REVIEW: “The Mandalorian” Season Two

The first season of The Mandalorian left me with a lot of mixed feelings. The show was filled to the brim with interesting and creative ideas but plagued by a lack of focus and an adherence to stand-alone stories at the cost of narrative momentum. Nearly half of the season felt completely disposable, but when the show worked, it worked extremely well. Ultimately, there was enough good in that first season to keep me hooked and eager for the second one despite whatever reservations I had. Now, having finished the second season, I can honestly say that I don’t know what I was expecting. Season two of The Mandalorian is identical to the show’s first season—with all of the pros and cons that come with that. This time, however, those cons begin to outweigh the pros—though the latter half of the season makes up for the sins of the first half. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There are spoilers for all eight episodes of The Mandalorian’s second season. Read at your own risk.)

The Mandalorian and the Child continue their journey, facing enemies and rallying allies as they make their way through a dangerous galaxy in the tumultuous era after the collapse of the Galactic Empire.

Season two of The Mandalorian picks up where the previous season ended. Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal), the titular Mandalorian, is searching the galaxy for a Jedi who can train the Child (whose name is later revealed as Grogu) in the Force. The Mandalorian’s journey takes him to multiple planets—some new, some familiar—where he meets a variety of characters—some new, some familiar—who request his aid in exchange for information. Essentially, it’s a series of side quests that take the Mandalorian and Grogu from one place to the next as they slowly inch closer to their ultimate goal. Now, to be fair, a lot of these side quests are pretty solid, especially in the season’s latter half. There’s only one episode this season that I feel is entirely disposable (it’s the second one of the season) whereas there were several in the first season that could’ve been completely axed. However, this continued lack of focus proves particularly detrimental to this season’s narrative. It’s hard to believe that the Mandalorian would waste all this time doing these other things while he knows of the danger he and Grogu are in and seems as determined as he is to deliver Grogu to a safer life.

There’s honestly only so many times you can watch the Mandalorian and Grogu land on a planet and get sucked into some side story before it becomes boring and repetitive and leaves you feeling fatigued. Unfortunately, that fatigue sets in early on in the season and is hard to shake even when things get more interesting in the latter half. Watching side quest after side quest, week after week greatly impacted my enjoyment of the season. It didn’t feel like the kind of show I wanted to watch weekly as the story kept moving painfully slowly, but it didn’t feel like the kind of show I’d binge as the episodic nature of the storytelling would rapidly grow stale when viewed back-to-back. With the first season of The Mandalorian, these hiccups could be viewed as a new show trying to find its feet, but the fact that the second season not only continued this pattern but leaned even harder into it makes it harder to forgive. That being said, the writing does have its pros. The dialogue is often pretty solid and when the show focuses on its plot, it turns out that the plot is devilishly interesting. What we learn about Grogu’s past opens up a world of possibilities for the future of his character. How did the destruction of the Jedi Order impact this young child? Can he overcome that? Does this trauma destine him to journey toward the Dark Side? Equally interesting is whatever’s going on with the Empire remnants. Much of that plotline, and Moff Gideon’s (Giancarlo Esposito) ultimate endgame, remain hidden in shadows, but it’s nice to see the show begin to unravel all of that. 

Some of the greatest assets of The Mandalorian’s second season are also its biggest weaknesses. There are a multitude of exciting, fan-favorite characters who show up this season, but all of them feel a bit disconnected from the show. I won’t lie—it’s delightful seeing Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), Ahsoka (Rosario Dawson), and Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) appear in the show and act opposite the Mandalorian and Grogu. However, all of their appearances feel as if they exist solely to set up a future spinoff for each respective character instead of to serve the Mandalorian and Grogu’s storylines. Sure, Ahsoka is the conduit through which we discover Grogu’s name and backstory, but any character could’ve given us that information. She is in the show solely to set up her appearance in the recently-announced Ahsoka show. Boba Fett and Bo-Katan do reappear throughout the season, with both of them playing pretty fundamental parts in the finale, but it still feels like their appearances exist to set up future stories—especially Boba Fett, who I’ll touch on more in a minute. All of these characters are fantastic, though, and each episode that features them ends up ranking among the season’s best, so I wish they played a bigger role in the narrative of The Mandalorian. It seems like a waste of time to put them in the show only for them to never appear in it again. Still, seeing each of them is a highlight and I’m glad they appeared—even if their appearances do prove to be backdoor pilots for future shows.

While there’s a lot about season two of The Mandalorian to be annoyed about, there’s also a lot to love. The cast is as wonderful as always, with Pedro Pascal managing to deliver an emotional performance with only the aid of his voice. The rest of the cast, when they’re utilized, are also fantastic. Carl Weathers and Gina Carano continue to show why they should be permanent members of the Mandalorian’s crew. Even the guest actors—particularly Rosario Dawson and Temuera Morrison—are exciting, with both of them breathing infections life into their characters. Grogu remains as cute as he’s always been and it’s a delight seeing him move around more and interact with his environment and with the Mandalorian. The VFX, in general, are stellar. It’s crazy to think that this show is shot entirely on a soundstage, with most of the backgrounds being generated in real-time via CGI projected onto some fancy screens. It’s utterly incredible. Each of the directors (Jon Favreau, Peyton Reed, Bryce Dallas Howard, Carl Weathers, Dave Filoni, Robert Rodriguez, and Rick Famuyiwa) do a great job with their respective episodes, each of them bringing their unique style to the world of the show.

Before I continue, the next two paragraphs will have major spoilers for the season finale. To be totally honest, I don’t know where The Mandalorian goes from here. The finale was great, but I don’t know how I feel about what happens in it. Sure, it was exciting seeing Luke (albeit a not-so-stellar CGI representation of Luke) show up to help rescue Grogu, but him taking Grogu with him to train him has left me with some mixed feelings. The heart of The Mandalorian has always been the relationship between Grogu and Din Djarin, so the idea of removing that central relationship from the show doesn’t excite me much. So much of The Mandalorian’s character arc has been tied to his relationship with Grogu, so I’m not sure what you do with that character in the absence of Grogu. He willingly let Grogu go with Luke, so you can’t do a plotline where the Mandalorian goes to rescue Grogu. Maybe they could do a time jump, but I’m just not sure what you do from here. 

And, based on that post-credits scene, it seems like the creators aren’t exactly sure either. That scene is either teasing a third season of The Mandalorian that focuses primarily on Boba Fett or it’s teasing a Boba Fett spinoff (entitled “The Book of Boba Fett”) that is taking the airdate of the previously announced third season of The Mandalorian. And, sure, I like what they’ve done with Boba Fett this season and I have argued that I’d rather have all of these returning characters as part of The Mandalorian instead of being spun off into their own shows, but I don’t know if I want Boba Fett’s story to take the place of Din Djarin and Grogu’s story. What they’ve set up for Boba Fett is really exciting and I’m eager to see it, but I also want to keep following the story of Grogu and Din Djarin. However, I’m willing to see what these creators do before passing judgment. Maybe there’s a way to continue Din Djarin and Grogu’s story while also exploring Boba Fett’s storyline. Maybe they’ll bounce back and forth between them. I’d be open to it. I’d even be open to exploring Luke training Grogu in the Force, provided they either make significant improvements on the facial CGI or cast an actor who looks closer to Mark Hamill. But ultimately, The Mandalorian has always been the story of Din Djarin and Grogu and I’d hate to lose that, so I really hope they find a way to maintain that going forward.

All in all, The Mandalorian’s second season is as much of a mixed bag as its first was. There’s an engaging, enveloping, and fascinating plot at play but it’s often sidelined in favor of episodic side quests. The guest characters are exciting but their appearances don’t feel as connected to the show’s larger storyline as I’d like them to be. The character development this season is a bit stronger and more consistent than it was last season, but it is still hampered by the show’s refusal to commit to truly serialized storytelling. I remain unsure exactly what this show wants to be—especially in light of certain events that occur in the finale. It doesn’t feel like any other show on a streaming service. It seems to want to be a weekly show but doesn’t entirely justify itself as appointment viewing, but it’s also not the kind of show that would be particularly enjoyable to binge. All that said, though, there’s still a lot of good to be found here. The plot, when focused on, opens a lot of exciting possibilities to explore; the cast is fantastic; the visuals are breathtaking. As frustrating as The Mandalorian often is, I’m still watching it and I still want to see what they do in the future—whether it’s a continuation of what they’ve done, a Boba Fett-centric show, or something in between. Ultimately, the entire show is a lot of fun to watch. I just wish it didn’t also feel like you were watching a compilation of all of the side quests from a video game.

3.5 out of 5 wands.

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