The Mandalorian – Season 2 review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Mandalorian Seasons 1-2, including the Season 2 finale and post-credits scene.

As Season 2 of The Mandalorian approached, I debated whether or not to review each episode as they were broadcast. However, with Star Trek: Discovery’s third season running at the same time I concluded that two large reviews every week would probably be too much to manage. So this is what you’re getting instead – the full season reviewed all at once… seven months later.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Mandalorian Season 1. Though the series did some things very well, there were – in my subjective opinion, of course – a number of missteps. The worst problem I felt the show had in its first season was the protagonist himself – who was without even a name until the season finale. A combination of factors left me unimpressed with Mandy: sparse dialogue, a monotone, unemotional delivery of the scant lines he did have, the full face helmet making it hard to read any emotion or get any sense of how the character was feeling, and a lack of clarity on his aims and motivations. Mandy felt as though he was doing things because a room full of television writers decided that’s what he was going to do, and when it came to massive life-altering decisions such as betraying his client and the bounty hunters’ guild to save Baby Yoda, there was practically nothing from the man himself to inform that decision. Crucial backstory that should have been communicated sooner was included in the season finale, but by then it was too late. Some stories work well that way – but for a number of reasons this one didn’t.

Oh, Mandy. You came and you gave without taking…
If you got that Barry Manilow reference then congratulations, you’re as old as I am!

The first season also left me underwhelmed by its short runtime. Eight episodes in total, most of which averaged around 30-35 minutes was not a lot to get stuck into; there are children’s shows that run longer than that. Several episodes felt poorly-paced as a result; rushed stories that would have benefitted enormously from simply a few extra minutes to allow events to unfold and better depict the passage of time.

Finally, I felt that Season 1 massively overused elements from Star Wars’ original trilogy to the point that it was drowning in nostalgia. The Rise of Skywalker fell into a similar trap, though that film had a far weaker story under the nostalgic veneer. Elements like the freezing in carbonite of Mandy’s bounties – something which had been presented in The Empire Strikes Back as a terrifyingly unique punishment for Han Solo – or the large amount of time spent with a Jawa sandcrawler all felt cheap and fan-servicey. And that’s before we get to Baby Yoda and the inclusion of the Force in a series billed as “the adventures of a gunslinger far from the reaches of the New Republic.” I hoped The Mandalorian could have left much of this behind and instead told a new, original story in the Star Wars universe, expanding that setting rather than overtreading the same ground.

Bounties frozen in carbonite.

So by the time the first season of The Mandalorian drew to a close I was, at best, underwhelmed. While I appreciated that the series had succeeded in bringing many fans back into the franchise after they’d been left disappointed by the sequel trilogy, on a personal level I was unimpressed with what the show had offered. In between Seasons 1 and 2 came the announcement that Boba Fett would be joining the show in its second season, and as I wrote at the time that news was breaking, I felt it was another backwards step for the show and for Star Wars in general.

Though I did consider reviewing each episode for the website, when I ruled that out for practical reasons I then very seriously debated whether or not to watch Season 2 at all. I don’t like to seek out things I don’t think I’ll enjoy, and having had a disappointing experience with Season 1, and been put off by some of the announcements in the run-up to Season 2, I gave consideration to skipping the show altogether. There are plenty of other things to watch, after all! But curiosity got the better of me, and even though I knew I wouldn’t be reviewing each episode one by one, I thought there was the possibility to talk about the season as a whole, or elements from it, here on the website. And as you can tell by the fact this article exists, I did eventually settle in to watch Season 2.

Baby Yoda.

Runtime was once again problematic. In a short season which consisted of only eight episodes, five were less than forty minutes long, with two of those barely reaching the thirty-minute mark. For a flagship programme on a streaming platform, I find that incredibly difficult to excuse. Though the season premiere approached fifty minutes, none of the other episodes felt sufficiently long, and just as happened last season there were issues which arose from that. The entire runtime of The Mandalorian thus far – including titles and credits – stands at less than ten-and-a-half hours, which is simply not enough for two “full” seasons. It’s actually shorter than a single season of Star Trek: Discovery, and I can’t shake the feeling that Disney has stretched out a single season’s worth of plot over two seasons.

On the other hand, I do appreciate that Disney+ streams The Mandalorian in 4K resolution. It’s also available with HDR (high dynamic range) so there’s no denying that the show is visually beautiful. In addition, Disney+ has reached a far greater worldwide market than it had when the first season was rushed out the door in 2019, meaning that Star Wars’ considerable international fanbase was able to watch the series together. Both of these points are worth other companies taking note of – the Star Trek franchise in particular could learn from that!

Ah yes, the old “you thought he was dead” cliché…

The story of Season 2 is quite odd. Season 1 was, for the most part, a single story with a relatively clear line from point to point. Season 2 feels far more episodic; Mandy takes off on a variety of what can best be described as side-missions, with the long-term aim of reuniting Baby Yoda with his people. The Season 1 finale gave us crucial information about why Mandy wants to do this, and at least from that point of view the story doesn’t feel arbitrary in the way it did for much of last season. But it does certainly jump around a lot! Personally I like episodic television; I think it can be done very well. But The Mandalorian is a show with one overarching story, and several of these episode-long side-quests left the overall show feeling rather rudderless.

If these side-missions had felt important to the story, or perhaps if there had been fewer of them, I don’t think it would have become such a problem. But almost every episode felt like Mandy’s mission had slowed to a crawl as he got sidetracked by job after job. Instead of feeling like integral parts of a greater story, these side-missions became annoying – they got in the way of the main story. Though several of them were interesting enough in their own right, it was the way in which they were set up that caused the problem. It would have been possible to write the season in such a way as to make each of these stories feel like they were part of Mandy’s overall quest; instead they felt like obstacles to his mission and thus they came across as obstacles to the story the show wanted to tell.

Mandy with Bo-Katan on one of his many side-missions.

Modern Star Wars appears to find it impossible to step out of the shadow of its original films, and the greatest evidence of this in Season 2 of The Mandalorian came with the inclusion of Boba Fett. Just like Palpatine’s ham-fisted return dragged down the story of The Rise of Skywalker, Boba Fett inexplicably coming back from the dead likewise harms the story of The Mandalorian, and I don’t see a way around that. His role in the show was so different from the Boba Fett we met in The Empire Strikes Back that he may as well have been a different character, and the story of The Mandalorian Season 2 would have been absolutely no different if this character had been called Engelbert Humperdinck or Crazy Uncle Dennis.

But if I thought Boba Fett’s return was striking the wrong tone for the series, the season finale brought an even worse and far more desperate nostalgia play: the return of Luke Skywalker. There was, for a moment, something visually cool about seeing a Jedi cut through a squad of troopers with ease, but when this character was revealed to be Luke, whatever semblance of originality remained in The Mandalorian evaporated.

The Mandalorian was supposed to be a chance for Star Wars to step away from the Skywalker family.

Does every Star Wars project have to be about Luke Skywalker and the Jedi? Or maybe, one day, can Star Wars be more than that? A big part of the reason why both seasons of The Mandalorian have been so disappointing is that they took a premise that sounded genuinely appealing – “the adventures of a gunslinger far from the reaches of the New Republic” – and turned it into Return of the Jedi II. There is scope to see more of Luke’s adventures in between Return of the Jedi and the sequel trilogy… but I didn’t want that here.

At the risk of repeating myself, Star Wars feels stuck. It’s a franchise trapped by its original incarnation with producers, writers, and corporate leadership unwilling to step away from that and genuinely try something even slightly different. The return of Luke Skywalker and Boba Fett in Season 2 are symptomatic of this, but this problem doesn’t stop there. It extends to the sequel trilogy and to practically all of the recently-announced upcoming projects.

For the second time since 2019, the Star Wars franchise revived a dead character with no explanation.

At least Luke Skywalker, unlike Boba Fett and Palpatine, hadn’t been killed off. His appearance, while irritating, does make a certain kind of sense for the sake of the story, and it’s not a complete non-sequitur in the way those other two characters’ returns were in their respective stories. Even with those caveats, though, I felt it was pretty weak for The Mandalorian to already be relying on Luke Skywalker as a story crutch.

The Star Wars galaxy is one of the best fantasy settings ever brought to life in the entertainment realm. It’s a setting that feels vast and genuinely lived-in in a way that many franchises can only dream of, yet the producers at Lucasfilm and their corporate masters in the Disney boardroom seem dead set on only ever letting us see the same tiny sliver of this potentially wonderful setting over and over and over and over again. The Mandalorian had a chance to do something different, to take Star Wars to new places both literally and thematically. Its retreat to the safe ground of the original trilogy and the warm embrace of Luke Skywalker feels utterly regressive.

Though I freely admit this was a well-staged, action-packed sequence, I maintain that the story didn’t need Luke Skywalker.

There were a couple of visual misses in Season 2, despite the production as a whole being pretty good in terms of CGI and special effects. A few of the practical models and puppets didn’t look quite as good as they had done in Season 1. I’m thinking of the newborn alien-lizard in episode 3 in particular, but there were several other examples of practical effects that didn’t make the cut. Perhaps that’s a consequence of shooting in 4K HDR and viewers having better screens!

The second visual miss is the character of Ahsoka Tano. Though I haven’t seen the animated children’s shows The Clone Wars and Rebels in which Ahsoka Tano was a main character, when she made her live-action debut there was something off about the way she looked, and it took me a moment to figure out what it was. Ahsoka is a Togruta, a species with head-tentacles. Others of this species, and other tentacle-headed species, have been seen in other Star Wars projects since the prequel era. In The Mandalorian, Ahsoka is depicted with her tentacles being a different colour to her face, and not only that but a weird kind of leather-tiara right at the point where the two skin tones meet. The effect of this made it look like she was wearing a weird hat instead of being an alien with a tentacle head, and it was pretty distracting at points!

See what I mean? It looks like she’s wearing a hat!

Now that we’ve talked about the bad, how about some good points? There must be some, right?

Although the numerous disconnected side-missions were distracting, I appreciated the fact that, unlike in the first season, I knew what Mandy’s overall objective was and why he was doing the things he did. Mandy himself showed a little more emotion than in Season 1, and combined with seeing him without his helmet a little more often, that made him start to feel like an actual person for the first time – not just a walking, heavily-armoured plot device.

The dark troopers were neat; I liked their vaguely Vader-inspired aesthetic combined with the fact that they’re droids – something which we could argue ties in thematically with the droid armies of the prequel era. They managed to feel genuinely threatening in a way that many Star Wars villains don’t, and perhaps something about their inhuman nature and red eyes contributed to that. Though the dark troopers didn’t get much screen time, I’m hopeful we’ll see more of them in future.

The dark troopers were intimidating adversaries that I hope we see more of in future Star Wars productions.

The Mandalorian has enjoyed well-designed sets and a wide variety of filming locations that made most of its planets and locales feel different from one another. The only planet which definitely felt like southern California was Tython – the planet with the Jedi “seeing stone.” Compared to the likes of Star Trek: Picard – which relied far too heavily on outdoor filming locations in southern California that all looked alike – this was a success, and shows what’s possible when a big streaming show has a suitably high budget.

Season 2 gave us the briefest of glimpses at the New Republic – the faction which aimed to replace the Empire in the years prior to the rise of the First Order. I would’ve liked to have seen more of the New Republic, but with Rangers of the New Republic in early production, and other spin-offs like The Book of Boba Fett also in the works, perhaps that’s something we’ll get more of in future.

Season 2 gave us a brief glimpse of the New Republic.

Perhaps the most interesting story reveal came in the form of how Moff Gideon wanted to use Baby Yoda. Baby Yoda’s blood or DNA was being used to create Force-sensitive clones, and some of those clones looked an awful lot like the sequel trilogy’s Supreme Leader Snoke. Though this remains officially unconfirmed, my theory is that the clones seen in the fourth episode are supposed to be Snoke.

Snoke, as we learned in one of the worst moments in The Rise of Skywalker, was a clone and a puppet of Palpatine, and The Mandalorian appeared to drop a hint as to how Snoke came into being. Despite that particular storyline going down like a lead balloon in the final act of the so-called Skywalker Saga, it was nevertheless interesting to see it expanded upon here, and it finally provided Moff Gideon with a logical motive for his Baby Yoda obsession.

Is this clone in a tank supposed to be Snoke? It looks that way to me!

Speaking of Moff Gideon, like Star Trek: Picard’s Narek before him, he appears to have vanished in the season finale. Captured by Mandy and his squad when they attacked his ship, Gideon eagerly awaited his liberation by the dark troopers before being knocked unconscious as Luke Skywalker was making his way to the bridge. And then… he dropped out of the story. Did he remain in captivity with Mandy? Did Bo-Katan and the other Mandalorians take him? Was he turned over to Cara and by extension the New Republic for interrogation? Did he escape in the chaos surrounding Luke’s arrival? We just don’t know, and his absence from the season’s closing moments was noteworthy for a story that otherwise did a reasonable job at wrapping things up.

Overall, I’d say that The Mandalorian Season 2 feels like it should’ve been the second half of Season 1. It completed the story that was left unfinished last time, and the short runtime of both seasons makes it feel like fans didn’t really get two full seasons’ worth of action and adventure for their money. There were some solid character moments – Mayfeld coming to terms with his Imperial past being one of the better ones. The season saw Mandy develop as a character – or rather, develop into a character for the first time, and having a protagonist to root for instead of an unemotional helmet-wearing slab of nothing was a transformation the series desperately needed.

Season 2 saw the show’s protagonist grow into a character with understandable motivations.

Despite some decent growth and a main story that was worth pursuing, the disjointed nature of the side-missions meant that the season as a whole seemed to drift. There was direction to its main story, but at the same time that took up basically two of the eight episodes, with the other six comprised largely of fluff; obstacles in Mandy’s way as he attempted to complete his quest.

Season 2 was better than Season 1, but had the two halves of the story been united in a single season instead of being split up like this, perhaps I would’ve come away from the show with a better overall impression. I’m still disappointed that the basic premise of The Mandalorian, which seemed so appealing in 2018-19, hasn’t been fulfilled, and that the show has been overwhelmed by a tidal wave of nostalgia plays.

To me, The Mandalorian will always represent the Star Wars franchise missing an open goal. There was a chance to step away from the Force, the Jedi, and the Skywalker family for the first time, to open up the vast, unexplored Star Wars galaxy and tell some genuinely different and interesting stories. Instead, the show retreated to the same comfortable, overtrodden ground as the films that spawned it, and as a result it’s so much less than it could have been.

The Mandalorian Season 2 is available to stream now on Disney+. The Star Wars franchise – including The Mandalorian and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of LucasFilm and the Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.