Fan service done right in season two of ‘The Mandalorian’

December 4, 2020

Season two of “The Mandalorian” continues what was great about the first season, but improves upon it by connecting the show to other Star Wars properties. As of press time, four episodes have been released. Each one maintains a fine balance between episodic adventures and overarching storylines, with many references to other Star Wars properties that will make fans go crazy with excitement.

The first season only hints at connections to the greater galaxy, like the child known colloquially as Baby Yoda and its connection to the Jedi. The first season also teased elements from the Clone Wars that made Star Wars fans like me go crazy. For example, the titular Mandalorian, Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal), was rescued from the Droid Armies of the Separatists as a child. And the antagonist of season one, Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) reveals that he possesses the Darksaber, a Mandalorian artifact featured heavily in the Clone Wars cartoon. These reveals, while awesome, are not fully addressed in season one. The Darksaber appeared only in the final episode of the first season, way too late to affect the plot. Likewise, Baby Yoda’s connection to the Jedi is left unresolved. These plot points were left intentionally undetermined to set up season two.

Season two picks up almost immediately where the previous season left off. Din continues his search for more Mandalorians to help him locate the Jedi and deliver the Child to them. Unlike the first season, which left many questions unanswered, season two starts answering them right away. Each episode links directly to the next and Din’s quest to find more Mandalorians is resolved by episode three. Despite this increased pacing of the story, each episode still feels unique on its own.

Each of the first three episodes follow a similar pattern. Din goes to a new world, fights an alien monster and continues his journey. The formula, however, does not limit the overall quality of the show. While the first three episodes have similarities in plot structure, each manages to stand out in unique ways because of the excellent character-driven world-building.

In the past, the Star Wars franchise has been both praised and criticized for its commitment to world-building, but the Mandalorian finds a perfect balance between expanding the lore of the galaxy while maintaining a cohesive narrative. For example, Din visits Tatooine, one of the most famous planets in the Star Wars galaxy, in the first episode. Instead of simply going there for fan service and moving on, the show explores different elements of Tatooine and its society. The episode features the fallout of a post-imperial government on Tatooine, showcasing how the Galactic Empire, while inherently oppressive, did provide security to many planets plagued by scum and villainy. We also learn more about the Sand People. This group has appeared in both the original and prequel trilogies, but the average viewer would know nothing of these people beyond their violent ways and scary demeanor. Primarily referred to as savage raiders by the inhabitants of Tatooine, the episode gives the audience a glimpse of the Sand People’s society. It presents them not as raiders, but as an indigenous people trying to survive the desert world just like everyone else.

The world-building is fascinating, but what truly makes it stand out is how it’s presented as part of the narrative. The new perspective on the Empire and the Sand People is not forced or clunky. Instead, lore is introduced through the plot. For example, the citizens of Tatooine team up with the Sand People in order to take down a Krayt Dragon that has been harming both their communities. The animosity between the two peoples creates conflict within the narrative, while also teaching the audience about the world without forcing us to Google obscure lore. 

The show is supported by excellent characters. Although the show primarily follows Din Djarin and the child, there are many recurring characters. In episode four, Din returns to Nevarro where he meets characters from the first season, Cara Dune (Gina Carano) and Greef Karga (Carl Weathers). Since season one, the planet has grown and so have the characters. The planet has become much more civilized; it even has a school now. This is amazing because it shows that these worlds are not simply stagnant mosaics; they grow and change alongside the characters.

Of course, the highlight of the first four episodes are the cameos from characters of other Star Wars properties. In episode one, we got a glimpse of Temuera Morrison as Boba Fett. Morrison is famous for playing Jango Fett in the prequel trilogy and dubbing the voice of Boba Fett in re-releases of the original. The main attraction, however, is the appearance of Bo Kotan, a Mandalorian who first appeared in the Clone Wars cartoon. Bo Kotan, portrayed by Katee Sackhoff, is integral to the storyline because she sends Din to deliver Baby Yoda Ahsoka Tano from the Clone Wars, teasing the introduction and first live-action portrayal of a legendary character in the Star Wars mythos.

“The Mandalorian” season two also fixes a lot of issues that Star Wars shows and films have with referencing other Star Wars movies. Some might feel that the various references from previous Star Wars properties is cheap fan service, but these references serve a practical purpose. Season two of “The Mandalorian” presents famous characters like Bo Kotan and Ahsoka Tano but keeps their roles integral to the plot. The show expands the lore of the universe but keeps that expansion within the confines of the narrative. If these first four episodes are any indication of the overall quality of season two, I’d say the Force is with this show.

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