The pilot episode of The Mandalorian landed earlier this week (thanks to the launch of Disney+), much to the joy and excitement of many Star Wars fans. Drawing heavily on the Western genre and “the man with no name” motif, the first live-action Star Wars series is off to an incredibly solid start, and there are surely many out there who are highly anticipating the second episode of the series, available for the first time today. Written, once again, by series creator Jon Favreau (The Lion King, Iron Man) and directed by Rick Famuyima (Confirmation, Dope), the second episode answers some questions while posing others, all while continuing to give us a dusty, mythic story of a stranger wandering the rugged galactic frontier with a mask and a blaster.
Picking up where the pilot left off, the second episode of The Mandalorian sees the series namesake attempting to find safe passage for his precious bounty (which I’m just going to refer to as a “Yoda youngling” until I’m corrected… Preferably by Pablo Hidalgo) and encountering numerous obstacles in his way, many of them dangerous and deadly. While much of the episode involves scenes solely with the lead character (who speaks very little) and the Yoda youngling (who speaks not at all), the consistent lack of dialogue – which could be a hangup for a weaker show – serves only as a demonstration of the strength and power of solid, yet simplistic, visual storytelling.
So, the Lone Wolf and Cub rumors prove true, and it appears now that we’ll be following the Mandalorian as he protects (and, presumably, continues to bond with) the Yoda youngling. It’s a bizarre and unpredictable choice, but calls to memory similar bold choices made by Mandalorian executive producer Dave Filoni, such as giving Anakin Skywalker a previously unknown padawan that would eventually become one of the franchise’s most enduring and popular new characters. As many reviewers noted regarding the premiere episode, actor Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) brings a lot to the role, but given that he’s covered head to toe physically and just as well armored emotionally, the audience needs a way to connect to the human inside the tin can. Now, Pascal’s Mandalorian is no cold-hearted Boba Fett, and we’ve already seen some evidence of vulnerability and code of honor hinted at for the character, despite his rough nature and occupation. That said, by the end of the episode, it’s absolutely clear that the Yoda youngling is the chink in the armor that will not only provide viewers a connection to our lead, but will most likely go on to be the necessary heart of the series. And it doesn’t hurt that those responsible for the effects of bringing the Yoda youngling to life have knocked it out of the park. This was definitely a risk, and the show would not work if this little bugger didn’t sell every moment it’s on screen… but they did it. This thing is adorable, delivers a “living” performance, and they are going to sell millions of these stuffed little guys at Galaxy’s Edge!
“I’m a Mandalorian. Weapons are part of my religion.”
It’s a casual line thrown out by Pascal in this episode, but it did make me pause and ponder how the idea of loving weapons so much that they’re part of one’s religion is certainly a undeniably red-blooded American concept if there ever was one. Taken one step further, and it could similarly be said that the lone gunslinger is part of America’s “religion.” I’m not suggesting anything theological or Biblical there, but rather commenting on how the iconic image of the American cowboy is woven deeply in our nation’s culture and identity, for good and bad, whether taking into account our independent spirit, our rebellious (and, often times, crass) nature, or our enduring fascination and worship of deadly firearms and the somewhat naive concept of justice delivered by a good guy with a gun. While the pilot episode demonstrated who the Mandalorian is and the often fatal (for others) lengths he’s willing to go to get the job done (or take it from a competitor), much of the second episode is spent demonstrating how there’s also a whole lot of ways to die in the Outer Rim, and a blaster will only get you out of some many, no matter what Han Solo tries to tell you. When his spacecraft is stripped for parts by the local band of Jawas, the Mandalorian turns to his trademark violence and is nearly killed on top of being marooned. Ultimately, it’s only with the help of the ugnaut, Kuiil (played by Nick Nolte), that our reluctant hero solves his problems and is on his way. When the Mandalorian attempts to pay Kuiil for his assistance, the ugnaut refuses, stating the Mandalorian was his guest and it’s payment enough that the bounty hunter has brought peace back to the valley.
It’s a moment that feels very reminiscent of Shane, the 1953 western classic starring Alan Ladd as the title character – a mysterious, yet noble, gunslinger who takes on a ruthless cattle baron and his men who are attempting to intimidate a group of settlers for control of their valley. Eventually, Shane uses his deadly talents to “remove the threat” to the settlers, but, afterwards, he leaves the valley, suggesting that he doesn’t belong in the approaching civilized world slowly encroaching on the “Wild West.” In the final scene, Shane tells Joey, the young settler’s boy who’s come to idolize him, to run home to his parents and tell them everything will be alright because “…there aren’t any more guns in the valley.” It’s clear that Shane is very different take from some of the more boisterous and exploitative films in the Western genre, with director George Stevens looking to demonstrate to audiences “the horrors of violence,” rather than glorifying them. While Star Wars and The Mandalorian are clearly intended to be more fun in approach, the second episode ends with our lead character succeeding in his mission because of his mercy and his friendship, not his penchant for deadly violence. It’s a clear demonstration that, while the series will be thoroughly embracing much of the Western genre whole-heartedly, the tone of the series will be far more George Stevens than John Wayne.
“That’s just what I need – to get advice from a guy who never saw Shane.”
— Henry Winkler as Arthur Fonzarelli, Happy Days
– The Mandalorian continues to deliver things fans have been waiting for since the original trilogy, and in this episode viewers witness a full-on disintegration (a few, in fact)! It’s something that’s been only available in fan’s imaginations every since Darth Vader told Boba Fett not to in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.
– While many of their scenes are fantastic, especially the negotiation, it’s hard not to feel like the Jawas feel derivative of what we’ve seen before on other desolate planets (*cough* Tattooine *couch*). That said, one also has to wonder how much of these noticeable elements from the original films are being included simply as a guarantee to ensure the success and brand recognition of the series with the general public. While it’s easy to assume that anything with a Star Wars logo slapped on it will be a huge success, Disney clearly feels like ventures like Solo: A Star Wars Story and the Galaxy’s Edge amusement park fell below their initial expectations, so it might be safe to assume that, much like the approach to The Force Awakens, some of these more recognizable Star Wars staples are being included to ensure even your grandma, your Australian pen pal, and your pizza delivery boy gets 100% that The Mandalorian is nestled deep within the Star Wars universe they know and love.
– Personally, I find that I often come to new Star Wars material with preconceived notions that are challenged and cause me to re-examine previous stories, as well as my own head canon. While it’s easy to assume that everyone in the galaxy knows and understands what a Jedi and The Force are given their prominent position in the Old Republic and their extraordinary abilities, The Mandalorian is just one example of how that is apparently untrue. It’s clear that little has changed in the Outer Rim since the Galactic Empire fell, and that both Kuiil and our lead character have, at best, a murky understanding of the concept of The Force. It’s just not a huge part of the world they live in… till now?
– Ludwig Göransson’s score still rocks. Listen to it at your leisure here.
– Another interesting connection to the film, Shane? In May of 2018, it was reported that director James Mangold of Logan was signed on to write and direct a Boba Fett solo film. The film, Logan, features many references to westerns, and specifically Shane, even ending with the lead heroine reciting Ladd’s final speech while she stands over a grave site. In many ways, it seems like that never produced Boba Fett film eventually morphed into what The Mandalorian is.
Final Verdict: While not as bold and thrilling as the pilot episode, the second episode of the series establishes some of the necessary foundations of the narrative going forward and helps to humanize its masked bounty hunter. There’s now doubt that the Mandalorian (both the man and the series) kick ass, but now it’s also clear that, even with its unique flavor, The Mandalorian also has the heart and themes of family that have always been at the center of the Star Wars mythos.
Directed by: Rick Famuyima
Written by: Jon Favreau