The Mandalorian (Disney+)
Despite its flaws, the franchise’s first live-action TV series continues to capture the ineffable spirit of the original trilogy.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
The last three Star Wars movies have been hit or miss. The Force Awakens set box-office records and received rave reviews not because it told an original story — it didn’t — but because it managed to recapture some of the magic of the original trilogy. Then came The Last Jedi, which introduced some interesting new concepts, but was ultimately unsatisfying because it just didn’t feel like the galaxy far, far away that we all know and love. And finally, The Rise of Skywalker failed to tie the so-called sequel trilogy coherently together, emerging a disjointed mess — a true-to-the-franchise mess, but a mess nonetheless.
Contrary to what you might have read elsewhere on the Internet, The Mandalorian, the franchise’s first live-action TV series, can be a mess, too. The acting is often unimpressive, with some notable exceptions, and the writing inconsistent. It sometimes relies upon crutches, from the Mandalorian’s impenetrable Beskar armor to Baby Yoda/The Child/Grogu’s adorableness, and the show’s arch-villain to this point, Moff Gideon, was revealed to be a paper tiger in the season-two finale. But none of that seems to matter to Star Wars fans, who have almost unanimously hailed the show as a franchise-reviving success.
That’s because for all its imperfections, The Mandalorian, which is available to stream on Disney+, has remained focused on its central draw — the relationship between the Mandalorian and Grogu — and nailed all of the most important moments while remaining utterly, effortlessly Star Wars-y.
The second season is even better than the first in this regard. It begins with the Mandalorian trying to find more of his kind, who he believes can help him locate a Jedi to train the child he has been tasked with protecting. The season premiere is probably also the weakest link in the eight-episode chain; while it features the always-entertaining Timothy Olyphant playing Cobb Vanth (a deep cut for fans of the old expanded universe), it also meanders and fails to move the plot along, making it an odd candidate for the longest episode of the season at 54 minutes. The second episode is similarly unimportant to the larger storyline but makes up for it by dragging less.
From there on out, though, there are no more filler episodes, and show-runner Jon Favreau spoils fans with week after week of well-choreographed fight scenes, well-executed integration of beloved characters Bo-Katan Kryze, Ahsoka Tano, and Boba Fett into the series (the last two were so obviously successful that Disney has already announced spin-offs for both), and workmanlike development of the burgeoning father–son relationship between the Mandalorian and Grogu. The show-stopping performances of Rosario Dawson as Tano and Temuera Morrison as Fett have rightfully received most of the acclaim, but it’s the Mandalorian–Grogu pairing that really makes the show come together and ensures that there is an emotional payoff in the season finale. The little moments on the Mandalorian’s ship, the Razor Crest, that begin or punctuate episodes and show him chiding Grogu for playing with a lever handle or mistakenly enlisting him in repairs provide not only comic relief, but insight into how they’ve settled into their own comfortable domestic life in between on-screen adventures.
And that brings us to the finale, which has the Mandalorian reclaim his surrogate son from the clutches of the disappointing Moff Gideon only to lose him to a higher cause. Had it ended just a few minutes earlier, the finale would have been a great disappointment. Boba Fett, pound for pound already the coolest character in the show after one episode, is inexplicably left on his ship while a rescue team infiltrates Moff Gideon’s. Meanwhile, the four women who accompany the title character — Bo-Katan, Cara Dune, Fennec Shand, and Koska Reeves — easily cut down any and every stormtrooper in their way while the Mandalorian fights a darktrooper, Gideon’s brainchild, and then Gideon himself before scooping Grogu back into his arms.
After regrouping, the team finds itself trapped in the ship’s bridge, about to be overrun by a whole platoon of darktroopers. That’s when things get good. An X-wing flies by the window and docks in the hangar. Could it be?
When a cloaked figure ignites his lightsaber, there can be no doubt: Luke Skywalker is back.
With ease, the Jedi master cuts down the darktroopers, who, like their creator, prove to be entirely unworthy of dread. It’s a scene obviously meant to mirror that of Luke’s father in Rogue One. The reverent score and the interplay between unmediated color footage and black-and-white security-camera footage will give you the chills, as will some of the choreography. But the darktroopers’ slow, clunky movements and point-blank misfires do detract from the excitement somewhat — a flaw emblematic of the show’s larger struggle to provide its protagonist with a worthy opponent.
Once Luke finishes and officially reveals himself, it is time for one of the most heartbreaking scenes in Star Wars history, a goodbye between the Mandalorian and the child that sees the former break his most sacred rule and remove his helmet. It’s a moment that, in addition to its obvious emotional implications, echoes Darth Vader’s request that Luke remove his mask in Return of the Jedi so he could look at his son with his own eyes.
With the satisfying end of season two comes the end of the storyline that has dominated the first 16 episodes of the series, and truth be told, it feels like this should be the end of the series itself. A compelling story has been told, a concept has been more than proven, and excitement around the franchise has been revived. What’s more, I’m not sure that Pedro Pascal’s Mandalorian has been developed enough outside of his relationship with Grogu to carry the show on his own.
Still, Disney has already announced a season three, one that will almost certainly see him teaming up with Bo-Katan to take back their home world of Mandalore, a goal she brings up approximately every third time she speaks in the show. And so long as it carries that ineffable feeling we associate with Star Wars content, and pushes the right buttons at the right moments, it’ll do just fine. We fans of this franchise don’t demand perfection; respectable efforts that recapture the ineffable spirit of the movies we fell in love with way back when are enough.