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Review: ‘The Mandalorian’ still can’t unlock its potential in Season 2 (even with that big reveal)

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‘The Mandalorian’ Season 2 can’t unlock its potential

“The Mandalorian” Season 2 premiere continues the show’s unfortunate tradition of being several shows at once, emphasizing spectacle over story.

Spoiler alert! The following contains details from Season 2, Episode 1 of “The Mandalorian.”

Season 2 of “The Mandalorian” is a lot more of the same. 

It’s good news and bad news for fans of the Disney+ “Star Wars” series, which returned Friday, with new episodes streaming weekly. The opener is fun, sure, and features Timothy Olyphant in all his glorious swagger, but one can’t help but feel like this series is only a hologram of what it could be. It’s fine, but it’s still not great. 

The space western established a formula in 2019’s first season in which episodes were either individual adventures – usually Mando (Pedro Pascal) swooping in to a town to save it from an adversary, or doing a job for some quick cash – or part of his battle with the remains of the Galactic Empire, which is after the little green merchandise – er, I mean, child – that he lugs around in a floating crib. 

After the Season 1 finale, in which the evil Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) survives the Mandalorian crashing his TIE fighter and cuts his way out with a black lightsaber, you might have expected the Season 2 premiere to address that, or where Baby Yoda came from, or anything from the larger story of the series. 

More: Baby Yoda is back, as adorable as ever, in first trailer for Season 2 of ‘The Mandalorian’

But the Tatooine-set season premiere was mostly a standalone story, one that wouldn’t have been out of place in the middle of Season 1 (and really feels like a rehash of the “Sanctuary” episode last season), in which the Mandalorian helps a remote town and nearby Sand People take down a “krayt dragon” (an acid-vomiting giant snake with horns) that’s been terrorizing them.

It’s a fun romp, with great monster effects and explosions aplenty, but as a season premiere it lands kind of dully. Even a last-minute twist that appears to confirm an original trilogy character is joining the series couldn’t lift it up. 

Mando starts the episode on a quest to reunite Baby Yoda with his people, searching out other Mandalorians who might be able to help him. He gets word (rather violently) that there is one on Tatooine, so he flies there, only to discover it isn’t one of his brethren but instead local marshal  Cobb Vanth (Olyphant, who is always great as a marshal, whether U.S. or galactic) wearing some familiar-looking green armor he bought from some Jawas. 

Mando believes the armor is his by right, and Vanth offers him a deal: help him take down the dragon, and the armor is his. Mando agrees, and helps with the monster but only after playing peacemaker between the villagers and the local Tusken Raiders, who band together to take out their common enemy and promise to stop killing each other. 

It’s both a standard “Mandalorian” plot and standard Western story, and it’s a little boring even if well crafted (and Olyphant does wear that armor well). The episode does nothing to solve the biggest problem in Season 1, which was that the series prizes exciting aesthetics over story. The first eight episodes felt like a collection of cool images rather than a cohesive story, and the Season 2 premiere follows that pattern. It doesn’t help that the writers aren’t very successful at smoothly transitioning between self-contained episodes and the bigger Imperial battle installments. “Mandalorian” isn’t one show, but a half dozen. 

But for those simply looking to capture a little bit of the spark of “Star Wars,” the premiere concludes with anEaster egg that’s sure to cause buzz. In the final moments, as Mando speeds away after saving the day, an old, grizzled man holding a rifle and a Tusken Raider pole is seen watching him. The episode credits Temuera Morrison, the New Zealand actor who played Jango Fett  – the father (or, well, clone originator) of legendary Mandalorian bounty hunter Boba Fett – in the “Star Wars” prequel movies.

Considering Vanth was wearing Boba’s old armor, and the episode name-drops a Sarlacc Pit,  where we last saw Boba dropping in 1983’s “The Return of the Jedi,” it’s a pretty safe to assume that Boba is back. 

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‘Mandalorian’ creator Jon Favreau explains why Baby Yoda is not Yoda

Jon Favreau, creator of ‘The Mandalorian,’ hints at Baby Yoda’s relationship to Yoda.

More: ‘Star Wars’: Get under Boba Fett’s helmet in exclusive ‘From a Certain Point of View’ excerpt

It’s a fun twist for the “Star Wars” devotees, of course, but it’s a twist that relies on extra-textual knowledge and (so far) doesn’t have much to do with the actual “Mandalorian” plot. The series isn’t going to succeed until it stops being “that Star Wars show” and starts coming into its own. 

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