Disney+ TV review: The Mandalorian Season 2
Nathanael Smith | On 24, Dec 2020
Warning: This review contains spoilers of the spoiliest variety. You have been warned. There’s no avoiding it.
The first season of The Mandalorian was a breath of fresh air, a shot in the arm that almost entirely wiped out the memory of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Almost. The show worked because it was, mostly, unconnected to the rest of the Star Wars universe. There were some links to the cartoons, but there was no slavish explanation of the Skywalker Canon, no boring exploration of the Kessel Run or 2-hour excuse for why there was a flaw in the Death Star. It was just its own thing, an ultra-cool Western playing on familiar tropes with added aliens and, of course, Baby Yoda. It didn’t need that connection to the Original Trilogy.
Season 2 starts off well, maintaining its own tone and direction. The links to the cartoons are made significantly stronger, with the appearance of fan favourites such as Asohka Tano, but it mostly is still a story of a very dedicated bounty hunter and his adorable, wrinkly, green 50-year-old ward. And then, greeted by an equal measure of excitement and exasperation, in strides Luke Skywalker.
The warning signs were there in the show: Season 2 insisted on making a big deal out of Boba Fett, an indication that The Mandalorian was playing too heavily on nostalgia. Thankfully, his appearance makes sense within the narrative and he’s used sparingly. The writers bring a fresh enough angle to the character that Season 2 still could have existed successfully on its own two feet. But Luke turning up for a last minute Jedi ex machina, complete with ghoulish CG de-ageing, is such an upsetting lurch into the Original Trilogy that it almost undoes everything good about the latest season.
And there’s plenty to celebrate about Mando Season 2. Pedro Pascal’s sombre, masked hero remains a compellingly dour protagonist, barely betraying any emotion as he seeks to protect his ward, now officially named Grogu. The little green guy is as appealing as before, although his disturbing egg-eating exploits were perhaps more tasteless than cute. Most impressively, the galaxy is expanded upon with real flair; Jon Favreau’s story and Disney’s budget take us to a jungle world inhabited by pirates, a barren, burnt-forest wasteland and a sea planet populated by memorable, Davy-Jones-esque tentacled aliens.
If this had remained something truly standalone, The Mandalorian would remain one of the best TV shows of the year. Densely detailed, tangible world-building ensures that this is still the finest Disney+ original product. The corny dialogue and one-note supporting characters are forgivable because that’s part of the appeal of Star Wars at its best; this was always a franchise about broad thematic strokes and familiar, thrilling tropes. Done well, it’s irresistible.
Yet the appearance of Luke Skywalker leaves a sour taste in the mouth and paints a foreboding picture of the future for The Mandalorian, as do the myriad spin-offs promised by the Disney execs. By bringing in such an explicit reference to the Skywalker Saga, it displays some of the worst tendencies of modern Disney. The self-referential nostalgia machine rears its head, depending on associations with other stories to create emotional impact without doing the work itself. The powerful moment of Mando removing his helmet for Grogu is undermined by Digi-Luke’s unwelcome, unsettling cameo. It shows a real lack of faith in its own story and smacks of studio interference as Disney push for an even more expansive and expensive franchise.
But it’s by no means disastrous: The Mandalorian has enough talent to survive and thrive into the future. But it needs to become its own story once again, rather than filler in another narrative.
The Mandalorian is available on Disney+, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription or a £59.99 yearly subscription.