Anghus Houvouras on season 2 of The Mandalorian (spoilers follow)…
Just when I think I’m out… Jon Favreau pulled me back in.
That’s how I felt about the first season of The Mandalorian, Disney’s first modern-day foray into a live-action Star Wars TV show. For those of you paying attention, I had declared that I had lost all interest in seeing any new Star Wars movies after Rian Johnson’s polarizing, thematically interesting but ultimately awful Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I just didn’t care anymore about this world and hated seeing what Kathleen Kennedy and company had taken this franchise. I didn’t even bother seeing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and based on the consensus of people whose opinions I respect, I dodged another bullet from a galaxy far, far away.
But last year, something else happened. Disney+ launched, and I had a free 12-month subscription. And every time I would log in to put something on for my kids to watch, i could see it: the gigantic banner for THE MANDALORIAN trying to gain my attention. From the nostalgic corners of my brain, I could hear a voice… “Come on Anghus… just one episode… What could it hurt?”
At first, I resisted. While the lure of a Star Wars TV show without any connections to the terrible Sequel Trilogy was strong, it felt like a return trip to somewhere I was no longer interested in visiting. Then I heard the extremely positive reactions, not just from hyperbolic fans, but from others who had completely given up on the hopes of a good Star Wars story.
‘The Mandalorian is different’ they said. People were saying the show was more like an episode Western with new adventures every week. While there were familiar elements, the show was carving its own path and doing something unique. So, using some Olympic caliber mental gymnastics, I decided that I would watch the first season of The Mandalorian.
The first season of The Mandalorian was fun. It felt like a return to the syndicated adventure shows of the old days like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. Every week, a new adventure with some fun new characters and some entertaining action. The show was chock-full of a wide variety of interesting new characters with some inspired casting choices.
The course for the first season of The Mandalorian felt relatively untraveled. The premise had promise and potential. The supporting cast of characters feels like unexplored personalities in this franchise. Whether that be Nick Nolte’s Kuill or Amy Sedaris’ scenery chewing ship mechanic, the vast majority of the roles felt novel to the franchise. Even the techniques used to make the show felt like uncharted territory being travailed.
For the first time in ages, it felt like the time and effort was being made to craft something we hadn’t seen in the Star Wars galaxy before.
Then the second season launched, and we quickly learned that there are no new roads in the Star Wars galaxy. All the creative roads have already been built, forged from fan service, and they all lead back to the Original Trilogy.
The first season had its fair share of tethers to the pre-existing Star Wars films. Whether that be the Beskar armor worn by the title character or ‘Baby Yoda’, the nostalgic nods were present but not glaring. In the second season, the nostalgia has become all-encompassing. While the first few episodes provided audiences with some fun adventures, it was quickly apparent that the second season was milled with a heaping helping of ‘Memba Berries’.
Memba Boba Fett?
Memba Bo Katan?
Memba Ahsoka Tano?
Memba Clone Wars?
It was naïve of me to believe that anything with the prefix Star Wars could exist in a bubble. Certainly there were always going to be connections and crossovers. I would expect a bounty hunter like Din Djarin might cross paths with other nefarious characters in the Star Wars universe, but the sheer volume of previously existing characters woven into the second season made for a disconnected and disappointing experience.
As an overall story, the second season felt less like an organic continuation of the first and more like a revolving door of the familiar using the popularity of the show to springboard them into their own inevitable streaming series. An eight episode season felt like it had three separate backdoor pilots for Ahsoka, Fett and Bo Katan. The spotlight moved so wildly that The Mandalorian felt like the least developed character on a show that bears his name.
Again, I expected crossovers. What I didn’t expect was so many crossovers. The second season of The Mandalorian shows that Disney is disinterested in singular stories. Everything has to be connected to a grander, ever-expanding narrative of the established.
Fan service wasn’t the only poison injected into the bloodstream of the second season. The stakes also felt lowered significantly. The first season ends with our hero pinned down by a handful of Stormtroopers, almost killed by the blast from a laser cannon. The Star Wars universe of The Mandalorian season one felt menacing. It took a village to take down a single AT-ST. A half dozen Stormtroopers required tactical consideration. In the second season, entire ships filled with Imperial troopers can be taken down by four well-trained fighters with blasters.
The first season had tragic elements. Kuiil and IG-11 sacrificed their lives to protect the child. Victory came at a cost. Season two ends with a nice emotional moment but even after facing down an entire Light Cruiser of Imperial enemies, everyone walks away with barely a scratch.
I would hold out hope for season charting a new course now that young Grogu has been returned to the Jedi and Din has fulfilled his quest. And perhaps now that Disney has announced all these new Star Wars shows they can jettison all these nostalgic elements for some more original storytelling. Unfortunately, Disney has been down this road before. Anything remotely new or novel, like The Last Jedi, is expunged for the familiarity of franchise fan service like The Rise of Skywalker.
And that, my friends, is disappointing.
What are your thoughts on the second season of The Mandalorian? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…