The Mandalorian, Season Two, My Rambling Review
This is still the way, but there are a few bumps in the road
(Big spoilers included. Don’t read this until you’ve watched the show. Which you should, because it’s pretty great.)
The second season of Mandalorian is, overall, great, and arguably better than the first season. There are issues, and I’m a little worried that they’ve set themselves up for a disappointing third season. But, these are the kinds of concerns you have when you like a show enough to care.
I’ve heard some complaints that the show is repetitive in nature. And it absolutely is. Just about every episode can be summed up as the Mandalorian showing up on a planet to get some help from someone, they ask that he help them in return, he does, and what they give him are instructions to go somewhere else for whatever reason, and he’s off to the next episode. It’s a completely predictable formula.
But, I don’t think this is a weak point at all. There’s nothing wrong with patterns that repeat, the same way you can listen to a song you like over and over. This show knows what it is, and it isn’t designed to blow your mind with some complicated overarching plot. It’s all about the beautiful environments, the archetypal characters, the action sequences, and the cute moments.
You’re either along for the ride, or you’re not, and I can understand either decision. For me, it hits a sweet spot of being simple without being stupid.
It’s not perfect, though, nothing is, and there are a couple of things I think could be tweaked for gain, without sacrificing any of the core qualities that make the show enjoyable.
The main issue for me is that the Storm Troopers are not even remotely threatening. None of The Empire is. In the first season, they made light of this with a fun scene involving two Storm Troopers who can’t hit a nearby target. That was well done and funny, and I get it.
But, at the same time, the joke reveals a truth that affects the overall dramatic tension. The Storm Troopers never, and I mean never, win any direct confrontation against a hero. The only time the Troopers have any upper hand is when there’s so many of them that the heroes have to retreat. They’re like ants, where they’re completely insignificant except in outrageously overwhelming numbers. In the course of a retreat, each individual Trooper that faces off against a hero will be crushed.
This lack of any credible threat from The Empire manifests in more ways than just gun fights with Storm Troopers. Take, for example, when you’ve got a TIE Fighter chasing someone. The camera cuts to the interior of the TIE Fighter cockpit, and we see the targeting computer get a lock, implying that the next shot will definitely hit. After all, it’s locked on. But then when we cut to outside the TIE Fighter, the lasers the TIE Fighter shoot just go off to the side of the target like any other shot. This happens so often that I’m just not fooled anymore, I know those targeting computers don’t mean a damn thing.
Unless the heroes use them. Then a targeting computer lock means guaranteed destruction.
Nothing The Empire does means anything. They’re set up to lose, and then they do, and it’s not interesting. There were even times when the Storm Troopers shot at and hit the Mandalorian, but their lasers bounced off his armor. He seemed to get slowed down, but I’m completely confused by the stakes of the situation. Is he effectively invincible?
They kind of address this in the last episode or so, when we see these new Dark Troopers show up who are robots with some kind of genetic code or force power stolen from Baby Yoda or something. It’s a little unclear what’s going on, but it doesn’t matter. The point is that the Dark Troopers are actually a threat. Mando fights one of them and barely survives, so what’s going to happen when there’s a whole battalion of them?
But, we shouldn’t have to invent who new sub categories of enemy just to try and get a hint of the dramatic tension that should exist all along. And it doesn’t even matter anyway because whatever threat level the Dark Troopers established got immediately discredited fifteen minutes after being put into play. Dozens of them got destroyed by one guy as if they were nothing.
The destruction of the new Dark Troopers was supposed to establish just how powerful the good guy who beat them was. But, the result is basically what’s known as the “Worf Effect.”
Just in case you haven’t heard of it, in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, they established a character named Worf as being the toughest guy on the Starship Enterprise. Then, anytime the writers wanted to establish a new villain is really tough, they have that villain beat up Worf. If they can beat up the toughest guy on the ship, that villain must be extra tough, right?
But, the problem was, the writers did this so often that after a while it starts to feel like maybe Worf isn’t strong at all, because he keeps getting his ass kicked all the time. The more Worf acts tough in spite of all evidence to the contrary, the more sad it all gets.
The Empire in Star Wars in general, and in this show in particular, is like that. They’re positioned as being the main pervasive threat, and the heroes are supposed to look strong by beating them. But the Empire loses so consistently that they have been reduced to a sad trope without any power to create tension.
The Empire, and particularly Storm Troopers, need to win more, to force the heroes into retreat more than when there’s five thousand of them, and more often than when the heroes kind of want to leave anyway. The Troopers need to maybe actually kill some significant characters. Something to provide more balance, to make it more of an accomplishment when the heroes win, not just a default.
Boba Fett makes an appearance this season, almost certainly with the deliberate intention of redeeming him in the eyes of fans who have long been disappointed about how the character was disposed of seemingly without the slightest respect in Return of the Jedi. I know I was disappointed. He was my favorite action figure when I was a kid.
Not only is Boba back, but he’s being set up for a series of his own. You’d think I’d be excited, given how much nostalgia I have for the character. But, meh. To be honest, I don’t really buy the actor who plays him, but it might just be the lines of dialog written for him that sound off. Even though Boba Fett didn’t do much in the movies, his low key presence still gave me the impression that he was more of a doer than a talker. In this show, he comes across as the kind of guy trying a little too hard to sound tough, so I don’t find him engaging in a way that makes me want to watch him more.
I’ll give Boba’s show a chance, though, because Ming Na Wen is in it, and kick ass female leads are my thing. But I don’t have high hopes overall.
Bill Burr’s character comes back for an episode, and this time he’s used to great effect, repairing the lost potential from his episode in the previous season. Overall, there were no weak episodes this season. Some better than others, sure, but none that were as bad as the prison break episode last time we saw Burr.
Burr and Mando sneak into an Imperial base, and Mando has to use a computer to get some information. For reasons that don’t really make a lot of sense, the computer requires that Mando take off his mask and show his face to be scanned. His face wouldn’t be registered in any Imperial database, so either it’s going to recognize he’s an imposter, or if it’s not checking to see who he is, what’s it doing? There doesn’t seem to be a good in-universe justification for him to take off his helmet at that moment because showing his face won’t help his mission in any way.
My theory on why this kind of pointless thing happened is that the guy playing Mando, Pedro Pascal, has it in his contract that he has to have a certain amount of screen time with his face shown, otherwise there are probably Screen Actor’s Guild rules or something that say he can only be credited, and paid, as a voice actor. I have no idea how Hollywood works, so I’m just guessing, but I figure there’s got to be a reason they forced more face time when it would have been far better not to.
The problem with that scene, from a narrative perspective, is that it ruined the dramatic potential of the next episode when Mando takes off his helmet to say goodbye to Baby Yoda. Imagine how much more meaningful it would be if Mando was so committed to not showing his face that he refuses to take off his helmet even in the middle of a high stakes infiltration of an Imperial base, but then does take it off to say goodbye to the child he loves? The decision to take off his helmet for Baby Yoda was deflated by the fact that the previous episode establishes he’s willing to take it off just kind of whenever it’s called for.
There are other details, like how Ming Na Wen’s character could have revealed her cyborg interior when she was alone with Gina Carano’s character, as that would have been a more poignant bonding moment than just saying it off hand to the whole group like it didn’t matter. I’m also uncomfortable with how the heroes of the story were killing locals on a planet while being undercover as drivers in an Imperial convey. Sure, the locals were attacking so it was self defense, but at the same time, the locals probably have good reason to attack The Empire. It just felt like a little acknowledgment of the moral complexity would have given the heroes a little more ethical cred. There were little niggling details like these here and there, but no big deal.
The big deal is the question of where season three is headed.
At the end of this season, there are two big reveals about the story going forward. One is to do with Starbuck, the Mandalorian who wants to take power on the Mandalorian home world. She needs a special sword to do it, but that sword is now in Mando’s possession. There’s a whole thing about how the sword must be claimed in combat, so the implication is that she now has to fight and maybe kill Mando to take the sword. A situation that feels totally contrived and a little silly. Everyone in the room when they talk about it seems well motivated to just let her have the sword and let her say whatever she wants about how she got it. But it’s just another device for inter-character conflict, so fine, whatever.
The other big reveal is that Luke Skywalker has shown up to take Baby Yoda away to train him. Put together, these two reveals could mean that season three might not have Baby Yoda, and the main plot thread could be about a power struggle on the Mandalorian home world.
I don’t know if I can stress enough how much I do not care about this show if Baby Yoda is not with the Mandalorian. I would feel the same in the reverse scenario of having just Baby Yoda without Mando. Their mutual relationship is the heart and soul of this show.
Just as the formula for each individual episode is largely predictable but fun, the overarching premise that Mando is trying to keep Baby Yoda safe is equally static but magical. I’m down for six seasons of it. Maybe more. Just keep being on the run with the kid and getting in and out of adventures. That’s all I need. Simple without being stupid.
I don’t give the slightest fuck about the power politics on planet Mandaloria, except maybe as another side adventure like they go on every episode. I’m willing to go a couple of episodes, three at most, where it’s unclear what’s going on with Baby Yoda, just as a way of building tension until the kid’s return. I’m pretty sure something like that’s going to happen, because I can’t imagine the makers of this show are ambivalent to what a hit Baby Yoda is. He he must sell a ton of merchandise. It would be insanity to not have Baby Yoda in the show.
But, I don’t know what drives the decisions of the people making the show. All I can say is that for me, if there’s no Baby Yoda, there’s no show. That just wouldn’t be the way.