Check out the Video Lab Podcast, where Sam and I discuss Season 2 in more depth with guest Sam Milewsky.
*Minor spoilers follow*
The instant success and audience capture of the first season of “The Mandalorian” overshadows the plodding filler of roughly Episode 3 to Episode 6. While some of these introduce other characters, they are mediocre chapters. This is best seen in S1: Episode 4: Sanctuary, where Mando defends a village, arguably the worst episode in the series. That’s not to say that random forays into plot-irrelevant adventures are always bad. Episode 5: The Gunslinger, and Episode 6: The Prisoner, which divides certain fans, are great entertainment, action, and good fun. Season 1 felt extra western-like in that Mando the cool bounty hunter was wandering around meeting people and doing odd tasks. But its story was loose, and while production was good, the quality of episodes varied.
The success of Season 1, however, allowed the breathing room for Season 2 to flourish. There are less of the boring side tangents that in Season 1 felt mediocre, and even when the episodes aren’t strictly advancing the story, they feel thrilling and engaged. Arguably Season 2’s only episode that feels close to mediocrity is in Chapter 12: The Siege, where the Mando and his band of misfits destroy an old imperial base. Its boring, half-heartedly connects itself to the most recent trilogy, and feels like a waste of time.
Perhaps one of the strongest episodes is Chapter 10: The Passenger, which despite having nothing to do with the main story, has the most exciting action of the season, with ship chasing, ice spiders, and baby Yoda’s insatiable appetite to provide comedic relief.
The series’ use of LED screens instead of green screen format really makes the series look crisp, vibrant, and real. “The Mandalorian” is definitely vying for the title of the most gorgeous and visually stunning in the Star Wars Universe.
On paper, “The Mandalorian” doesn’t seem like it should be a strong show. None of its acting is particularly noteworthy. Aside from a few instances, the dialogue isn’t that interesting. As stated earlier, its visually stunning, but there isn’t anything especially profound in its story or writing. And yet not only does it work well, “The Mandalorian” is a blast. It has all the fun and production value of a Star Wars film, but is only peripherally concerned with the universe canon. In this way, the show is most entertaining when it engages least with story elements of the broader universe and treads its own path. It is an easy entry point for casual viewers without being dumbed down for hardcore fans as “Star Wars Lite”, because it creates its own story that isn’t concerned with Jedi vs. Sith or the Empire vs. the Republic, at least yet. It is a sole, gritty protagonist and his little green companion.
An important element to this story is of course baby Yoda, who finds a proper name in this season. His unyielding cuteness combined with the hardness of Mando make for an unlikely and likeable pair. The inability for the audience to hear more than squeaks and chirps from him gives the adorable appearance of a small puppy. The fact that he is constantly in need of protection brings out a paternalism from Mando that fans have emotionally drawn to. It would be as if John Wick’s puppy survived the first film and then Wick spent a television series protecting it from thugs. This emotional attachment makes for some of the best moments of Season 2. Baby Yoda is what makes the show an interesting stand out amidst the Star Wars Cinematic universe. He creates an urgency that isn’t obviously essential to the fate of the galaxy.
The end of Season 2 lives up the hype the series has created for itself. With “The Mandalorian”, Disney has managed to successfully create the first of likely many television sagas set in the Star Wars universe. It helped lift Disney’s streaming service off the ground, and gave the world a charming original series.