Review by C.J. Bunce
With the second season opener “The Marshall,” I thought the new season would be more of the same (see my review here). A bit light on plot, and so similar to a few episodes from the first season, I figured Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, & Co. were going to deliver some more good entertainment, but not take too many risks. Not one week later I had to take that back, as the episode “The Passenger” delivered a spectacular single-story episode reminiscent of Alien and The Thing. The fourth episode of the season, “The Siege,” was a return of characters from season one and more of the single most important, far-reaching draw for any age group or other demographic, Baby Yoda, given the name Grogu in last week’s episode. But if you take a look at this season, especially episodes 11, 13, and 14, what you may find is the third greatest Star Wars movie. Or at least your third favorite. I’ll avoid spoilers for yesterday’s new episode “The Tragedy” below except to mention the director and that the episode blew me away, but let’s dig into this season so far.
Each of this year’s six episodes has been exceptional television. It’s movie worthy, almost demanding its own television award for blockbuster storytelling for the small screen. It’s important to see “The Marshall” to explain what happens later. And that is also true for “The Siege,” which continues to firmly plant The Mandalorian among TV’s best Western series (and that’s coming from a fan of old Western TV series who has seen plenty). “The Passenger” is a fun Monster of the Week type of episode, a stand-out, standalone episode, with Star Wars exploring monsters like never before (except maybe a nod or two to the prequel movies). All have great returning characters and great alien guest characters and surprise Easter egg throwbacks in every corner. But if you have been a fan of the original trilogy, the animated The Clone Wars, or space fantasy and science fiction at all, you’ll probably have an epiphany during one or all three of the other three episodes.
First, it’s one thing to know a fan-favorite actor is voicing a character in a good animated series or film. And if you love science fiction television you probably count the reboot of Battlestar Galactica high on your favorites list. But to actually see in “The Heiress” what could have been another discarded “legacy” or “Extended Universe” character come alive on the screen? Even if you read the press and knew she was joining the series, Katee Sackhoff stepping into the Mandalorian armor with authority and joining this new cast of characters and new offshoot world of adventures is, in a word, priceless. Hats off to Bryce Dallas Howard for directing this fantastic episode. We won’t even get into the genius of featuring someone like Titus Welliver as a smug Imperial Captain. After a cameo by Clancy Brown last season, has anyone asked if Michael Ironside is available to play a future Imperial officer?
Follow that up with Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano in the next episode, “The Jedi.” I can’t imagine better casting for this character. It’s only a shame Star Wars has killed off Darth Maul twice now, as he has always been the most exciting wielder of the lightsaber, thanks especially to the fighting skill of actor Ray Park, and it’d be nice to see him on the series. But a foreshadowing of Grand Admiral Thrawn in future episodes is a pretty exciting second best (begging the question: Will Lars Mikkelsen reprise his voice role in the live-action version as he did in Star Wars Rebels?). Dawson’s Tano was exceptional, finally delivering the kind of lightsaber showdown fans have always wished for, better even than the duels in the original trilogy. The versatile actress also shined through all those prosthetics in some genuine emotional moments.
Then add to that episode The Terminator’s own tough guy Kyle Reese? Or is that Aliens’ tough guy Corporal Hicks? Take your pick, but his appearance as space gunfighter/outlaw Lang caps an impressive sci-fi career, and solidifies Michael Biehn as the ultimate cross-franchise, military-sci-fi star. Kudos to Dave Filoni for his direction on this episode, which felt part Western and part Doctor Who.
Then this week. Boom. If you haven’t found a reason to watch Disney+ yet, then this season of The Mandalorian is it. It’s a truly epic episode of television. It runs in its entirety only 32 minutes, yet it feels like it lasts much longer. Breathless, exciting, and it may also blow you away, too. Robert Rodriguez was tapped to direct this episode. I have to think many big directors in Hollywood would have made this episode for free. Or even bid for it. Remember Steven Spielberg as second-unit director on Revenge of the Sith? We’ve heard rumors of Quentin Tarantino wanting to direct his own Star Trek movie. Rodriguez grabbed the brass ring this time. Fans will be watching this three-episode story arc over and over for years to come. Personally, it’s the kind of story I was hoping for when I went to the premiere of Return of the Jedi in May 1983 (after watching Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back in the theater so many times). This is better.
Nods are due for Joseph Porro and Shawna Trpcic’s costumes, Amanda Moss Serino’s set decoration from the Roger Christian school, Andrew Jones and Doug Chiang’s production design, and the riveting energy from composer Ludwig Göransson.
Make no mistake: The Mandalorian isn’t just fan service either. Favreau & Filoni & Co. have tapped into the mythology of storytelling Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers discussed about George Lucas’s original ideas in The Power of Myth. Star Wars continues to be not just popular, but legitimate, important, quality fantasy storytelling.
And there are still two episodes left this season!
Don’t miss The Mandalorian, streaming now exclusively on Disney+.
The Halloween party is here. Look for the first episode of the second season of The Mandalorian now only on Disney+.