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Josh Reviews The Mandalorian Season Two

There was certainly a lot of expectation and anticipation before the release of the first season of The Mandalorian last year.  It was the first Star Wars live-action TV show!  What would it be like?  And yet, in many ways, I think that first season was a huge surprise to many people.  It was to me.  Even though I’d hoped it would be great, I was taken aback by just how great it was.  And, of course, “Baby Yoda” (officially “the child” on the show) took the world by storm.  And so I felt there were even greater weights of pressure and expectation on the second season of the show.  Would Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni and their team be able to make a second season that would rise to the level of that first season, and to fans’ enormous expectations?

Once again, they made it look easy.  The second season of The Mandalorian was pure joy for me, from start to finish.  I will say again what I said about that first season: this is exactly what I want new Star Wars to be.  The series is astoundingly faithful to the continuity and history of Star Wars, while also being unafraid to tell new stories with new characters and new locations.

This second season enormously expanded the universe of the show.  Season one was filled with connections to the larger Star Wars universe; we saw Jawas and an IG battle droid and that ice-cream-maker from The Empire Strikes Back and the Darksaber.  At the same time, the season told a tightly-focused story of Mando and the Child and their adventures on the “Outer Rim.”  Season two expanded the scope of the show dramatically.  For me, the greatest strength of The Mandalorian was the way the series was able to weave together connections to the movies (Boba Fett), the animated series (Bo Katan, Ahsoka Tano, the Darksaber), and also to Star Wars novels (Grand Admiral Thrawn, Cobb Vanth), comic books (the planet Tython where Baby Yoda communes with the Force) video games (the Dark Troopers), and so much more. The respect for the vast tapestry of the Star Wars expanded universe was amazing.  This series is clearly made by people with a tremendous knowledge of and love for Star Wars, and that makes me so happy to see.  (I wish modern Star Trek was overseen by people with this amount of knowledge and love.)

As a huge fan of the animated Star Wars series The Clone Wars and Rebels, the highlight of this season was seeing Bo Katan and Ahsoka Tano brought to life in live action.  I cannot describe how happy that made me!!!  Seeing Bo Katan in episode three, “The Heiress”, was extraordinary.  Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) was incredible voicing Bo Katan on the animated series, and getting to see her actually play Bo in live action was unbelievable.  Ms. Sackhoff was, of course, absolutely perfect.  I couldn’t believe how perfectly Bo looked.  Her helmet, her costume, her red hair, every aspect of the character had been beautifully translated into live action.  And, more importantly, they got Bo’s character exactly right.  Seeing the real Ms. Sackhoff on screen, embodying Bo, was amazing.

And then Bo said the name “Ahsoka Tano,” and I nearly fell off my couch.  Like many Star Wars fans who grew to love Ahsoka over the years, of course I’d dreamed of seeing the character one day make an appearance in live action.  Just getting to hear her voice for one second at the end of The Rise of Skywalker was amazing enough.  But only a few episodes after Bo said her name, we actually got an entire episode spotlighting Ahsoka in episode five, “The Jedi”.  And it was perfect.  Absolutely perfect.  They’d made the controversial decision to recast the character.  Ashley Eckstein had voiced Ahsoka on all of her previous appearances; here Ahsoka was played by Rosario Dawson.  And, again, I could not have wished for better.  Ms. Dawson was perfection.  Her costume, her makeup, her cloak, those dual white lightsabers — everything was beautifully and perfectly brought to life on-screen.  And as with Bo, even more important than the look of the character was how perfectly Ms. Dawson was able to embody the true nature of the character, just as I’d always wanted Ahsoka to be in live action.  Amazing.  (Bravo to Dave Filoni, who created the character along with George Lucas, and who oversaw her development throughout his years of work on the animated series.  Mr. Filoni runs The Mandalorian with Jon Favreau, and he wrote and directed that episode.)

If the series has a flaw, it’s that its episodic structure means that its wandering samurai protagonist, the titular Mandalorian, is probably not going to reach his goals in most any given episode.  From week to week, there was always a new goal, a new magufffin — some new person he needed to find or some new place he needed to reach.  And once he did, there would then be a new person or place he’d need to get to the following week.

But for me, the episodic structure of the show wasn’t a weakness, it was a strength.  I loved how each bite-sized adventure was able to stand on its own as a satisfying new story within the Star Wars universe, while at the same time leaving me, the audience-member, eager to move on to the next adventure coming the next week.

Let’s dive into more details of my thoughts on the season!

Chapter Nine: “The Marshall” — I was nervous at first about this first episode.  While season one’s visit to Tatooine was fun, I want this show to break new ground, so I wasn’t wild about, yet again, being back on Tatooine.  And the episode’s long run-time made me nervous.  I loved the tightly-paced, fairly short length of the season one episodes; had they gotten overly ambitious and bloated here in season two?  I needn’t have worried.  This was a terrific episode!  I loved the character of Cobb Vanth (who is from the Star Wars novels, specifically Aftermath by Chuck Wendig), beautifully portrayed by Justified’s Timothy Olyphant.  I loved this charismatic, noble-in-his-own-way Marshall!  I loved his dynamic with Mando.  (I was really hoping we’d see him again before the end of the season!  I do hope we see him again somewhere.)  It was awesome to see Boba Fett’s armor onscreen again, fueling fans’ decade-long dreams that surely Boba must have been able to survive being swallowed by the Sarlacc in Return of the Jedi.  At first I thought the sandworm stuff was a little lame, too much of a Dune rip-off, but all was forgiven when I guessed (correctly) that this was a Krayt Dragon!!  What a fun piece of Star Wars nerdy continuity!!  It was so cool to see this creature finally realized on-screen (in non-skeletal form).  The action climax showdown was thrilling, beautifully realized with incredible visual effects.  I loved the way this episode humanized the Tusken Raiders, allowing us to learn more about these iconic Star Wars aliens and, maybe, even have a little sympathy for them!  I loved the iconic nature of the episode’s Western story (with the “Ranchers” and the “Indians” forced to team up).  I loved the episode’s opening, with John Leguizamo voicing a memorable new one-eyed alien crime-boss.  I loved the Gamorrean fight!  It was fun getting to see Amy Sedaris, back as Tatooine mechanic Peli Motto.  I loved getting to see R5 (the red droid that Luke almost buys back in Star Wars) — and I laughed in glee at the attention to detail shown when the camera caught a glimpse of the damage on R5’s head, where his bad motivator had blown!  I love that, at one point, we see Cobb Vanth driving a pod-racing engine.  These connections to the wider Star Wars universe made me so happy!  The best one, though?  Seeing Cobb Vanth use Fett’s armor to fire a missile.  This is a fantastic in-joke to Star Wars fans who remember the controversy regarding the original Boba Fett action figure (whose rocket never fired, after the initial prototype scared people that the rocket would be a choking hazard for kids).  Getting to see that missile actually fire on screen (something we’d never before gotten to see in Fett’s appearances in the Original Trilogy) filled me with happiness.  And then we get the final piece of icing on the cake at the end of the episode — the appearance of Temuera Morrison, who played Jango Fett (Boba’s father) in Episode II — as Boba himself.  (This episode allowed us to wonder whether Mr. Morrison was indeed playing Boba, or whether this was a fake-out and he was playing another Clone… but we didn’t have to wait too long to get confirmation.)

Chapter Ten: “The Passenger” — This was probably the weakest episode of the season, but I still liked it a lot!  I enjoyed getting to know the Frog Lady and her vat of eggs.  There were some plot holes: it was a little crazy to me that Mando would allow baby Yoda to wander alone in this dangerous cave, and it’s hard to believe the Razorcrest could possible be space-worthy after the tremendous damage it took… but I can go with all of that.   I know some fans online complained about the Frog Lady’s costume/prosthetics looking fake, but personally I loved the actor-in-a-suit vibe, which feels like classic Star Wars to me.  I loved getting to see her morph (via CGI effects) into frog-like jumping when fleeing the giant spiders at the end.  The episode really came to life during the thrilling and horrific spider-attack at the end.  That was an incredible sequence.  (By the way, the spiders were also another cool connection to the animated series, as we’d seen a version of those creatures before, on Star Wars Rebels in “The Mystery of Chopper Base”.)  It was fun to see X-Wings pilots Carson Teva (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) and Trapper Wolf (Dave Filoni) again, at the end!  There was a huge kerfuffle online about the wrongness of Baby Yoda’s eating Frog Lady’s unborn young, and I must admit, that didn’t sit well with me during the episode.  The episode plays those as comedy moments, but to me it was cruel!  This was a rare example of the show’s stumbling with its tone, in my opinion.

Chapter Eleven: “The Heiress” — Here’s where season three really shot into the stratosphere for me.  As I commented above, I was overjoyed by the decision to bring Bo Katan into the show, and her depiction was 100% perfect.  I couldn’t possibly have asked for more.  One of the interesting aspects of season one of this show called The Mandalorian was how it seemed to differ from the depiction of Mandalorians seen in the animated Clone Wars and Rebels shows.  With Dave Filoni at the helm, and with the appearance of the Darksaber in the final shot of season one, I was confident the show would eventually address and explain those discontinuities.  It was awesome here to see the series embrace the wider world of Mandalorians as depicted in the animated series by bringing in Bo Katan.  It was awesome to hear Bo identify Mando as a “Child of the Watch” — presumably referring to Deathwatch, the extremist Mandalorian group of which Bo Katan herself was once a member.  It was fun to see Mando confront the reality that most Mandalorians DO remove their helmets without any shame.  This was also an extraordinary episode, visually.  I loved the early scenes on the watery planet, Trask.  I loved the look of the docks on this planet.  I loved getting to see Mon Calamari and also Quarren (the other aquatic race who lived on the same planet as the Mon Calamari, as depicted in Clone Wars).  I loved the action of the assault on the Imperial ship.  I loved the all-too-brief scenes with the always-awesome Titus Welliver as an Imperial officer.  It’s cool to learn a bit more about these still-active Imperials under Moff Gideon’s command.  Are we seeing the beginning of what will grow into The First Order (the villains of The Force Awakens and the sequel trilogy)??  That would be cool.  It’s awesome to learn that Bo Katan is after the darksaber (how did she lose it after the events of Rebels??), and when Bo speaks the name Ahsoka Tano… chills!!  This was a highlight of the season for me.

Chapter Twelve: “The Siege” — I wasn’t wild that the show returned, again, to Tatooine in episode one, and at first I also wasn’t thrilled for the show to return back to Nevarro and the characters of Greef Karga and Cara Dune.  But, once again, the show did not disappoint, and it was so much fun getting to see Greef and Cara again that I can’t complain!  I question whether the makers of this show actually know what a “siege” is, because we did not get one in this episode.  We did, though, get one of the series’ all-time best action sequences with the extraordinary escape chase as Tie Fighters and speeder bikes pursue Mando and co. through the rocky chasms of Nevarro.  That was extraordinary.  I wasn’t expecting to ever see Mythrol again (he’s the alien played by Horatio Sanz who was captured by Mando in the opening sequence of the series premiere), but Mr. Sanz is so funny that it was a delight seeing him again… and now I hope we get lots more of him in the future!  It was cool how the reactor controls in the Imperial base looked so much like the Death Star tractor beam controls from the original Star Wars.  It was interesting to hear a reference to Baby Yoda’s high M-count.  (The M, presumably, stands for Midichlorians — and let me just say that I found “M-count” to be a fun Star Wars in-joke and far less annoying than had they actually said the word Midichlorians on the show — well done, Mr. Favreau and Mr. Filoni!!)  I liked that Mando & co. escaped on an Imperial Troop Carrier (a classic Star Wars toy that we got to see animated on Rebels.)  I liked Baby Yoda’s love of macaroons.

C’mon back tomorrow for my comments on the four final episodes of The Mandalorian season two!

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