A review of Season two of The Mandalorian and a small screen return to the galaxy far, far away.
BY Ben Rigney-Carroll, ’21.
Courtesy of the wild pop culture success that was its breakout season last year, The Mandalorian, streaming as a flagship for Disney+, serves up a masterful blend of Star Wars storytelling with a blend of adventure often more familiar to other genres.
With installments coming out weekly at 3 A.M. each Friday Eastern time, executive producers Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau have created a phenomenon that has captured the interest of die hard Star Wars fans and casual viewers alike. Starring Pedro Pascal as the titular “Mandalorian”, the show follows an armor-clad bounty hunter and skilled warrior, Din Djarin, to see out his quest to return “the child” (commonly known as Baby Yoda) to his kind: the Jedi.
The show is built on a fairly traditional show premise. Each week, the plot either visits the main story on Din’s quest or acts as more of a filler episode in the form of “mission of the week” or “monster of the week” type side quests.
What makes this show a departure from traditional Star Wars isn’t just its scope or episodic nature but also its genre choices. Infused with the elegant subtlety and honor code of a samurai flic, the series is deeply connected to the storytelling tropes of spaghetti westerns. The Mandalorian is takes place in the literal fringe of the Star Wars galaxy, constantly challenging Din’s honorable lifestyle and warrior creed as he is often surrounded by scum and villainy.
Working from this solid foundation of the Star Wars setting, The Mandalorian innovates in ways that create a visually stunning journey. Where traditional Star Wars storytelling focuses on the central conflicts that build and reshape the galaxy far far away, this story is focused on the individual, something relatively new for a Star Wars project.
In an odd and challenging filming choice, both of the show’s central characters are uniquely challenged to express themselves. Both Din and Baby Yoda are remarkably expressive, as the care taken to deliver the emotions of the infant alien to the standards of an actual human. Considering how little CGI is used for Baby Yoda, it’s remarkable how immersive scenes with the puppet can be.
The other major character, Din, wears his expressionless mask for nearly the entire show. This leaves both Pascal and the show runners with the challenge of animating the emotions of a mask. To do this, Pascal communicates primarily through minimalistic speech and deliberate body language, conveying whole conversations with a nod or simple look away from the camera. Its moments like these that so strongly reinforce the archetypes of the lone gunslinger and the solemn samurai, shifting the tone dramatically between his role as the new father, and the steadfast protector. Though these two things alone don’t fully construct the show’s ability to demonstrate powerful mood and guide the viewer’s emotions, it’s this attitude towards minute visual elements that reflects The Mandalorian’s creative approach to storytelling.
Beyond the characters, the nods to the original Star Wars formula are numerous, but evolved. Whether it be the invocation of Darth Vader evoked by Jean Paul Esposito’s Moff Gideon, the reappearance of the classic X-Wing Starfighter, the way sparks fly when a laser contacts Stormtrooper armor, or the conjured images of the Mos Eisley cantina band ingrained within the drawls symphonies styled after John Williams’, It all feels like it takes place just after the events of the nostalgic original trilogy.
One of the most central themes in Star Wars is family, and the relationship between Din and the child is the underlying relationship in these eight episodes. Already seven episodes into season two, every installment has had viewers speculating on the infinite possibilities each episode presents for the future. As the last two weeks of this season play out, I look forward to the innovation and surprises that Din and the Child have in store for us.
Living up to and exceeding the expectations laid down by the first season and the franchise as a whole, we can only hope that The Mandalorian doesn’t take its foot off the gas any time soon.