Halfway through the second season of The Mandalorian, Dominic Corry checks in on the adventures of everybody’s favourite masked-up man of mystery.
Which does mean some spoilers, yes.
Beyond the fact that it was the first live-action Star Wars property in some time that the majority of people actually seemed to like, reaction to the first season of The Mandalorian was very much dominated by the collective coo-cooing over that little green scamp Baby Yoda, officially known as The Child. As we head into the second half of the show’s second season, the grander creative intentions of the show are becoming clearer. And they are extremely exciting for fans of the relatively under-the-radar CGI animated shows Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels.
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Dave Filoni, the principal creative force behind those two shows (both of which are available to view on Disney+), is a writer and director on The Mandalorian, and he’s also shown up onscreen as X-Wing pilot Trapper Wolf. Jon Favreau, generally perceived as the main creative driver of The Mandalorian, has cited Filoni as a key collaborator on the show, and the latter’s influence is all over it.
We saw this sprinkled throughout season one, but it’s become considerably more tangible in what we’ve seen so far in season two. The biggest example of this yet was in episode three when fellow Mandalorian Bo-Katan showed up, played in the flesh by Katee Sackhoff, who voiced the character throughout her many appearances on The Clone Wars, a show which fleshed out the mythology of Mandalore to a huge degree.
Most excitingly, however, is the promise of an appearance by Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s padawan whose dramatic and somewhat tragic arc formed the emotional spine of The Clone Wars and even extended into Rebels. Mando’s currently on a mission to find the lost Jedi (she quit the order in protest), and I just hope we get to meet her before the end of this season. Although not yet officially confirmed, there is widespread speculation that she will be played in the series by Rosario Dawson. Which is pretty spectacular casting, all respect to Ashley Eckstein, who voiced the animated version of the character.
Ahsoka is the most significant Jedi yet to be seen in a live-action Star Wars property (although we heard her voice at the end of The Rise of Skywalker), and hearing Bo-Katan mention her in episode three of this season gave me chills.
But The Mandalorian isn’t just bringing in characters and items (like the Darksaber, wielded by Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon at the end of season one) from Filoni’s shows, it’s bringing in a sensibility, an intention to expand the Star Wars universe respectfully and intelligently without stepping on the toes of what has come before. Filoni retroactively made the prequels better by embracing and shaping story and character elements introduced in those films, and The Mandalorian is continuing that journey. His long collaboration with George Lucas has given rise to the perception that he provides a throughline from Lucas into The Mandalorian, and that is pretty cool.
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“Fan service” can be a perjorative term, but The Mandalorian does it right—Favreau and Filoni strike an incredible balance in this regard. And they’re not just borrowing from the animated shows—great joy has been derived from references to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. Design and character concepts that previously existed only as part of the original Star Wars toy line have also shown up, which honours the large role the toys played in shaping Star Wars fandom. And the end of episode four showed black-armoured troopers that appear to be inspired by widely-adored 1995 video game Dark Forces.
Plus they’ve introduced toilets and woolly jumpers to the Star Wars universe. Again: joy.
For New Zealanders, perhaps the most exciting part of season two has been the re-introduction of the first Mandalorian ever glimpsed in the Star Wars universe, Boba Fett, played by Temuera Morrison, finally confirming that he did indeed survive that trip into the Sarlacc Pit in Return of the Jedi. When his casting was announced, it was stated that Tem wouldn’t have a huge presence in season two, but I refuse to believe that the cameo at the end of episode one is all we’ll see of him this season.
For all the joy The Mandalorian is bringing this season, I am not without quibbles. Mando presents as something of a bad-ass, but he’s awfully quick to help out strangers on the “side-missions” that are arising a lot. Is it wrong if I think he’s a little too nice? Maybe we are supposed to think that The Child is softening him.
Those side-missions are fun to behold (the Krayt Dragon diversion in episode one was more spectacular than anything in the sequel trilogy), and I love seeing how they bring in previously unused concept and creature designs (like the ice spiders in episode two), but it’s starting to feel a little formulaic how often Mando is side-tracked on his mission to return The Child to his home planet.
I also spend more time than I probably should wondering whether or not Pedro Pascal is actually portraying the Mando we see on screen—we learned after season one that he wasn’t present for entire episodes, which feels a tad bothersome. Using stunt and body doubles is one thing, but I want Pascal’s presence to be more than just a voice-over actor. I’m constantly wondering about how the action matches the vocal performance, which can be a little distracting.
But these are minor in the grand scheme, and overall I am loving what this season is bringing to the Star Wars universe. The approach bodes well for the franchise, which has felt on somewhat rocky ground based on the recent films. If Favreau and Filoni are the future of Star Wars, we are in very good hands.