yucky spider egg). I understand there’s been upset about the Child’s behaviour here, but I found the line of humour/appalling behaviour an interestingly perverse one. I also enjoyed the interaction with the pesky interfering New Republic (taking a very Imperial, “if it runs, blast it” attitude). So Mando knows to say “May the Force be with you”, but he didn’t know who Jedi are? I can’t keep track of the internal logic.
5. Chapter 11: The Heiress
Shed loads of continuity here, and Mandalorians, and Titus Welliver as an Imperial Captain, have seen The Heiress go down pretty well, it seems. I enjoyed it, but I was a little less persuaded. Sackhoff is a welcome presence as Bo-Katan Kryze, and the distinctions between Mando’s religious creed and her gang’s rather slack attitude was interesting ("You’re changing the terms of the deal”: “This is the way”). But the actual plot mechanics are a bit passé, as is the “Here’s the next place you’ve got to go to now” baton passing.
Still, the sea world element, with its squid heads (Quarren) and Mon Calamari, is nicely portrayed. And fair dues to Bryce Dallas Howard; her work is much more serviceable here than it was on her first season episode. Also of note: the idea that little Yoda is only eating those moreish eggs because he ain’t being brought up right is underlined by his being babysat by the Frog couple and acting like a little darling.
4. Chapter 15: The Believer
I could have done without the whole Mando changes/loses his helmet contrivance, as I outlined above, but for the most part, this challenge-of-the-week instalment delivers. It shunts Cara, Fennec and Fett to the side lines, but the central chemistry between Mando and the returning Migs (Bill Burr) is so strong and well played that they aren’t missed.
True, the “Migs is a good guy and hates the Empire with righteous fury” thing is a bit of a stretch (again, as I suggest above, it’s happening to all these amoral types). And the premise is desperately thin, even by The Mandalorian standards (they have to break into a base to get the coordinates to Moff’s ship – I’d even forgotten that was why until I looked up the synopsis). But the story and character beats are effective, in particular the conversation about what it’s all for (“Empire or New Republic. It’s all the same to these people”). And obvious as the Wages of Fear homage is, Mando’s fending off pirates on the transport roof makes for an energised extended action set piece, well-realised by writer-director Rick Famuyiwa. Full marks too to Night King Richard Barke as hissable Valin Hess; this is just the sort of gusty performance you want from Star Wars villains (it helps to that Famuyiwa has written him with actual opinions).
3. Chapter 13: The Jedi
Ahsoka Tano means precisely nothing to me – although I’d seen pictures of her cartoon incarnation – so I can’t say Rosario Dawson fleshing her out was much incentive going into this episode. Plus, there’s all the “What exactly was she doing during the original trilogy? And why, if she’s about, was Luke the only hope left?” questions left hanging. Which I’m sure her spin-off series will duly shed light on. On first look, I can’t say I found her massively compelling as a character, although I appreciate that she’s given some distinctive flavour, reticent of responsibility (training Baby Yoda) and lurking on the edge of the galaxy (although, she was very much involved in the Rebellion, so says her bio. See, it’s all so confusing and convoluted, almost as much as Spock having the bestest-evah sister we never knew about). I’m also not completely convinced by the faithful rendering of cartoon to corporeal since she still looks a little… well, cartoony.
Mostly, though, The Jedi is a solid (trad) story effectively told by writer-director Dave Filoni thanks to some punchy defining moments. It’s fun to see Mando fight a Jedi-ish and their subsequent team up. Filoni also makes some deft casting decisions, with stunt performer Diana Lee Inosanto notable as beskar-wielding antagonist Morgan Elsbeth. Especially so with Michael Biehn as her hired lieutenant Lang; indeed, the most satisfying scene here is the confrontation between Lang and Mando, as the latter talks and talks and talks… and Mando then shoots him as his sleight fails. Filoni – as the mastermind of the toons – is likely far more invested in keeping the flame of Grand Master Thrawn alive than the average viewer, but so far, this more exclusive side of the show doesn’t seem to be a detraction. As for “Grogu”. Well, I guess cute aliens currently need to have their names begin with G.
2. Chapter 16: The Rescue
Of course, the finale could be interpreted in several ways. It is, after all, predominately a complement of women leading the charge. On the other hand, Mando is the one who bests Moff Gideon, and Luke is the one who does for the Terminator-by-way-of-Max-in-The Black Hole Dark Trooper division. Are Favs and the gang sending Kennedy a coded message about the Force’s ultimate gender affiliation? I’m sure some would like to think so.
Peyton Reed again delivers solid action. Which is good, because Favs’ script is as threadbare as they come. It’s all about the payoff, meaning Boba is pretty much incidental (aside from the epilogue) and the “saved at the last moment” cliché is, for once, not groan inducing. I enjoyed The Rescue a lot, but I wasn’t bowled over by it. The moments with mask-less Mando were “enough already”. And if I’m honest, Luke killing a load of killer droids wasn’t really the stuff of dreams. In contrast, I dug the twist whereby Mando is set up to duel Bo-Katan. And the smug side of Moff Gideon (indeed, if I thought Moff wasn’t all that as a villain, this confirms he’s much better as a bit of a wannabe prone to making cheap shots). Can Mando survive without Grogu, though? That will be the key to his last two seasons. That, and how little Pedro can be persuaded to go commando.
1. Chapter 14: The Tragedy
There are things here that perhaps aren’t quite so commendable. Such as the contrivance of Mando – a-frickin-gain – leaving Baby Yoda alone. And repeatedly attempting to bust through the latter’s Force shield to increasingly risible effect. Mostly, though, this is about Boba Fett, and the juggling of threads works like gangbusters. Robert Rodriguez, as with his work on Alita: Battle Angel, can actually deliver the goods when he doesn’t settle for sloppy, cheap and cheerful home-studio stuff. And it’s down to him that Fett’s “super badass” in The Tragedy. So I’ll almost forgive him all those lousy movies.
It seems appropriate that Mando’s rather shitty ship should be destroyed when Boba’s entirely not shitty one arrives on the scene. I wasn’t impressed by the episode that introduced Fennec Shand, and her character is wafer-thin, but Ming-Na Wen is a very agreeable presence (she was about the best thing in Agents of Shield. Well, when I watched it, which was too many times). An effective – and brief – episode, accentuating the action and doing so with aplomb. And was that Jedi temple based on Star Trek V: The Final Frontier? I hopes so. Always steal from the best.