The Mandalorian Season 2 – Chapters 1 & 2 review
As cinemas around the world close their doors and major movie releases are shunted to 2021 the Mandalorian returns to bring a bit of big screen entertainment direct to our homes.
And wow, do the first two episodes of The Mandalorian’s 2nd Season feel cinematic. ‘Made for TV’ used to mean something like ‘direct to video’ but no longer is it a sign of being subpar. I am prepared to go out on a limb and say that the first two episodes of The Mandalorian are the best a TV show has ever looked.
Star Wars is of course known for spectacle, and the visuals on offer in the new season of The Mandalorian are quite simply gorgeous. The train of Bantha’s winding across the Tatooine desert (the Bantha’s look absolutely real in both longshot and close up). The Krayt Dragon bursting through the mountaintop. The X-Wing pursuit through salmon-pink cloud and majestic ice canyons. Baby Yoda’s face pressed against the frozen glass. These are images that take their place proudly alongside the very best of the Star Wars series, and in some cases look even better (the Special Edition enhancements and the Prequel Trilogy both used fairly early CGI and could look at odds with the live action, so it’s nice to see some of that iconography – such as the pit droids and a podracer being rendered with 2020 standard fx, we also get to see a very believable Praying Mantis previously only glimpsed in the far background during the ’77 Cantina sequence).
The opening episode of Season 2 continues where we left off and no significant time seems to have passed since IG-11’s sacrifice at the end of last Season (in a seemingly throwaway line IG is acknowledged - the Mandalorian has warmed to droids a little more). Mando seeks information from a cyclops (who couldn’t but help remind me of a miniature version of Bernard Bresslaw’s character from Krull) and when he’s double crossed ends up beating down some low rent thugs in a well-staged fight scene.
The lead takes him back to Tatooine, which despite Luke’s assertion “If there’s a bright centre to the universe, you’re on the planet it’s farthest from” really does seem to be the centre of the Star Wars universe. Nothing says old-skool Star Wars like dusty robes, Tusken Raiders, and twin suns. Presumably the Obi Wan series, due to shoot next year, is also going to be Tatooine set and I hope the creative minds behind the franchise manage to keep it feeling as fresh as it does here.
When the Mandalorian rides into Mos Pelgo it wonderfully marries the fantasy genre with the Western, and the saloon shoot out with rival gunslinger (Cobb Vanth wearing Boba Fett’s armour) is only avoided by the arrival of this episode’s villain – the Krayt Dragon. The dragon bones were set dressing for the Tatooine dunes back in 1977 (they originally represented a Diplodocus in the Disney comedy One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing), and are just one of several ‘deep cut’ references or easter eggs that knowledgeable fans might pick up on. Sometimes I find easter eggs a bit cutesy and they prick the bubble of believability that has been steadily building, but as a vintage toy collector this first episode had so much to delight that I didn’t begrudge any of it (Weequay! Yak Face Staff! Rocket firing Fett!!).
Suffice to say that the enormous dragon is too much for the Mandalorian alone, and so he teams up with the likable Cobb, the townspeople, and the Tusken Raiders to find its lair and take it out. This all happens at an absorbing unrushed pace, and it’s a measure of the series’ confidence and quality that it doesn’t limit itself to a specific run time, and that each episode can be as long or short as the story requires.
Episode 2 is almost 15 minutes shorter and gives considerably more screen time to the most adorable character that has ever graced Star Wars, Baby Yoda. After an absolutely kick-ass little confrontation with would-be ambushers (death by jetpack is Mando’s most creative kill yet), Mando and Baby Yoda take on a frog-like alien as a passenger aboard the Razor Crest. The frog is transporting a precious cargo of frogspawn eggs, which Baby Yoda keeps eating throughout as a running gag – bad baby!
On the journey Mando falls foul of an X-Wing patrol (one piloted by showrunner Dave Filoni in a cameo) and they have a wonderfully visual pursuit through clouds and ice canyons (no music, but a treat to listen to through a soundbar for the incredible sound design). After crashing into an ice cave the survivors of the Razor Crest discover they are not alone, they’ve wandered into Ridley Scott’s ALIEN and before you can say facehugger they’re being pursued by a horde of superbly rendered CGI spiders. This is another wonderful ‘deep cut’ from the art of Ralph McQuarrie. He painted the ‘knobby white spider’ as concept art for Dagobah, and it’s just brilliant to see it brought to life so vividly here. The action is really well staged, as Mando makes a tactical withdrawal, retreating but maintaining contact with the enemy and keeping just a hairs breadth between him and the encroaching spiders. It’s edge of your seat stuff, an amazing set piece.
If these first two episodes are an indication of what’s to come then we are in for a massive treat. It may be a while before Star Wars reappears on the big screen but when the TV series is this good then the wait will be easy.