By Prabhnoor Singh
In a year full of pop culture delays and disappointments, The Mandalorian Season 2 accomplished several impressive feats: it enhanced what preceded with an invigorating, activity pressed eight-episode arc; it gave us a week by week interruption from the unforgettable moments of 2020. It pulled off a stunning appearance that outperformed even the underlying Baby Yoda reveal in the series premiere.
Taking into account that all other majors pieces of projecting released online before the season debuted, it’s especially noteworthy that executive producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni figured out how to preserve that particular surprise. The lone disadvantage of The Mandalorian being a TV show is that you can envision how certain scenes might’ve played on a big screen with a pressed crowd (the ending of Rogue One comes into mind); but at the same time, there’s a supernatural thing about having the option to encounter the extension and size of Star Wars in your own home in manners as people back in the 70’s never would have believed would be possible. As a deep-rooted Star Wars fan, it’s exciting to see this universe growing week to week, offering knowledge into corners of the world that have been referenced in passing yet never explored on-screen with this sort of depth previously.
There were some narrative detours that may have frustrated viewers looking for a fully serialized format, but even the most self-contained installment (episode 2, “The Passenger”) offered some necessary character development for our titular hero, forcing him to confront the idea that looking after a child isn’t simply about physical safety, but also what you teach them about personal responsibility and empathy.
Despite juggling a couple of new characters like Boba Fett and Ahsoka Tano, who were being primed for their own spinoff shows, Season 2 never lost sight of the relationship at its heart, developing Mando and Baby Yoda’s bond and allowing Pedro Pascal to find new layers in Din Djarin’s personality. The season did a masterful job of challenging Din’s worldview and pushing him out of his comfort zone so that every small step forward he took felt like a monumental leap, a triumphant and emotionally resonant season finale that was completely earned in terms of his character growth. How our hero will navigate Season 3 in light of everything that happened this season is a lingering question, and it’s pretty exciting from a narrative perspective that there’s no predictable path for the show to take from here.
The season also doubled down on one of the most impressive aspects of Season 1: the action. In the hands of directors like Robert Rodriguez (who will be helming the Boba Fett spinoff show), Peyton Reed, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rick Famuyiwa, Carl Weathers, and Filoni and Favreau themselves, The Mandalorian Season 2 deployed a dizzying array of stunning set-pieces throughout the season, matching the ambition of anything the franchise has done on the big screen, even if there were fewer dogfights and trench runs than we typically see in the movies. It was especially satisfying to get more insight into Mandalorian culture and the different factions and belief systems at play.
Let’s return to the subject of nostalgia, and the ongoing debates about “fan service,” since it’s clear that The Mandalorian in particular, and the entire Star Wars franchise under Disney in general, has a complicated relationship with both. Now that we have two seasons to look back on, I find myself feeling more forgiving towards Season 1 in hindsight despite its rougher middle episodes, because, for as much as it relied heavily on the Western genre, it also felt like it was at least trying something new for the franchise
You can argue that Favreau and Filoni were always building towards the revelations and character cameos we got in Season 2 and that the show’s trajectory has always been intended to tie into the wider Star Wars universe, but there is something a little frustrating (if not at all surprising) about Disney attempting to apply the MCU strategy of “it’s all connected” to The Mandalorian.
There is some light shining through the clouds though. For me and doubtless many other fans, revisiting beloved characters and learning more about events like the downfall of Mandalore is catnip — folks who obsessed over The Clone Wars never would’ve dreamed we might see Ahsoka Tano igniting her white lightsabers in live-action, and Boba Fett fans who were disappointed by his anticlimactic death in Return of the Jedi have likely been itching to see the bounty hunter’s fearsome reputation redeemed somehow.
Anyone in the audience who’s as nerdy as Dave Filoni about this universe likely can’t help but be stoked to see these characters so lovingly rendered in a new context, filling in the history we’ve speculated about in our own personal headcanon for years — to the point where I’m willing to forgive most of the annoyance I feel about the show’s repetitive dialogue or painfully short episode run times just for the rush of pure Star Wars joy every episode provides. It’s just so much fun to bask in the nostalgic familiarity of this universe and recapture that feeling of watching the Original Trilogy for the first time — something that Disney is no doubt counting on every time they dip into the well of a returning character or iconic ship.
Regardless of the corporate strategy behind it all, it’s clear that everyone involved in The Mandalorian loves this franchise, and that reverence is obvious in every frame (even if it’s sometimes loyal to the point of slavishness). For as much as people dismissed “The Passenger” as filler, I did appreciate it for giving us something that was tonally closer to horror than most live-action Star Wars projects dare to venture. This galaxy is so wide, and the storytelling possibilities so vast, it does seem like a bit of a waste to continually return to the characters and conflicts we’ve seen before, or rely on the narrative shorthand of nostalgia to elicit an emotional reaction when Mando and the Child’s relationship has been developed carefully and lovingly enough to have the same effect with arguably more narrative impact, as demonstrated by one key scene in the finale.
I also wonder how effective this approach will be for more casual fans of the franchise — those who haven’t watched The Clone Wars and Rebels or played Knights of the Old Republic or sought out every tie-in novel (my parents certainly have no attachment to Ahsoka and remain confused about where the series falls in the larger Star Wars timeline). And there comes a point where keeping up with such twisting, interconnected narratives can begin to feel like homework, especially in an episodic format as opposed to a cinematic universe (something I’ve felt with the CW’s Arrowverse over the past couple of years, which I feel like I have to keep up with just to understand the annual crossovers).
Season 2 of The Mandalorian proved to be one of the most ambitious seasons of television in recent memory, impressively advancing the ongoing story of Mando and Baby Yoda while simultaneously laying the groundwork for three spinoff shows and the seismic shift in storytelling focus that will no doubt come in Season 3. After a few subtle easter eggs in Season 1, the show dove headfirst into the nostalgia well in Season 2. How you feel about The Mandalorian’s place will probably dictate how you felt about Season 2 as a whole, and while I did struggle with how frequently the show relied on nostalgia over exploring new territory, there was also no show that gave me more excitement or joy in 2020 — largely because of that same emphasis on the franchise’s nostalgic past and its so-called “fan service.” We may be waiting a while for Season 3, which will reportedly debut after The Book of Boba Fett finishes airing in December 2021, but after that jaw-dropping Season 2 finale, the possibilities for what’s ahead are endless, and it feels like there’s never been a better time to be a Star Wars fan.