The Mandalorian season 2 review: Sensational Star Wars show is appointment TV at its finest
The Mandalorian season 2
Creator - Jon Favreau
Cast - Pedro Pascal, Gina Carano, Rosario Dawson, Temuera Morrison, Giancarlo Esposito
When he isn’t hunched over a kitchen counter with Roy Choi, geeking out about sourdough starter, Jon Favreau is spearheading $200 million productions for the biggest movie studio in the world. After sitting season one out because of prior commitments on The Lion King, Favreau settles into the director’s chair for the first time on The Mandalorian, in the show’s bigger, bolder, and beautifully satisfying second season.
As series creator, Favreau has written all but a couple of episodes in season two, which picks up almost immediately where season one left off. The Mandalorian, played by Pedro Pascal, continues his mission to reunite with his people, and to protect The Child from the scum and villainy of the galaxy far, far away.
Watch The Mandalorian season 2 trailer here
Every episode follows the same basic structure — Mando must escort a person or secure a McGuffin, and to do that he must go on a mini-mission framed within his larger quest. On his adventures, Mando and The Child, whose name is revealed to be Grogu (meh) this season, meet colourful characters both old and new. Some, like Bill Burr’s Migs Mayfeld return after brief appearances in season one, while the return of others, like Temuera Morrison’s Boba Fett, smacks of fan-service.
But unlike the abysmal The Rise of Skywalker — the last theatrical Star Wars offering — The Mandalorian handles nostalgia with a delicate touch. It’s comforting, not jarring. And after his mediocre Lion King remake, Favreau appears to have understood that fan-service should evoke emotions, not jolt long-dormant memories into consciousness.
When it hits the sweet spot (which is very often), The Mandalorian is Star Wars at its finest — capturing the elemental beauty of George Lucas’ franchise with grace and a storytelling discipline that is echoed in the ethos of its central character. The show isn’t afraid to embrace the spirituality at the core of the series, and one of the most interesting themes of this season is religion, or more specifically, religious extremism.
We’ve seen Mandalorians remove their helmets in the past, but Mando was always rather rigid about keeping his on. He learns this season that he belongs to a fringe group of Mandalorians known as The Watch, religious zealots who were outcast for their extreme adherence to The Creed. Mando’s helmet is basically his hijab. It’s fascinating, if you consider Mando’s monk-like devotion to scripture, and samurai-like steadfastness in completing his quest.
The Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa homages are more pronounced in season two. This visual sophistication is especially apparent in episode five, The Jedi. Written and directed by franchise veteran and former Lucas Padawan Dave Filoni, it’s an astonishing achievement in composition and staging. It’s somewhat fitting then, that The Jedi also happens to be a backdoor pilot for an upcoming spin-off featuring Anakin Skywalker’s old apprentice Ahsoka Tano, played here by Rosario Dawson.
Isolated to what is essentially one location, The Jedi is Star Wars in its purest form — spare but sprawling, elegantly intimate yet epic in scope.
With the groundwork having already been laid in season one, it is abundantly clear that the production had more money on its hands this time around. To my trained eye, there is no difference between anything that you see in The Mandalorian or a theatrical Star Wars film. The extended action set piece at the end of Favreau’s opening episode is jaw-dropping. It’s the one where the screen expands into the IMAX ratio during the battle with the Krayt dragon. It’s unclear whether Favreau and cinematographer Matthew Jensen (Wonder Woman) actually shot the sequence on IMAX, but it’s totally possible that Disney had contemplated screening the episode in theatres before the pandemic put an end to those plans.
Going all out on the action is certainly an idea that is reflected throughout the season, and was a mandate that Favreau gave his buddy (and vegan pizza masterchef) Robert Rodriguez, who directed episode six. It came as no surprise when Rodriguez admitted in an interview that Favreau’s script for the episode, titled The Tragedy, was just 19 pages long. The intention was always to pad it out with the spectacle, he said.
This narrative leanness is briefly sidelined in episode seven, The Believer, written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa. Besides Filoni’s episode, it’s my favourite of the new batch — a spectacular 35 minute ride that captures the Space Western origins of Star Wars, and the Eastern philosophy that Lucas was so inspired by.
The Mandalorian is incredible television, crafted with confidence by storytellers at the top of their game. Now that it finally seems to be getting into a groove, it’s impossible to resist hopping on board. You can watch it on Disney+ Hotstar Premium.