This review will not be entirely spoiler free. If you plan to watch the series, please do so before you read this.
What does it say when the best Star Wars programming I’ve seen in recent years is on television? I’m talking about The Mandalorian, of course.
I started watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars once, and stopped, because it seemed to be a lot of unrelated vignettes and had little sense of story. I will admit that I didn’t watch all of the first season, and I’ve never watched Star Wars Rebels or Star Wars Resistance. It looks like I may have to go back and watch all three, since Dave Filoni was involved with them, and those animated series are now bleeding over into this live-action series, which Filoni helped develop and produce.
I’m not sure when I became a casual Star Wars fan, but I did. It’s obvious to me now. If the animated series had come out in the early 1980s, I would have felt compelled to watch them. After the prequels, which I did watch as they were released, I no longer felt like I was in the demographic for the franchise. Oh, I continued to watch the movies and each had their own flashes of greatness, but the extended universe of novels, comic books and animated series began to seem like just too much. I could continue to feel nostalgic for the original trilogy. I’m in the proper age bracket for that. But, the rest of the Star Wars mythos had been inherited by a younger generation.
Then I watched the first season of The Mandalorian. It made me feel like I was back in the demographic again. I knew suddenly, without a doubt, that there were at least two creative Star Wars fans out there who understood my attachment to the franchise: Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni.
The Mandalorian was the show I wanted without ever knowing how to ask for it.
Season Two didn’t blow me away like the first season did. It wasn’t because it wasn’t as good, because I think it is, mostly. Sometimes, even better. It’s just that it’s no longer new. I’ve already met Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal), who we know as the Mandalorian but I prefer to keep thinking of as Mando. I’ve seen his face, even. Which is a big deal. Also, Baby Yoda—who we now know is named Grogu—has saturated the nerdgeist. Even people who haven’t watched the series want to have this cute fifty-year-old infant on a t-shirt. The first season was largely a buddy movie starring these two characters.
The second season expands the story, and its universe, a bit. The central story thread still belongs to Mando and Baby Yoda (apologies: Din Djarin and Grogu). The Mandalorian—who is, in fact, “a” Mandalorian, not “the”—is on a somehow-sacred quest to find Grogu’s people, the Jedi, to turn the powerful foundling over. Kind of a sad quest, too, now that the two have bonded.
I learned the term picaresque many, many years ago. It was a word used by one of my English teachers—Mrs. Starnes, I think—to describe the 1884 Mark Twain novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. A picaresque novel is defined, at Merriam-Webster.com, as “a type of fiction dealing with the episodic adventures of a usually roguish protagonist.” In a picaresque novel, there is little or no plot. Instead, there is a loosely connected chain of events or adventures, with the roguish protagonist surviving largely by his wits in a corrupt world. Forget that I said that this type of novel typically has “little or no plot,” because, if I had to slap a label on it, I would consider the picaresque to be more plot-driven than character-driven. Character development is not the usual goal in an episodic story. The protagonist generally emerges at the end little different from when the story began.
Examples of other picaresque novels include Cervantes’ Don Quixote and John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces.
I am tempted to call The Mandalorian a live-action example of a picaresque story. And, I do believe it has elements of the genre. Din Djarin isn’t roguish the way a character such as, say, Han Solo might be, but he is definitely on the fringes of galactic society, which seems largely corrupt.
However, he has also exhibited character growth since the first season began. Plus, the important story thread is the overarching plot about getting infant Grogu to safety, which means that this series has a plot as well. In spite of the details that definitely move the needle away from picaresque, this season is essentially a series of adventures as the Mandalorian moves from Point A to Point B. While it would be a mistake to watch these episodes out of order—since there is a central storyline—each episode seems self-contained and tells a mini-story with a beginning, middle and end.
I have a partial memory of comparing the first season of The Mandalorian to a video game, with a central story arc and numerous side missions that afford Din the luxury of adding more Beskar plates to his armor. I stand by that assessment. I just took the highbrow, more literary route this time.
This season, I sometimes felt that the Grogu part of this story—which is a major part, mind you—served as a Maguffin to allow all of these other stories to be told. The fact that we’re going to get Disney + series about Boba Fett and Ahsoka Tano, both of whom were featured in this season, seems to suggest that their appearance on this series also served as a backdoor pilot. It was carried off well, but I felt a little used when I learned of the new shows.
There are only eight episodes in this season, but there are numerous characters who become part of this story about Din Djarin and Grogu. In the first episode, the character Cobb Vanth leaps from the pages of Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath series (I’ve read the first two novels and have the third in a holding pattern) and onto the screen. He is brought to life by actor Timothy Olyphant, who just can’t help but play a cowboy.
Vanth wears Mandalorian armor (in fact, Boba Fett’s armor) but is not a Mandalorian. Our Mandalorian thought another Mandalorian might be able to help him find the Jedi (see? A central plot). While this episode didn’t further the central plot, Mando helps Vanth kill a krayt dragon and leaves Tatooine with Boba Fett’s armor.
Mando escorts a Frog Lady and her eggs to another planet, which provides some comedic moments as Grogu keeps eating the eggs (seriously, the Frog Lady is carrying around a jar of what appears to be pickled eggs). There’s a scene with giant ice-spiders that’s like Shelob times a thousand. Then, after the Frog Lady’s safe arrival and reunion with her spouse, Mando gets a tip from a fisherman on where to find more Mandalorians.
Although the fisherman intended to ambush Mando all along, we do get to meet three other Mandalorians, led by Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), who rescue him. Bo-Katan was a character introduced in the animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, where she was also voice-acted by Sackhoff.
I just found this out. Like I said, I bailed on the cartoons too early, it seems. I didn’t understand all of that stuff about the fight to reconquer Mandalore (which is a planet, it turns out) or the whole deal with the Darksaber. But, I’m comfortable with not knowing everything and allowing my imagination to fill in the blanks. There’s more to Bo-Katan’s story, it seems, and that’s all I need to know. She does tell Mando to head to the planet Corvus, where he should be able to find the Jedi Ahsoka Tano.
Mando’s ship Razor Crest, needs additional repairs, and so, while en route to Corvus, Din and Grogu make a pit stop at Nevarro, where they are reunited with their allies Cara Dune (Gina Carano) and Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) in an episode also directed by Carl Weathers.
This is an exciting side mission (picaresque), involving the destruction of the last Imperial base on the planet.
Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) is the antagonist behind this base, of course, and they are conducting tests on Grogu’s blood, with its high M-count (you think this indicates midichlorians, but I think it stands for magic). So, I will accept arguments that this standalone episode still relates to the central plot.
We finally arrive at Corvus and meet the Jedi Ahsoka Tano in person. The actor playing Ahsoka is Rosario Dawson, whom I’ve admired for years.
But, Ahsoka herself first appeared in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and I did see enough of the series to know who she was. As a child, at least. In a story development that is beginning to form a pattern, Mando has to help Ahsoka overthrow the city’s magistrate in order to get the Jedi’s help. Another side mission. He does, and they do. Ahsoka is looking for the magistrate’s master, Grand Admiral Thrawn, another familiar name. I’m not sure if I read his entire trilogy, but I know I read the first novel in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, Heir to the Empire, which was released in 1991. I also knew, peripherally, perhaps through osmosis, that the character appeared in the animated series Star Wars Rebels. After the villain-of-the-day is vanquished, Ahsoka tells Mando the child’s name, which is Grogu, of course. She says Grogu began his Jedi training before the fall of the Empire. Ahsoka refuses to train the child because of its strong attachment to the Mandalorian, but does direct him to the planet Tython, where Grogu can use the Force to find other Jedi. Mando also gets a cool Beskar spear in the bargain.
At the Jedi temple on Tython, Grogu meditates on the seeing stone at its center. While Mando waits for the child to finish his long-distance call, two other characters show up. One is Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), a mercenary Mando left for dead in the first season. She was saved by none other than Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), who didn’t die in the Sarlaac pit and wants his armor back.
Even though this is all setting up the Boba Fett series, it’s still refreshing to see these characters. Since Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD has finished its run, I’m happy to see Ming-Na Wen still kicking ass and taking names. While she’ll always be The Cavalry to me, the foxy Fennec Shand, the mercenary cyborg, is no slouch either. I believe that Morrison played Jango Fett in the prequels, so I like that bit of continuity as well.
Then Moff Gideon shows up, blows up the Razor Crest from orbit, then sends his droid Dark Troopers down to kidnap the child. But, Mando has gained new allies in Boba Fett and Fennec Shand, who agree to help him rescue Grogu. They pile into Slave I, Boba’s ship, to go ask for Cara Dune’s assistance in breaking a criminal out of a New Republic prison. The criminal is Migs Mayfield (Bill Burr), an ex-Imperial we met in the first season who can help them locate Moff Gideon’s cruiser if he has access to an internal terminal.
Mayfield suggests a secret Imperial mining hub on the planet Morak. This one-episode adventure requires the hijacking of an Imperial transport carrying a load of the highly-explosive mineral rhydonium. Imagine every western you ever saw with a wagon transporting crates of nitroglycerin. Yeah, like that. Mayfield ends up getting Mando the information he needs while exacting some personal revenge of his own. Cara Dune decides to give Mayfield his freedom afterward. So, maybe we’ll get to see more of Bill Burr in future episodes (or in other series).
All of which masterfully sets up our finale episode. The Mandalorian and Cara Dune enlist the help of Bo-Katan and another Mandalorian warrior, Koska Reeves. Boba Fett and Fennec Shand are still helping as well. Bo-Katan wants Moff Gideon’s cruiser and the Darksaber for her trouble. Mando overpowers Gideon with his Beskar spear, which makes him the rightful owner of the Darksaber.
At least, that’s what I understood from the exchange. Due to some old tradition, Bo-Katan can’t take the Darksaber unless she defeats its wielder in battle. So, now Mando has a cool lightsaber.
It looks like defeat is about to be snatched from the jaws of victory as all the Dark Troopers Mando had ejected into space return to the cruiser in force. They are droids, after all. But, the Jedi that Grogu contacted on Tython arrives to rescue them.
It is none other than a Return of the Jedi-era Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), age-regressed through computer magic I can’t begin to understand. R2-D2 is there, too, of course. This was a huge, dramatic reveal that I couldn’t see coming. Skywalker’s lightsaber cuts through the Dark Troopers like a hot knife through butter. After the battle, Grogu goes with the Jedi to continue his training.
While this payoff would have been enough for any Star Wars fan, casual or otherwise, we also get a brief outro scene in which Boba Fett and Fennec Shand return to Jabba’s Palace, depose Bib Fortuna, and set up the Boba Fett series.
I found the ending of Season 2 to be bittersweet. Din Djarin without Grogu seems like it will be a different series, so I’m uncertain as to what this portends for the future. But, Grogu will be trained by the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy, and then won’t appear in the sequel trilogy. What’s up with that? A story for another time, perhaps.
I’m comforted by the fact that the franchise seems to be in good hands, though. There’s still things that OG Star Wars fans like me can look forward to.
Firewater’s This-Is-the-Way-Again Report Card: A
Still good Star Wars, regardless of your personal level of fandom.