TV Review: The Mandalorian Season 2 – Mega Review

By Matthew Moorcroft

Strong Recommendation

  • Directed by Jon Favreau, Peyton Reed, Bryce Dallas Howard, Carl Weathers, Dave Filoni, Robert Rodriguez, Rick Famuyiwa
  • Starring Pedro Pascal, Carl Weathers, Gina Carano, Katee Sackhoff
  • TV-14

Remember COVID-19?

Ok hear me out. I know referencing that in the start of a Star Wars review sounds weird as hell but it has a purpose. While we are still in the middle of said pandemic (and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon), 2020 was the year that will forever be known as the “COVID year”. Everything was screwed up, things were delayed, we were stuck inside our homes, and even on my end my personal life got screwed up to the point where I’m still technically picking up the pieces. It was rough for many people, so it’s no wonder that streaming blew up to it’s highest of highs during this time as people looked for comfort wherever they could.

The Mandalorian returned during this timeframe in late 2020, having been shot prior to the pandemic and finished it’s post-production work remotely. It was arguably also just the right time, as the hellscape of our current world meant the escape into the world of Star Wars felt more and more needed, for better and for worse. I was one of those people, as the pandemic really, genuinely took a lot out of me and seeing The Mandalorian weekly again was a rare comfort in what was otherwise a dour time for me and my mental health.

Am I looking through rose tinted glasses then, on purpose, in order for me to justify my love for the second season of this show? After all, The Mandalorian Season 2 seemingly has everything I don’t like about this current era of Star Wars: an overreliance on cameos and fanservice, a lack of thematic weight, and a feeling of cheapness that occasionally permeates throughout the whole thing. It seems tailor made for me to hate it, designed in a lab by corporate executives who want to maximize online engagement as much as possible. You book references, movie characters, long awaited Clone Wars continuations, Rebels references, connections to all three trilogies, it’s all here, waiting to be discussed in the latest “Mandalorian Explained” video on Youtube where it will point out what newest background character is from issue #45 of an old comics series from the 90s (which they will also remind you is no longer canon).

But alas, against maybe my better judgement, not only do I find the second season to be a general improvement on the first (especially in terms of consistent quality), but also a strong season of television in general. It’s basically nigh-perfect popcorn fare, with each episode it’s own little self-contained adventure that makes it perfect week-to-week viewing. It’s more confident about it’s serial roots, not afraid to have entire episodic detours into a new adventure for the sake of having a new adventure. As somebody who plays a lot of DnD, it’s very “stop and go” style storytelling which in any other kind of show would likely be a death kneel but it works here. It adds to a sense of urgency as well, as they are constantly being chased and given new assignments and pushing off their main quest. And that’s mostly bad for Din, who has unfournately begun to care for our little baby.

Grogu, as he is now called, is the focus again as we attempt to find a home for him. If the first season was about setting up the growing paternal feelings that Din has for Grogu, this is the show testing it. Every episode has them connected in some way, shape, or form, and Din’s main arc is to learn what matters the most to him personally. I like that said goal is less tangible and more metaphorical, as internal struggles are always more resonant in my eyes then “we have to save the baby from evil guy”. And yeah, the evil guy is indeed back with more screentime, played by the always amazing Giancarlo Esposito, and he’s a blast! The fact he can taunt a puppet of a cute baby and make it believable is part of the reason Star Wars is so fun but also a testament to how strong of a villain he actually is. If he wasn’t here, I don’t think the show could have worked as well as it does.

The crop of directors here as well are better then ever as well. Return directors Rick Famuyiwa and Bryce Dallas Howard are the obvious standouts, particularly Famuyiwa who delivers one of the best episodes, if not the best, episode of the show with The Believer. With Famuyiwa completely at the helm for that episode on the writer’s chair as well, you can just feel his energy on the entire affair, and it leaves you on a massive high going into the finale. Favreau’s premiere is equally as stellar, as Favreau has continuously been a reliable workman director for years and this shows it. Nobody on the show knows structure quite like him, and the nearly over an hour premiere is a great one-off story that’s almost like a short film in it’s own right. And then, of course, there is Carl Weathers, making his directorial debut on the series with The Siege, an episode which features some tantalizing hints of the future while also being a fun one-off episode like the rest of the show.

Dave Filoni and Peyton Reed are little bit more mixed on that front. On the one hand, I think Filoni’s actual direction has vastly improved from last season, with his episode being almost mythic in some of it’s quality. There are some truly striking images at play in the way he frames Ahsoka, who makes her live action debut here, and it’s clear that him claiming to learn from Rian Johnson was not a fluke. He definitely has the same approach and it allows for The Jedi to shine in spite of some of it’s narrative struggles. And it’s those narratives struggles that somebody like Reed, who is mostly a workman director (albeit not on the same level as Favreau) to lose out. Sure, his first episode – the romp about the frog lady – is a blast of a time and one of the more memorable episodes of the season even if it lacks substance. But putting Reed on the finale, which has narrative problems baked into it, I feel was a mistake. He’s just not strong enough to carry Favreau’s weak writing here, and this could have sorely used a Famuyiwa or Howard or even Favreau himself to fix it.

And yeah, let’s talk about that finale. I don’t hate it, mind you – there are definitely fun moments in it, and the major emotional beat really lands. Pascal sells the departure really well and the puppet actors for Grogu manage to keep up with him. It’s moments like this that make you forget this is a show about a space cowboy who befriends a green piece of felt and that’s the true power of television in it’s best moments. It’s a shame the rest of the episode fails to deliver on the promises set by prior episodes. The Dark Troopers are wasted here and given little to do, and the day is saved by a Deus Ex Machina Luke Skywalker whose controversial appearance signaled that the show had reached maximum fanservice ratios. I’m not inherently against him showing up in things, but when his appearance in this is so random and half-baked it’s hard to ignore the blatant pandering here.

And yes, there is already a lot of that here. Boba Fett is probably a more obvious example, though his inclusion was admittedly fun and it was cool to see Temura Morrison get a lot to do here. Cobb Vanth is a deep cut for book nerds like myself, and Bo-Katan and Ahsoka were the animated stuff bleeding into live action. For anybody who is a fan of the franchise and universe as a whole, this likely won’t bother you but I feel casual audiences could definitely be lost in the scuffle of trying to keep up with who is who.

It’s gonna be interesting to see if my opinion on the second season remains going forward as the show, and Mando-verse at large, continues. The doubling down on certain elements, like the fanservice and lack of narrative depth, is concerning for sure and The Book of Boba Fett‘s overall thud of an impact is probably representative of this era’s lack of a core central thesis. But, as a week-to-week experience, it’s frankly still unmatched, and at it’s height was one of the most enjoyable things on television. Is it just me defending this blindly? Possibly, but I have to be honest.

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