REVIEW: The Mandalorian – Seasons One and Two (2019/2020)

The Mandalorian Still Image
‘The Mandalorian,’ Still Image — Photo: Disney / Disney Plus / Lucasfilm.

Had it not been for the fact that I think there is a notable jump in quality from the first to the second season of the Disney+ Original series, it would’ve been really difficult for me to separate the two first seasons of the first-ever Star Wars live-action series. You see, while, for Americans, there was an entire year in between the two seasons, Disney+ didn’t arrive in Denmark until September of 2020, and Disney made the decision to release the first season week-by-week. They did this so that when it ended, the second season would be ready to begin, but they also did it in an attempt to keep people on the streaming service for as long as possible.

My relationship with this series has improved over the course of the first two seasons. Initially, I was trepidatious and perhaps overly critical. But, eventually, as I understood what the team behind the series really wanted to do here (and when I saw how well they accomplished those goals), I started to fall for the series. Series creator Jon Favreau eventually had me in the palm of his hands for the vast majority of the wildly entertaining second season, which reminded me, and many others, what it feels like to be excited about Star Wars again after a divided and sometimes toxic fanbase had made it difficult to feel good about loving the films in the sequel trilogy (and, yes, I do love both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi) for so long.

Select events of the first season are spoiled below, but I try not to divulge any significant plot-specific details about the second season.


The Mandalorian: Season One (2019)

Mandalorian Still Image
‘The Mandalorian: Season One,’ Still Image — Photo: Disney / Disney Plus / Lucasfilm.

Set a handful of years after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi, the first season of the Mandalorian follows a lone Mandalorian bounty hunter by the name of Din Djarrin (played by Pedro Pascal), who is completing contracts while navigating a galaxy defined by a deteriorating Galactic Empire and the rise of the New Republic. While on a mission for a client involved with the fallen Galactic Empire, Djarrin discovers something — or, rather, someone — that changes his mind about the contract he has agreed to and the path that he must follow.

To be perfectly honest, I think my initial reaction to the majority of the first episode of the series was a general feeling that the series felt like a safe and sometimes bland work of fan fiction that tried very hard not to color outside the accepted lines of the universe. That’s not always a bad thing, and it definitely didn’t mean that I was uninterested in the show, but it did mean that it took me a little bit longer to be fully invested in the series than I had imagined. However, the series did manage to win me over with its introduction of the creature initially referred to simply as ‘the Child.’

This opened up a lot of possibilities for the series, and it did genuinely excite me that the writers had opted to tell the story of someone from the same species as Yoda. I know that some people will definitely disagree with me here, but I did not think it felt like a cheap marketing ploy to create a cutesy character in the vein of Baby Groot. Though it is clear that the Child that has since then been referred to online as ‘Baby Yoda’ has been a huge hit with audiences of all ages.

I do have some general problems with the series’ formula, but I want to give the team behind the series some praise for absolutely succeeding in making this show feel like a space western series with a (basically nameless) gunslinger with a single goal in mind. There are certain shots and musical notes that feel indicative of the genre that they want to emulate and homage, and I loved following the duo of Din Djarrin, the aforementioned gunslinger, and the Child from planet to planet fighting and encountering different kinds of foes. You fell for this duo almost immediately. Speaking more generally, I think the production design, overall coolness of the show, and visual effects of the series are huge highlights for me.

What did, however, frustrate me about the formula of the series was, one, that the series feels like a monster-of-the-week show or even a collection of video game side stories (the protagonist even goes around and upgrades his armor), which means that, as a result, the series takes too long to actually reach the plot developments that we care about. And, secondly, I also think that the series’ general insistence on not letting Djarrin remove his helmet robs the show of a leading man that you can easily connect with. For too much of the season, he feels like a character that is designed to be a blank slate. Though I will say that the series eventually does manage to pull off a deeply satisfying pay-off to the series’ adamant insistence on its main character hiding behind a helmet.

While I, on the whole, think that the first season is an above-average season of television, there were moments when the first season of The Mandalorian felt not only less-than-special but overly nostalgic and cheap at the same time. Nostalgia-heavy storytelling can work, but the mix of all of those things in the fifth episode of the series — Chapter 5: The Gunslinger — disappointed me. The episode included characters that frankly felt underwritten, had exaggerated personalities, or felt too much like cookie-cutter television versions of beloved characters from the franchise.

This surprised me greatly since this episode was directed by Star Wars Rebels-co-creator Dave Filoni, who I think is one of the smartest Star Wars minds in the Lucasfilm family. Filoni did a much better job with the series’ pilot and his phenomenal episode from the second season. I also loved seeing new Star Wars directors Taika Waititi, Deborah Chow, Rick Famuyiwa, and Bryce Dallas Howard all get to tell stories in one of the most beloved multimedia franchises.

On the whole, I like the first season of The Mandalorian, even though I am sure that I am not as high on it as others were when it was originally released in the States. For me, the first season was much better than I had feared, but it was still an overly safe and sometimes even bland season of ‘television.’ Nevertheless, the first season did excite me, since the series showed a lot of promise, even in its safest episodes.

B


The Mandalorian: Season Two (2020)

‘The Mandalorian: Season Two,’ Still Image — Photo: Disney / Disney Plus / Lucasfilm

In the second season of The Mandalorian, Din Djarrin continues on his new mission to return the force-wielding ‘Child’ to his own kind. Djarrin is looking for someone from the same species or, if it isn’t possible, to find a Jedi that can protect it from harm and train the Child in the ways of the Force. While Djarrin and the Child’s bond grows stronger, the remnants of the Galactic Empire — including Moff Gideon (played by Giancarlo Esposito), the master of the Darksaber — continue to search for the Mandalorian bounty hunter’s midi-chlorian-powerful companion.

I think what I appreciated so much about the second season of the series was that instead of encountering a sophomore slump, I found that it felt like the writers and filmmakers became more confident about the material and the world they were bringing to life. Make no mistake, some of the main issues with the show still persist. At the heart of the show, we still find a somewhat underwritten main character who may as well be nameless. I still think the formula of the show relies on a video game-like season structure, and that some of the dialogue can be samey in a way that also resembles video games (Din Djarrin says that he has to return the Child to his kind so many times). It is also still a somewhat safe show due to how much it relies on nostalgia.

But, with all of this having been said, I think that even though they don’t do away with those things completely, the show improves in each of those areas. This season, you actually eventually become attached to Pedro Pascal’s Din Djarrin (and his face, even though it is hidden behind a helmet for most of the season), and, while he is still somewhat underwritten, I think that they do a good job of clueing us in on why he feels like such a blank slate (see: Chapter 11: The Heiress, which includes a scene where Katee Sackhoff’s character indicates that the religious beliefs of his group of Mandalorians may have been misguided or possibly even cult-like).

While I do think that it can sometimes still feel video-gamey, I really appreciated that it didn’t feel as much like a monster-of-the-week show this season. It actually feels like the main story progresses in each and every episode of the second season, which helps to make the series as a whole feel more purposeful and consequential. Finally, while the show still relies on the safety of nostalgia, easter eggs, and fan-service, I loved that the second season of the show actually managed to include nostalgia-heavy scenes that still felt consequential. The inclusion of notable characters from the Original Trilogy makes several episodes feel epic, and, yes, it did make me feel like a child again (with Chapter 16: The Rescue being a particular highlight for obvious reasons). I loved that the show actually included several major characters from the animated series and thus introduced them to members of the fanbase who wouldn’t normally be interested in seeking out those excellent animated series.

I would also like to note that I think Bryce Dallas Howard and Dave Filoni both showed incredible growth as cinematic storytellers and filmmakers from the first season to the second and that their second season episodes are phenomenal. However, I do think that the best episode of the season was Rick Famuyiwa’s Chapter 15: The Believer.

Though I definitely cannot say that it was the best show of the year, I do think that the second season of Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian was one of the most exciting and thrilling television series of 2020. The season showed that the team behind the series had become more confident and adventurous, and the production design, musical score, and visual effects were still top-notch, while the show improved in other key areas. I, frankly, don’t think there is a single bad episode in the second season. I enjoyed it from start to finish.

A-

– Reviews Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

One thought on “REVIEW: The Mandalorian – Seasons One and Two (2019/2020)

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