As detailed in our first episode review of Lucasfilm’s “The Mandalorian,” the first-ever live-action “Star Wars” television series currently streaming on Disney+, the series embraces much of the dusty aesthetic and storytelling style of the original trilogy, while bringing the subject matter into a darker, grimier realm where morality appears to be ashen gray. “The Mandalorian” is the story of the lawless corners of the galaxy and the solitary and anonymous bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal), who is trying to navigate this new era, as the shambling remains of the Empire skitter to the shadows and the New Republic threatens to rise in its place. And while the first episode was a significant first step, hampered only slightly by first-time live-action filmmaker Dave Filoni‘s poky direction, the second episode is an absolute blast. After watching it, it felt like, if the show can be this good for the rest of the season, it might end up being one of the best series around. But that’s a pretty big if.
The first episode left on a pretty sizable cliffhanger, the Mandalorian discovering the asset he’s been hired to track is a baby, and one of an extremely rare breed only seen once before in the “Star Wars” galaxy. This revelation was not only shocking, because it threatens to not only upend the universe but fundamentally disrupt what many believed “The Mandalorian” to be about. With the introduction of a character referred to in the title of episode two as “The Child” (and, for the sake of the incredibly spoiler-wary, we’ll refer to it as such here), it not only established that the faceless, nameless Mandalorian has a conscience, but it also had the potential to saddle him with this baby for the rest of the season. What was established, through the look of the show and the music and the terse dialogue, as a series heavily indebted to old westerns, was now looking like something closer in tone to “Lone Wolf & Cub“— the tale of a shadowy assassin who is burdened with the trials and tribulations of being a father to a young child which complicates his missions. It’s a fascinating conceit, and it changes the dynamic of the show, primarily because of who The Child is.
With ‘Mandalorian’ episode 2, that conceit, and that new wrinkle, is fully explored. More go-for-broke action, and considerably funnier than the first episode, instead of Filoni’s stiff staging, we’re given looser, more exciting direction courtesy of “Dope” director Rick Famuyiwa. “Rogue One” cinematographer Greig Fraser is gone too, and Famuyiwa utilizes the new cinematographer to take in more of the vastness of the desert planet where the Mandalorian is doing his dirty work. Some of the shots of vistas are absolutely astonishing, reminiscent of not only to the original film, of Luke staring out at his crummy planet, the two suns hanging ominously overhead, but of the illustrations of concept artist Ralph McQuarrie, whose contributions to the series have been somewhat lost over the years but whose impact cannot be overstated.
Maybe most crucially, this episode of “The Mandalorian” isn’t saddled with the somewhat unnecessary and, in the hands of Filoni, definitely clunky backstory about the bounty hunter’s people and their current, underground existence. That stuff isn’t present at all. Instead, the anti-hero has to set about on some tasks on the same planet where he rescues The Child. Instead, the anti-hero has to complete tasks on the same planet where he rescued The Child, including a run-in with a very large, very scary creature (giant monsters have been a part of the Mandalorian lore since Boba Fett was introduced in a terrific animated section of the “Star Wars Christmas Special”). This section of the episode allows for the Mandalorian’s character to be defined by his actions more than his words or emotions (you know, the whole helmet thing) and underscoring the connections to the samurai stories and westerns the show is clearly indebted to. And his adventures introduce an unexpected showcase for a “Star Wars” alien species that until now, had been pretty marginalized. “The Mandalorian” is a unique “Star Wars” proposition in that it allows for more niche aspects of certain lore to be fully explored without impacting the larger impact of the “saga” and this episode exemplifies that beautifully.
Once again, Pascal conveys much with very little, particularly since this entry is almost entirely dialogue-free. The weight of what he had to do at the end of the first episode—kill a fellow assassin to save the child— is clearly weighing on him. This is a part of the universe with real consequences, where life is cheap, and people get hurt and the morality of the character, perhaps which part of the good/evil spectrum he falls on or shifts towards depending on the situation is sure to be something the series will grapple with. His vocation is supposed to make him a man of cold, calculated and simple decisions—which the show demonstrated at first—but the brilliant conceit of episode one, challenging his dormant morality by putting a helpless child in front of him, obviously triggers deeper dimensions in him; quite possibly ones he didn’t even know he possessed. Themes of isolation and loneliness, inherent to the character (and to this point in the “Star Wars” timeline), are further explored in this episode and hopefully continue to point towards more evidence of depth in the show.
If you were bothered by some elements in the first episode, like the return to the concept of specific individuals being “chosen” by the Force after the wonderful ideas of a democratized Force introduced in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” chances are you’re still going to be annoyed here. But this episode is also such a breathless blast that it’s hard to get too hung up on any one thing, just based on the sheer velocity with which it moves and the inventiveness of its set pieces. This is an absolutely gorgeous triumph, a weird and woolly adventure that seems to make right on all the promises that creator Jon Favreau (who also wrote this episode), Filoni and the rest have made about the surprises in store for the “Star Wars” galaxy going forward into the future. [A-]