42 years on from it’s humble origins, the Skywalker Saga culminated with Episode 9 – A film from which we expected great things, but when it came, turned out to be a disastrous underachiever. This, off the back of an underperforming Solo movie, seemed to spell a rather sorry end for the Star Wars franchise. Then along came The Mandalorian…
John Favreau has turned his hand to myriad projects over the years. From kick-starting the MCU with the Iron Man film no one saw coming, to the CGI wonderlands of The Jungle Book and The Lion King, to the gentle warmth of 2014’s Chef, he has proven himself one of Disney’s most capable and valuable directors. So he checks all the pre-requisite boxes when it comes to show-running an 8-part, last-gasp attempt at pulling the Star Wars universe back from the brink of oblivion. Kathleen Kennedy and co. needed a loyal and faithful fan to take the reins and create a world in which we could immerse ourselves and wash the bitter taste of Episode 9 from our mouths. A choice that, after just two short seasons, has clearly paid off. The Mandalorian has become a global phenomenon and is so much more than a pallet cleanser. It is a declaration that Star Wars ‘ain’t dead yet and now, thanks to the televisual CPR Mando has performed on the franchise, we have a plethora of galactic content to look forward to. Disney recently announced the addition of a whopping 10 new shows, all set in the Star Wars universe, to their streaming platform Disney+, and no that’s not a typo, 10. So what is it about this show that has fired up a renewed appetite for a once-dying world?
The show chronicles the adventures of, you guessed it, The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) as the self-appointed guardian of The Child (also known unofficially as Baby Yoda), a much-sought-after being of potent power and mystery. Together, they travel the outer-rim of the galaxy in an attempt to escape the relentless pursuit of Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), a former Imperial Officer who wishes to use The Child for his own gains. It’s a minimal premise, and because it’s so lean, it leaves ample room for luxuries such as detailed secondary characters, meticulous world-building, humour, pathos, and of course, kick-ass action sequences. Well the ingredients haven’t change this time around…
Season 2 picks up as our unconventional father-son duo seek information about the Jedi who to Mando are a race of dangerous sorcerers but also their only hope of finding The Child’s home world and returning him to his own kind. Those are the broad strokes, but structurally, the show continues to follow the same winning framework as in Season 1, with each episode being a self-contained, mini-adventure and the run-times fluctuating dependant on what is required to tell each story. An approach aided by the fact that every episode employs a different director, ensuring a variety of flavours while Favreau’s executive management maintains a degree of consistency. This fluidity allows for taught, snappy narratives that completely exclude any unnecessary padding (an idea that some of Netflix’s originals could stand to adopt). Gone are the days where we have to sit through ten or twelve hours of a story that could’ve been told in six. Mando gives you just what you need, not a minute more and is all the better for it. Quality over quantity has never felt so appropriate. This anthology-like method takes us to an array of new worlds where our heroes encounter giant sand-worms, an army of ice-spiders and a fleet of indestructible Dark Troopers.
But it’s not all doom and gloom and killer-robots as Mando also recruits allies, through whom we learn more about the true history of the planet Mandalor as well as a deeper understanding of the wider, post-imperial world. Along with the return of some fan-favourite characters in the form of Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), Cara Dune (Gina Carano) and Mayfeld (Bill Burr), we welcome the addition of both new and familiar faces and the resulting world feels more expansive and scopious than ever. This network of conflicted supporting characters has been a strength of the show from day one and this season continues that trend, nurturing our affections and relinquishing the titular character’s screen-time to grow their identities independent from their relationships with Mando and The Child. It’s refreshing to see such a deep and diverse well of characters that the show has cultivated over 16 short episodes, each with their own baggage and, often dark, pasts but always given the chance take centre stage at some point in the show. Though the title may be The Mandalorian, it would reductive to think that this story is only about him.
Unsurprisingly, Ludwig Goransson’s triumphant, western-inspired score swirls throughout the show, it’s ear-worm refrains economically deployed at key moments. I dare you not to get goosebumps. The musical texture is a delight and is just as much part of the world as the sets themselves on which Disney are clearly utilising their deep pockets. The world rendered is one of staggering beauty and authenticity, especially if you’re lucky enough to watch it on a 4K screen, you can all but smell the smoking blaster barrels as Mando shoots his way through a squadron of Stormtroopers in one of several blockbuster-quality, action set-pieces. The tangibility of the environments inhabited by our heroes is palpable as they break new ground (literally) across icy landscapes, untouched for centuries or jet across the familiar dunes of Tatooine on a dusty old speeder. The physicality of the show allows the viewer to dial in to the story, never questioning the special effects, practical or otherwise, to the point that when a monster the size of a tower block emerges from the earth, you just go with it. Of course it doesn’t hurt that Disney has a wallet the size of a tower block but the action justifies it’s generous budget with it’s all-out assault on the senses that is typically reserved for the cinematic experience. It’s a good job we have Mando at a time like this then!
Ruling – The Mandalorian has started something. The size and quality of that something is yet to be seen. Perhaps Disney have bitten off more than they can chew, made promises they are unsure they can keep? At this point all we know is that we’re getting a third season and if Season 2 is anything to go by, that’s more than enough for me.