Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the show’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the show’s own trailer. However, if you want to completely avoid potential spoilers, skip over the second paragraph.
For nearly 50 years, Star Wars has been the world’s most influential and iconic franchise. Audiences can’t get enough of lightsabers, The Force, X-Wings and TIE Fighters. Even people who’ve never seen Star Wars can still pick Luke, Han, Leia or Darth Vader out of a line up. It’s so culturally ubiquitous that the franchise itself constantly struggles to live up to its own legacy. With each new entry, fans debate over whether Star Wars has been killed or saved by the storytelling choices. Fans just couldn’t agree on anything until The Mandalorian, Season One (2019) hit our screens. Those eight episodes reaffirmed that Star Wars still had plenty of new and exciting adventures to take us on. Thus, pressure was high as we waited for the inevitable Season Two. Would it continue to be fresh, or would it rehash old tropes?
Following the events of Season One, Mando (Pedro Pascal) has fully committed to his mission of reuniting The Child with ‘the race of sorcerers known as Jedi’. The remnants of the fallen Empire as led by the villainous Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) are still in hot pursuit, desperately wanting The Child in their possession. Mando’s search for the Jedi reunites him with many old faces, including Cara Dune (Gina Carano) and Greef Karga (Carl Weathers). Mando’s latest adventures also put him in contact with new allies and new enemies, many of whom hardcore Star Wars fans will definitely recognise. Even though Mando’s mission involves giving The Child to his people, his paternal attachment grows stronger every day, meaning he can’t bring himself to abandon his companion.
As is the case with any new Star Wars media, let’s first discuss how Season Two handles its fan service. Season One had a self contained narrative with references that didn’t override the main story. It may have been the most accessible entry in the franchise since the original film, which definitely contributed to how fresh it felt. Season Two continues down that wonderfully enjoyable path, but the amount of fan service has been dialled to 11. Audiences who do know what the references mean will definitely get a kick out of it, but thankfully it never excludes the casual viewers. Extreme levels of fan service is usually a distraction, but Season Two smartly integrates all the deep lore seamlessly, meaning it doesn’t require the viewer to have sampled any previous content.
The original Star Wars was a creative mix of The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, The Hidden Fortress (1958) by Akira Kurosawa and The Searchers (1956) by John Ford. The Mandalorian boldly follows that trend, continuing to draw inspiration from Samurai, Westerns and other classic adventure genres. What makes it feel so fresh (yet still recognisably Star Wars) is that it’s the first piece of the franchise since the original to borrow so heavily from these sources. At this point, most of the franchise just recycles tropes from itself, so it’s incredibly cathartic to see The Mandalorian dig deeply into Star War’s cinematic roots. If viewers couldn’t recognise the Samurai and Western influence in Season One, they will surely recognise it in Season Two.
Amazingly, the spectacular adventures Mando and The Child embark on rival many big budget films. Right from the get go, Season Two blurs the line between cinematic level action and TV level action, delivering many breathtaking sequences in nearly every episode. This so called ‘Golden Age of TV’ has had no shortage of engaging cinematic action, but many shows still have to be smart about the money they spend on set pieces. Happily, The Mandalorian has Disney’s money, meaning that nearly every action sequence is more jaw dropping than the last. Whether it’s a fist fight, shootout, sword fight, or monster battle, you’ll be on the edge of your seat. There are important moments with uncanny visual effects, but the emotionally engaging narrative distracts from the unpolished CGI.
With that in mind, Season Two’s greatest strength is the same as Season One. Specifically, the show has a brilliantly simple plot which makes room for deceptively complex characters. Star Wars is an archetypical ‘good versus evil’ story, but that hasn’t stopped some of the previous films from trying to insert moral shades of grey. However, The Mandalorian is the first since The Empire Strikes Back (1980) to actually pull this off in a completely satisfying manner. The various ‘heroes’, ‘villains’, and everyone in-between are given sympathetic motivations even when they do traditionally unheroic things. This furthers the Samurai and Western iconography, as a character’s actions can be heroic or villainous depending on the perspective. The thematic nuance even adds layers of humanity in unexpected places.
The themes surrounding fatherly love are stronger than ever, as Mando’s connection to The Child remains a core emotional through line. Star Wars isn’t about plot as much as it’s about emotion, and it’s clear The Mandalorian understands that fact. Despite this, an aspect which isn’t handled quite as effortlessly are the themes of fate. Like all Star Wars content, there are significant story turns which rest on chance or coincidence. Normally, this isn’t a big deal because Star War’s central element is an all powerful ‘Force’ which ties all things in life together. While ‘The Force’ is becoming more prominent in the story, The Mandalorian hasn’t developed its version of the concept to where it can easily allow for grand moments of destiny. Although by the season’s end, it’s clear that fate and destiny will be properly integrated as a major theme going forward.
Debates will likely rage about whether it was new ideas or respect for the lore that made The Mandalorian Season Two such a success. The Force Awakens (2015) is praised for being reverent, but is also criticised for it. The Last Jedi (2017) has fans for breaking new ground, but has just as many detractors for similar reasons. Rogue One (2016), Solo (2018) or Rise of Skywalker (2019) are all reactions to various fan complaints. Star Wars needs to evolve, but it’s also too iconic for its own good. How can we have new things while also staying true to what came before? The Mandalorian proves that we can have both.
Best way to watch it: With your dad.