The Mandalorian: 2.01 Chapter 9: The Marshal
The eagerly awaited second season of the smash-hit Disney+ show has arrived. It's longer, it's bigger but is it necessarily better? In a nutshell I'd say yes; but it certainly does depend on what you are looking for from a Star Wars television series. So grab your helmet and jetpack as we head back to the Outer Rim for more fun with Din Djarin as he seeks to return his diminutive ward back to his own people.
This season opener clocks in at almost an hour which virtually doubles the length of some of the season onr episodes. I really hope subsequent installments follow this example as The Mandalorian definitely benefits from the expanded format. The story, as simple as it is, is allowed more space to breathe and develop organically. This allows for more character development and a chance to explore more aspects of the Star Wars universe that have previously only been hinted at. The scope of the show has also been increased along with its running time. Action scenes are larger and more complex and the effects work, whilst excellent in the first season, has been taken to a new level with it now being indistinguishable from its big screen counterparts.
As befitting its title, The Marshal leans heavily into The Mandalorian's western roots. Our heroes return once more to Tatooine where they must help a small town sheriff unite his townsfolk with a band of tusken raiders to take on a common enemy, the fabled krayt dragon of Star Wars lore. The Mandalorian has always worn it's influences on its sleeve but never so heavily as in this season opener. The scenes of Mando slowly riding his swoop bike into the mining outpost of Mos Pelgo conjure up images of Clint Eastwood astride a horse. The cinematography as Mando and the Marshal face off, all closeups of squinting eyes (and helmet eye slits) and hands poised above holstered weapons, are all the classic shots we expect from gunfights.
Of course having Deadwood and Justified's Timothy Olyphant as the town's lawman, Cobb Vanth, doesn't hurt. Obviously no stranger to playing this type of role he is perfectly cast, his laconic delivery pitch perfect. It helps that his entrance, silhouetted by the saloon doors of course, is enhanced by the collective squeal of fans the world over as the iconic armour of a certain Mr Fett is revealed. Originally revealed in the novel Aftermath, a flashback sequence shows us how Vanth acquires the armour from some jawas and uses it to wrest control of Mos Pelgo back from a rogue mining collective.
Olyphant has always been a great addition to anything he appears in and The Marshal is no exception. The interplay between Vanth and Mando is excellent and Olyphant brings an almost Han Solo-like charisma to proceedings, which I find is sometimes lacking, mostly I feel as a result of having Pedro Pascal permanently helmeted. Hopefully the writers find a way to bring Cobb Vanth back in later episodes, much like they did with the supporting characters of the first season.
I was initially disappointed when Mando acquires the location of a suspected Mandalorian sighting at the beginning of the episode. After displaying a ruthlessness when torturing, and leaving for dead, an unrecognisable John Leguizamo, he learns that it's off to Tatooine they must travel. Now, we already had a western tinged, Tatooine based episode last season which leaned heavily into nostalgia and fan service. Surely there must be a new planet we could go and explore? However I'll admit I soon found myself loving all the little nods to the original movies and, more importantly, delving deeper into things only previously hinted at.
It was a thrill seeing Cobb Vanth swaggering about in his ill-fitting Boba Fett armour, just as it warmed my fanboy heart to hear the krayt dragon emit the same cry that Obi-Wan used to imitate it in A New Hope. Most interesting, was getting to know the sandpeople better, getting a glimpse into their lives in the harsh desert and realising there's more to them than just being mindless savages and Anakin's lightsaber fodder. I defy any Star Wars fan not to have a wide grin on their face when they see a train of tusken raiders riding into town atop their bantha mounts (single file to hide their numbers of course).
There are plenty more nods, callbacks and references to just about every medium of Star Wars. Comics, video games, books and movies all provide little moments for the hardcore fans to rub their hands with glee at. Now this of course is also where the most criticism can be aimed at the show. Does The Mandalorian rely too heavily on nostalgia and fan service? It's certainly a valid criticism and one that I'd have to agree with at certain times. This particular episode gets away with it because it is so much fun and has several exciting set pieces. As I've mentioned previously Timothy Olyphant brings a big presence to proceedings and it is very enjoyable seeing him and Mando begrudgingly team up with the sandpeople and go hunting the krayt dragon.
The dragon, it must be said, is incredible. The effects bringing it to life are faultless,the shots of it dwarfing a helpless bantha and rider as they flee are particularly impressive. The whole final battle depicting townsfolk and tuskens fighting the colossal beast in a sort of Tremors/Dune mash-up is a cinematic triumph. Having two armour clad warriors zooming around on jetpacks doesn't hurt either. If the rest of the season can provide this sort of entertainment I'm prepared to let the nostalgia led callbacks slide.
Surprisingly, I'm approaching the end of this review and you may have noticed I've hardly mentioned the breakout star of the show. The Child AKA Baby Yoda took the internet by storm after his surprise appearance at the end of the first season's premiere episode. Launching a thousand memes in his wake, the little green cutie took the world by storm and spawned more merchandise then you can shake a gimer stick at (that's a deep cut for the fans). With this in mind I felt it must have taken some restraint on the part of Disney not to have him front and centre in this season opener. Instead he's used quite sparingly, mostly just as a cut away for comic relief. The best gag in the episode being the one spoiled in the trailer when he swiftly closes up his floating basket at the hint of violence about to be reigned down on a foolish gang of enforcers at a gammorean wrestling match. Apart from that, he mostly just rides along with Mando, not getting too involved with any of the action. Kudos to Jon Favreau for not turning this into the Baby Yoda show which I imagine could be a massive temptation.
I won't spoil the reveal at the end of the episode. Suffice to say, it will either shape the direction of this season or will be just an easily resolved footnote in a future episode. I haven't made up my mind yet as to which way I think it will go but I'm favouring the latter. Disney appear to have learnt from the mistakes of the first season and have delivered a solid action filled start to what has become their flagship Star Wars vehicle. With Covid-19 delaying the next movie until at least 2023, they definitely need to rely on The Mandalorian to keep Star Wars alive in the minds and hearts of the fans, both hardcore and casual alike. If they can avoid the many filler episodes that plagued the first season and keep things at the level of The Marshal or above then I think we'll be just fine.