For the first time since 2014, there’s no Star Wars movie coming out this year… which works out, since there are no movie theaters to go to. But filmmaker Jon Favreau (in collaboration with the incredibly talented creative teams at Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic) may have cooked up something bigger, better, and altogether more satisfying anyway.
The Mandalorian season two launched at midnight Thursday night with the hit live-action Star Wars series’ longest and undeniably most epic-in-scale episode yet. What follows is my SPOILER-full recap and honest first reaction, so please don’t read any further if you haven’t seen the heart-pounding 54-minute season premiere yet.
“The Marshal” begins with Din Djarin (played, as always, by the capable Pedro Pascal) and The Child visiting an underworld crime boss named Gor Koresh (voiced by John Leguizamo of Favreau’s Chef and many other pop-culture touchstones) to get information on the whereabouts of more Mandalorians in the galaxy. We’ve seen this scene in the trailers: Mando enters into a wrestling-like arena where two Gammoreans are battling with vibro-axes, then Koresh double-crosses our protagonist, wanting to take his Beskar armor. Naturally we know who the better fighter will turn out to be and things don’t end well for this new character.
Then it’s back to Tatooine, where Mando spent an entire episode in season one, but evidently left some unfinished business– namely the sheriff of a tiny settlement called Mos Pelgo who’s been spotted wearing some very familiar-looking (and very beat-up) Mandalorian armor. This is Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant, perhaps best known from TV’s Deadwood and Justified, AKA still the actor who only ever plays marshals), who was first introduced in writer Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy of novels set in the wake of the Battle of Endor, though we got a somewhat different backstory for how he came by that armor there. Mando declares he’s taking it, and it’s apparently his ancestral right to do so, but Vanth wants some help in exchange– a Krayt dragon has been menacing the town and eating livestock. Should Djarin help kill it, the marshal says he can walk away with the armor, no questions asked.
So Mando and Vanth head out into the desert, make peace with some Tusken Raiders, and figure out they need to enlist the hesitant townsfolk of Mos Pelgo to help slay the dragon. What follows is a knock-down drag-out blockbuster action sequence that forces first-time The Mandalorian director Favreau to open up the show’s aspect ratio from its usual ultra-wide Cinemascope to full-frame 16×9 in the way you might see at an IMAX screening of The Dark Knight. In fact, it may be one of the most jaw-dropping setpieces ever crafted for the small screen and puts many other similarly scaled big-budget projects to shame in how the action is staged and executed. Once again, Djarin proves himself as a highly skilled warrior and makes some new allies along the way in both the Tuskens and Cobb Vanth, who I really hope we see again. And let’s not forget that cliffhanger ending, which reveals who I will only describe as the armor’s likely previous owner, watching from a nearby sand dune as Mando races off with his prize. Is this setting up a season-long arc or will it take longer for that particular setup to pay off? Only time will tell.
I don’t know what I was expecting from The Mandalorian’s second season premiere, but I sure wouldn’t have guessed that the show would go this big so soon. I also love that almost a third of what we saw in the season’s very limited marketing campaign has already been dealt with on the show, so that as we continue forward we have even less of an idea of what to anticipate. I am still upset, however, that the reveal of Olyphant as Cobb Vanth was spoiled so many months ago by certain entertainment news websites that will go unnamed here. As much as I already loved the episode and that performance by an actor I never expected to see in Star Wars, I can’t imagine how jazzed I would have been if I didn’t already know it was coming. Regardless, he was a great choice on the casting side, not to mention the much-appreciated reunion between Deadwood’s Seth Bullock and Dan Dority (actor W. Earl Brown played Mos Pelgo’s Weequay bartender). And we even got to see Amy Sedaris’s Peli Motto again.
There are seven episodes remaining in this second round of The Mandalorian, and (except for the other casting leaks that unfortunately came out through Hollywood trade publications) I honestly am at a loss to predict where this space western adventure might be headed next. I’d love for it to stay that way, because when this show surprises me in the way it did tonight, I can help but walk away with a huge grin on my face. The countdown to next Thursday at midnight begins now.