Every era of Star Wars has its defining characteristics that change and evolve over time, as new audiences and generations of fans discover stories set in a galaxy far, far away. While perspectives range wildly on these stories, arguably the most broad consensus is that the original trilogy is an untouchable classic, a consensus that looks at even George Lucas’ unnecessary tinkering with a raised eyebrow. I love The Empire Strikes Back the most out of the three, that audacious and uncompromising sequel with its epic battles, big reveals, and one of the most iconic love confessionals in cinematic history. I am fond of A New Hope and find Return of the Jedi to be a wildly tedious missed opportunity.
The Disney era, which I’m going to define as content produced since George Lucas sold the rights to Disney in 2012, has been marked very much by a pivoting of the franchise back towards that original trilogy. From an initial perspective, it made sense to try and right the ship, so to speak, if for no other reason than to have more favorable reviews and higher box-office. But as the Disney era took off, there was a gnawing sense that the entertainment behemoth missed what made the original era so successful and unique. The Disney era has pivoted so far to the classics so far that it feels less like a welcome return and more like being pummelled by a constant sense of nostalgia. The Disney Star Wars era, in a sense, has no identity of its own.
This is a Mandalorian season two review, so I will avoid saying more about the sequel trilogy and Rogue One beyond a loud and echoing groan. As for this show, my first thought when I saw the pilot’s opening frame was “this is gorgeous.” And that sense of visual wonder, beauty, and marvel has remained one of the show’s defining draws through episodes dull, frustrating, and breathtaking. The varied landscapes, some of the cinematography, and the sense of scope has carried the show even when the writing has been lackluster and it came across as obvious that the show was treading water to get to “the good stuff” the following week.
But even that sense of wonder can only do so much and the disparities in that wonder were made the most obvious in what was ironically the show’s finest hour. The introduction of Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), a fan-favorite character and my personal favorite character in all of Star Wars, was an incredibly special moment for producer Dave Filoni and that investment and care showed. That episode was not just a love letter to a character but the origins of Star Wars as a whole. It married the series’ genre birth in both the western and samurai genres. It included spirited dialogue and fantastic fight choreography. It gave genuine heartwarming moments to original, organic characters. There were nostalgic bits sprinkled throughout, but they were in service to the larger story without feeling too detached or, when the show is at its worst, overwhelming the main story.
The main story, which season two of The Mandalorian has forgotten at random junctures throughout its run, is that of our titular Mando (an excellent Pedro Pascal) and the tiny Baby Yoda, whose name was revealed to us in that phenomenal episode mentioned above. The accidental discovery in the pilot and the relationship born from it is the show. The lightsabers, sparingly used so far, are cool. The side characters can be fun or obnoxious. But there is nothing, quite literally, nothing that the show can offer whose power can match the moment when Mando takes his helmet off before handing Grogu off to a hideous CGI Luke Skywalker. That moment, which made me tear up even after the episode ended, is singularly so powerful that it transcends the absolute nonsense that surrounds it.
When Mando erupted in pride at Baby Grogu’s use of the Force, my heart swelled. Pedro Pascal is so phenomenal in the role that his joyous father, so exuberant and proud of his little son, emanated beyond the screen even though his face was ensconced in that helmet. When Mando tells Moff Gideon (an also excellent Giancarlo Esposito) that Baby Grogu meant more to him than he could ever realize, the emotional heft of that felt earned and significant, no matter how many nonsensical side adventures we had to sit through over the two seasons. When Mando took his helmet off and Baby Grogu reached towards him, I turned into one of these crying GIFs instantaneously.
I have enjoyed Star Wars but have rarely been emotionally invested, so when a property in this universe gets to me like this, it’s memorable. Which makes it additional frustrating that season two of The Mandalorian doesn’t entirely capitalize on the sheer pathos of its central pairing. It realizes it in the moments mentioned above, which make the missed opportunities around it additionally frustrating. If the seasons had needed to be shorter, so be it. If you need to develop your secondary characters more, please obviously do but do so organically and without unnecessarily damaging the narrative soundness of the series as a whole.
While Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) did end up returning to the season in a major way and now has a spotlight spinoff of his own, why not structure the episodes in a fashion where he would have an impact in the following episode? Him appearing at the end of the pilot and then not having any impact until episode seven is ludicrous. Why construct the season in a way where “surprise character arrives to save the day” becomes the default mode for how arcs on The Mandalorian are resolved? The storytelling then becomes needlessly messy, convoluted, and falls into the trap of silliness when there’s plenty of pathos to go around.
The Disney era of Star Wars has this odd tendency to overshadow its original characters by pandering so hard to nostalgia that it at times feels like it has little faith in itself and its stories. For The Mandalorian to organically connect to other parts of the Star Wars universe is absolutely fine and if and when organically done, welcome. But they shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow the original story being told. Case in point is Luke Skywalker.
Logistics of the sequel trilogy aside, the decision to use really shoddy face CGI to replicate Luke Skywalker instead of casting a younger actor to play him is an example of the aforementioned nostalgia play that this franchise needs to let go of and now. Why not simply cast a younger actor to play Luke? Calls for Sebastian Stan to take on the role were mentioned on the Internet, but if he was too busy with Marvel fare, surely another actor would have sufficed? CGI Luke can give you a jolt but he doesn’t have the charisma and the playfulness, the power a younger actor would have brought. It’s the show going for your memories of the past instead of investing in the future.
The Mandalorian didn’t work for me at the onset but as it continued, the bond between our Mando and Baby Grogu strengthened and so did my investment. The inconsistencies of the show are frustrating but so much is forgiven by how much they nailed the relationship between our central pair. The show is so often silly (not that there’s something wrong with the occasional silliness) and filler but it has shown that it is also capable of pathos, humor, and some stunning world building. Where this show goes next, I don’t know, but I can say is that for it to fully realize its potential, it needs to trust itself and not keep latched onto the past because it is afraid to stumble on its own. That is the way.
The Mandalorian Season 2 is streaming on Disney+.