Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the oldest sayings of actors is never take a role with an animal or a child, because you’ll always get upstaged.  That’s where the Disney+ series is currently stuck–they created a character in The Child (aka Baby Yoda) that we’d all probably rather see more than Pedro Pascal’s title character.  Yes, The Mandalorian is back this weekend with the first episode of Season Two, more than welcome fun in the year of COVID-19 and real-life, high-stakes politics.  The series is full of Easter eggs and good throwbacks to the original trilogy, the prequels, bits and pieces of the entire franchise.  But the plot for the season opener is a retread of themes and scenes from last year, light on our favorite young green-eared friend.

Happily for Western fans, the series is firmly standing in a realm of all things Western, including a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, High Plains Drifter, Rustler’s Rhapsody subplot with Timothy Olyphant as Cobb Vanth, a swaggering Marshal complete with John Wayne’s bib shirt (and some other notable garb) in a forgotten town on the familiar planet of Tatooine.  The series matches the space Western plots from the initial spin-off run of Star Wars’ monthly in Marvel Comics back in the 1970s, but the Western genre has more to offer than The Magnificent Seven and The Searchers.  The Krayt dragon, probably the first beast we saw in the original Star Wars (only in skeletal form), brings some classic dragonslayer fantasy to the story a la Beowulf and The Hobbit.  But if The Mandalorian (his name revealed last season, Din Djarin, doesn’t seem to be important) has a consistent trait, it’s getting too easily sidetracked–we can understand being Mandalorian is a sacred, religious thing, but delaying his rescue of Baby Yoda, getting Tusken Raiders, banthas, townspeople–and more–killed, all for some old armor?  The stakes seem a bit iffy even for Star Wars.

The first season already leaned heavy on Starship Troopers in its devaluation of any alien lifeform that isn’t a biped.  Is every enemy going to be a giant beast, and is every episode going to have The Mandalorian spend energy fighting away on frivolous tangent adventures?  This was one of the elements that made the prequels so weak… giant beasts in the water, giant beasts in an arena, etc.  For a full-hour season opener, this episode plays like a mid-level first season episode, probably worse if throwbacks aren’t your thing.

That said, fans of Star Wars will find a familiar alien race examined better than ever before–the Tusken Raiders and their brilliantly conceived banthas–with Pascal’s anti-hero taking some comedy beats about communication assumptions from Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars Story.  A minor character we knew by name only because of his action figure in Return of the Jedi becomes a cool supporting character in this mission, and another familiar character’s backstory gets fleshed out in more ways than one.

Olyphant’s Marshal could be a keeper.  The actor is part Josh Brolin, Patrick Wayne, and Nathan Fillion with everything but a glint in his teeth.  And the Star Wars version of Star Trek: Discovery’s Jett Reno, Amy Sedaris’s straight-shooting mechanic and babysitter aunt to Baby Yoda Peli Motto, makes a welcome return.  We also get a casting surprise with John Leguizamo as the cyclops Gor Koresh.  But let’s dig into that backstory for The Child, shall we?

Joseph Porro and Shawna Trpcic’s costumes, Amanda Moss Serino’s set decoration, the buildings and ships, more whistling birds, the Jawas, the fantastic re-creation of the Sandcrawler–Andrew Jones and Doug Chiang’s production design is perfect.  This episode confirms the series looks every bit as good as the original trilogy.  Composer Ludwig Göransson continues his Western vibe with Rocky movie cues.

The Halloween party is here.  Look for the first episode of the second season of The Mandalorian now only on Disney+.