‘The Mandalorian’ goes back to Tatooine, of all planets, in a dull season 2 opener
Let’s say you’ve got the helm of Star Wars, the world’s most enduringly lucrative franchise. Tens of millions have paid subscription fees for a year just to watch The Mandalorian, your buzzy new spinoff series. Eyeballs at the ready.
So now it’s time to kick off season 2. The legions are prepared to follow Mando and The Child (which you will pedantically try to correct as “Baby Yoda.” Fight me.) anywhere.
You’ve literally got a whole Universe at your disposal. So why, once again, are we returning to exactly one sector: May 25, 1977? Otherwise known as the release date of Star Wars, Part IV: A New Hope–aka, “Star Wars,” aka the one with whiny Mark Hamill, instead of sharp-tongued grizzlysnark Mark Hamill.
Unfortunately “this is the way” that Season 2 of Disney+’s The Mandalorian embarks upon, at least judging from the premiere episode. Given an infinity of planets, the show yanks us back anon to Tatooine, the sand planet immortalized in guess-which-movie.
From the get-go, this dissolves into nostalgic LukeSkywalkerLand, hitting so many A New Hope touchstones, we might literally be on an amusement park ride: Jawas! Mos Eisley! Formerly smoking R2D2-also-ran droid R5-D4! Forget fan servicing. This is fan-fellating.
The plot is a by-now-Mandalorian-standard “monster of the week” yarn, where our masked Man of Mystery and the green living-merch baby team up with local marshal Timothy Olyphant. And they in turn team up with the Tusken Raiders, aka, “Sand People,” those bandage-headed mercenaries whom Obi-Wan Kenobi saves Luke from in…anyone? These unlikely bedfellows’ common goal: To kill a ginormous cave worm before it makes them all into Tattooine sashimi.
As action spectacle, the show, as always, delivers at top-of-class. The inevitable blowout set-piece battle scene, while somewhat brief (it’s a pretty simple plan!), offers buckets of Lucasfilm-grade excitement in every frame.
Sadly, the bigger cave-worms that it fails to land are the creative opportunities offered up in equally big buckets. For one, Timothy Olyphant. OK, so first: literally playing the marshal? Really?! Tell me that isn’t boardroom, brand-savvy theme-park thinking. Which I could forgive — if the show actually used all the parts of the Olyphant. As I have previously groused about Werner Herzog, The Mandalorian nabs these amazing talents, then drags them through completely boring by-the-numbers roles.
The Tusken storyline is the other, bigger missed opportunity. The wormacidal scheme requires Mando and Olyphant to bring the Sand People together in common cause with the villagers, freshly traumatized by these thugs’ raids. And briefly, a door opens for The Mandalorian to go where another show has gone boldly before.
I was, again, willing to forgive the Hotel Lukesylvania pandering if they were going to use the opportunity to flip the script, show us the underside of these one-dimensional monsters, as previously entombed in Star Wars lore. It could have pulled a (Ron Moore) Battlestar Galactica, which artfully yanks our loyalties between hero and villain. At very least, it could have offered the dramedy of desert farmers and bandage-pirates awkwardly trying to work together and eventually forging a new understanding.
But instead, there’s a lot of laser-pews and a LOT of caveworm-vomit, and a Little Green Fella who literally does nothing the whole story but give sunlit dreamy Bee Gees-video reaction shots. Even more disappointingly, the episode drops the Hunt-for-the-Child plot that underlies the whole first season. And in the very last scene, a mysterious “older maybe-Mandalorian dude” that many on the Internet are sure is Boba Fett, gazes at the pair, intent on following them.
To be fair, this was just episode 1. I’m prepared for more surprising fare this season on The Mandalorian. But I fear that, hemmed in by fan vitriol for too much experimentation with canon (The Last Jedi, RIP), the Star Wars Disney brain trust is also mostly prepared to hem it in to familiar, retread attractions and IP, and nothing that changes the paradigm too far from 43 years ago.
Prove me wrong, Disney+! Make this review age worse than a…whatever-you-call-those-long-eared-green-dudes.