Yes, everybody’s favourite space gunslinger and his adopted kid, the cutest little green alien toddler in the universe, are back. It’s time again for The Mandalorian or – as my Mom calls it – “Baby Yoda and His Dad”.
I only did an aggregate review of season 1 of The Mandalorian, largely because I initially wasn’t intending to watch the show, until the cuteness that is Baby Yoda won me over. But for season 2 I will do episode by episode reviews like I do for Star Trek.
Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!
Season 2 opens with Mando and Baby Yoda walking/floating into an unnamed town. The town is full of graffiti of Stormtroopers and what looks like C-3PO. The artist who did the graffiti was listed in the credits BTW. There are also red-eyed things lurking in the dark. And yes, I know their names are not officially Mando and Baby Yoda, but they’re called Din Djarin and the Child.
Mando has come to see a one-eyed alien called Gor Koresh (played by John Leguizamo who is completely unrecognisable under kilos of make-up). There’s no way that name is a coincidence, considering it references both the infamous Gor novels by John Norman as well as David Koresh, the cult leader who was killed along with many of his followers in Waco, Texas, in 1993.
Gor Koresh is just as charming as his two namesakes. He runs an underground fight club where two Gamoreans are bashing in each other’s heads for the amusement of a bloodthirsty crowd. Baby Yoda clearly is no fan of blood sports and Gor Koresh tells Mando that his fight club is no place for a child. Mando replies, “Where I go, he goes,” and thus states what appears to be his parenting philosophy. For Mando indeed seems to have decided that taking Baby Yoda everywhere is the best way to keep the little one safe. I’m not so convinced about that, but as long as it gives us plenty of cute Baby Yoda moments, I’m happy.
Mando has come to see Gor Koresh, because Koresh is rumoured to know where to find other Mandalorians who might help him with his quest to reunite Baby Yoda with his own people. Because after his own underground clan of Mandalorians have been all but wiped out by Werner Herzog and Moff Gideon, Mando is cut off from his people.
Koresh, on the other hand, turns out to mainly want Mandalorians for their beskar armour. He tries to double-cross Mando, which is never a good idea. And so Mando takes out Koresh’s henchcritters, while Baby Yoda – who knows trouble when he sees it – quickly closes his armoured float cradle and lets Dad do his thing.
Koresh escapes, but Mando quickly recaptures him and hangs him upside down from a street lantern. He also promises Koresh that he will not die by Mando’s hand, if he tells him the truth. Now Koresh finally does spill that there is a Mandalorian living on Tatooine. Mando, in turn, leaves Koresh behind for the red-eyed critters that lurk in the dark to enjoy – after all, he only promised that Koresh wouldn’t die by his hand. It’s hard to feel sorry for him.
And so we’re back on Tatooine, secret navel of the Star Wars universe. Mando takes the Razorcrest to the docking bay of Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris cosplaying Ellen Ripley from Alien) in Mos Eisley. This time, he even lets her repair droids touch his precious ship – apparently Mando’s experience with the heroic droid IG-11 last season has caused him to mellow towards droids. Peli is happy to see Mando and cuddle Baby Yoda again (well, he is very cuddly). Mando has heard that his fellow Mandalorian is in a town called Mos Pelgo (we suspect “Mos” means “settlement” in the language of Tatooine) and asks Peli where to find it. Peli replies that the town has been wiped out by bandits shortly after the fall of the Empire, as far as she knows, but she nonetheless shows Mando its location of a map projected by another familiar face, a R5-D4 droid. And it’s not just any old R5-D4 droid, but as iO9 reviewer Germain Lussier points out, it’s the very same R5-D4 droid that Owen Lars was going to buy from the Jawas until it malfunctioned and he decided to purchase R2-D2 instead and thus altered the course of the entire Star Wars universe (and signed his own death warrant) with a single purchase decision. It’s a nice callback – one of many in this episode. I’m also glad that R5-D4, a character whose timely malfunction changed the course of history, found a good home after all.
So Mando borrows Peli’s speeder bike and takes off for Mos Pelgo, Baby Yoda in the saddle bag. Once again, it’s absolutely not an appropriate vehicle for transporting a young child, though Baby Yoda clearly loves it, judging by the look of pure joy on his face.
On the way to Mos Pelgo, Mando stops by at a camp of Sandpeople/Tusken raiders to ask them for directions. We learn that Mando is not just friendly enough with the Sandpeople not to be attacked, he can also communicate with them via sign language. This will be important later.
One Mando and Baby Yoda make it to Mos Pelgo, The Mandalorian goes into full western mode again. Mos Pelgo is your typical frontier town, updated for Tatooine. There are windmills, raised walkways beside a central dirt road and there’s also a saloon. And the locals are wary when Mando rides into town.
I don’t know if they have westerns in the Star Wars universe, but Mando certainly knows that the saloon is the place to go for information, so he heads there to quiz the Weequay barkeeper, who is played by W. Earl Brown, a fairly well known actor (and huge Star Wars fan, it seems) best known for the western series Deadwood. When Mando asks if the Weequay has seen someone who wears armour like his, the Weequay replies, “That would be the marshal then. And here he is.”
Now all Star Wars fans know which Mandalorian not named Din Djarin was last seen on Tatooine, though he should be a tad busy getting digested by sarlacc for a thousand years at this point in time. So of course, we all expect who will come walking through that door. But there is a nice bit of misdirection going on here, for while Boba Fett’s old armour does walk into the saloon, the person wearing it very definitely is not Boba Fett. This person is a lot lankier than Boba Fett and the armour doesn’t fit him properly, whereas Mandalorian armour – as we’ve seen last season – is custom-made.
The person wearing Boba Fett’s armour is not overly surprised to see Mando; he expected a Mandalorian to show up eventually. And just in case we hadn’t noticed that something is very off about this Mandalorian, he also orders some drinks and then proceeds to take off his helmet, something we know Mandalorians never do in public.
When we finally see the face underneath Boba Fett’s old helmet, I initially thought it was Pierce Brosnan and went, “Wait a minute, I had no idea he even was in The Mandalorian.” However, it turns out the actor is not Pierce Brosnan after all, but Timothy Olyphant who’s best known for neo-westerns like Justified and Deadwood, neither of which I could ever get into. Coincidentally, I’m not the only one who noticed the resemblance to Pierce Brosnan. AV Club reviewer Katie Rife notes it, too.
In the Star Wars universe, the man wearing Boba Fett’s old armour is called Cobb Vanth and we get his story in a flashback. Vanth was just another inhabitant of Mos Pelgo, celebrating the destruction of the second Death Star and the fall of the Empire in the saloon, when some armed goons of a group called the Mining Collective show up, take over the town and enslave the populace, since there’s now no one left to stop them, not even the Empire, which was always more concerned with chasing rebels than actually doing something about the rampant crime and slavery issues on backwater worlds like Tatooine anyway.
I’ve said before that with the sequel trilogy the Star Wars universe has turned from a place that is bad now, but was better once and will be better once again in the future, to a place that has always been bad and will always be bad. The Mandalorian had repeatedly reinforced this impression in season 1, where we see all sorts of ordinary people struggling to make ends meet now the Empire is gone, while the New Republic does literally fuck all. “The Marshal” reinforces this impression even more, because with the Empire gone, other actors (crime lords, bandits, the Mining Collective) step into the power vacuum. And bad as the Empire was, many of those groups tend to be even worse. It’s a realistic look at what all too often happens after revolutions in the real world, where the chaos that follows is often worse for regular people than the semi-orderly authoritarian regime that preceded it. Nonetheless, it’s still depressing.
The armed goons of the Mining Collective shoot up the saloon, but Cobb Vanth is able to escape. He steals one of those ice cream makers that are used to transport valuable goods in Star Wars universe from the Mining Collective goons and runs out into the desert. When he’s about to die of thirst, he gets lucky and comes across a Jawa sandcrawler. The Jawas take him aboard and offer Vanth his choice of their wares in exchange for the crystals he accidentally stole. Vanth chooses a battered set of Mandalorian armour the Jawas picked up we can all guess where. I guess beskar armour is too difficult to digest even for sarlaccs.
With his battered armour and jetpack, Vanth returns to Mos Pelgo, takes out the various Mining Collective goons and makes himself marshal. Considering he just took out an entire squad of armed bad guys, no one is arguing with him. Besides, Vanth is essentially a decent guy who just wants to protect his town. In fact, he put Boba Fett’s old armour to a better use than Fett ever did. Cobb Vanth is a character who first appeared in Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars tie-in novel Aftermath BTW, which I’m sure will thrill certain quarters of fandom.
Din Djarin is also essentially a decent guy, but he also takes the Mandalorian way very seriously and so he demands the armour back, presumably to be melted down for the benefit of other Mandalorians. Vanth, however, isn’t going to just give up the one thing that allows him to keep his town safe. Neither of them really wants to hurt the other, but nonetheless Mando and Vanth seem to be heading for a high noon type shoot-out, much to Baby Yoda’s chagrin, when they are interrupted by a rumble which shakes the entire town.
The rumble turns out to be a krayt dragon, the other huge worm-like subterranean species native to Tatooine. So far, we’ve never seen an actual krayt dragon in Star Wars, though we have seen the skeleton of one, when C-3PO stumbles upon it, and we have heard Obi Wan imitate the mating call of a krayt dragon.
Both krayt dragons and sarlaccs by the sandworms from Frank Herbert’s Dune, just as Tatooine itself is very obviously inspired by Dune. And Dune in turn was inspired by the Mars of the pulp science fiction shared solar system. Indeed, Leigh Brackett mentions sandworm like creatures in her 1945 Retro Hugo winning novel Shadow Over Mars a.k.a. The Nemesis from Terra. Coincidentally, Shadow Over Mars also has villainous mining company, the very aptly named Terran Exploitation Company, enslave random townspeople to toil in their mines.
The influences on Star Wars have been scrutinised to death by now, but while Flash Gordon is almost always mentioned as an influence, but the influence of the written science fiction of the 1930s to 1960s is still often underestimated, even though Star Wars is absolutely brimming with ideas borrowed from vintage SF. The Dune – Tatooine connection is probably the most obvious, but the Ewoks are also very obviously H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzies by another name, while Endor has alwas reminded me of Athshe from Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest. Dagobah is clearly Venus before Mariner 2 ruined everything and the Mos Eisley cantina has its forebearers in dozens of seedy spaceport bars. The Force is a New Age gussied up version of the psi powers that were so popular in SFF (largely because John W. Campbell really liked them) from the golden age all the way into the 1960s. The droids are very much Asimovian robots, even if the Three Laws are never uttered. Han Solo is a classic space rogue in the Eric John Stark and Northwest Smith mold (and Chewie is comparable to Northwest’s best friend and partner Yarol). And indeed, when I reread a lot of Leigh Brackett planetary romances from the golden age some time ago, I came across a lot of scenes and ideas which would show up in Star Wars thirty plus year later. Even more interestingly, I also came across a lot of Indiana Jones prototypes – two-fisted archaeologists with somewhat shady morals and a tendency to get in supernaturally tinged trouble – in Leigh Brackett’s old stories from the 1940s. It clearly was no accident that George Lucas hired Leigh Brackett to write the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back – he obviously was a fan. Just as he obviously read a lot of 1930s to 1960s science fiction.
The krayt dragon passes underneath the town and gobbles up a bantha. And indeed, the poor wooly banthas do suffer a lot in this episode. Vanth tells Mando that the krayt dragon has been terrorising the town for a long time now, gobbling up banthas and the occasional villager. Vanth also offers Mando a deal: If Mando helps Vanth kill the krayt dragon, Vanth will hand over the armour. Meanwhile, Baby Yoda has decided the discretion is the better part of valour and hidden in a spittoon. I do hope Mando gives him a bath later, because spittoons are not sanitary environments for small children.
So Mando and Vanth set off on their speeder bikes to kill the dragon, Baby Yoda once again riding along in the saddle bag. Vanth’s speeder bike is made from a pod-racer engine and not just any old pod-racer engine either, but the one young Anakin built way back in The Phantom Menace. It’s a neat callback, though I do find it striking that almost everybody in the Star Wars universe who is not the Empire or the First Order is using ancient technology that has been repaired and repurposed dozens of times. Anakin’s pod-racer engine should be around forty years old at this point and Anakin already built it from scrap. Peli Motto’s pit droids and her R5-D4 unit are almost as old. The Millennium Falcon is already ancient when Han wins it from Lando. Mando’s Razorcrest is just as ancient. Recycling is all good and well, but why is everybody reusing ancient stuff in a universe with as high a technological level as the Star Wars universe? Do they have no manufacturing at all (Come to think of it, the only factory we ever see in the Star Wars universe is the battle droid factory from Attack of the Clones) and what happened to it? Cause those spaceships, droids and speeder bikes were not all built by scavengers. They all came out of a factory at some point, but for some reason those factories all seem to have collapsed.
Before they take on the krayt dragon, Mando takes Vanth to see a group of Sandpeople, cause the Sandpeople not only know where the krayt dragon has its lair (in an abandoned sarlacc, since it apparently ate the sarlacc), but they have also been studying its sleeping and eating patterns for centuries. The Sandpeople are as eager to see the dragon dead as Vanth and his people, so Mando suggests working together to take it out, using the Sandpeople’s knowledge. However, Vanth doesn’t want to work with the Sandpeople and neither do the people of Mos Pelgo, since the Sandpeople and the human inhabitants of Tatooine are sworn enemies.
The portrayal of the Sandpeople in this episode is something I really liked. Because in forty-three years of Star Wars, the Sandpeople have always been one-dimensional antagonists, minor obstacles for our heroes to overcome. We first see them, when they attack Luke, then we see them again firing at random pod-racers and then again, when Anakin slaughters a bunch of them, after they kidnap and kill his mother. But in all those forty-three years no one ever thought to talk to the Sandpeople. Everybody – even Jedi like Obi Wan or Anakin – only ever treated them like something to kill.
“The Marshal” gives us the Sandpeople’s POV for the first time in forty-three years, translated via Mando who speaks their language (and where precisely did he learn that anyway?). The story of the Sandpeople is not exactly new, it’s a typical coloniser versus colonised people conflict, since the Sandpeople are native to Tatooine (as are the sarlaccs, krayt dragons, woomp rats and very likely the Hutt, since we never see them anywhere else and they’re not exactly mobile). The humans, Weequay and other species, on the other hand, are colonists who showed up at a later point and took over the planet, though considering Tatooine has slavery, we don’t know how voluntarily these people came there. And indeed, Tor.com reviewer Emmet Asher-Perrin notes that the Sandpeople very much serve as stand-ins for Indigenous Americans in this episode. Guardian reviewer Paul MacInnes also notes a parallel to the 1950 western Broken Arrow in having indigenous people and settlers working together to defeat a larger problem.
This is again a very old idea – Leigh Brackett used various Martian and Venusian natives as stand-ins for Indigenous Americans in her planetary romances of the 1940s. And while the human villains were often capitalists intent on displacing and exploiting those indigenous populations, her outlaw protagonists inevitably sided with them, so Mando is standing in the tradition of Eric John Stark and Roy Campbell here. Star Wars has portrayed conflicts between colonisers and indigenous people before, most notably with the Ewoks on Endor (and also the Wookies on Kashykk), whereby the Battle of Endor is widely considered to be a stand-in for the Vietcong prevailing against the technologically superior US Army. And yes, I’m still amazed that George Lucas was able to get away with this a mere ten years after the end of the Vietnam War.
After a lot of reluctance and hostility on both sides, Mando is finally able to persuade the townspeople and Sandpeople to work together to defeat the krayt dragon that is terrorising them both. It’s a nice solution, if maybe a little simple, but it’s also very much not a Star Wars solution, because “Let’s talk to each other, find out what the other side wants and find a way to work together” is not how things normally work in the Star Wars universe. In my reviews of season 3 of Star Trek Discovery, I noted that the first two episodes of the season felt more like Star Wars than Star Trek. And now in turn we get an episode of The Mandalorian, which goes for a very Star Trek-like “Let’s talk things over” solution. And indeed, the main conflict in the most recent episode of Discovery was resolved in exactly this way.
However, this show is still The Mandalorian and besides, a krayt dragon cannot be reasoned with (but then we once thought the same about the Sandpeople, if we thought about them at all) and so the episode culminates in a huge fight, as Mando, Vanth, the Sandpeople and the people of Mos Pelgo work together to take out the krayt dragon. The initial plan – lure the dragon out of its cave and blow it up – fails and only causes the dragon to vomit acid (okay, that one is clearly borrowed from Alien) over Sandpeople and humans alike. Mando tells Vanth to distract the dragon, which Vanth does by firing a rocket into its eye. Then Mando tells Vanth to take care of Baby Yoda, if things go wrong, and tricks the krayt dragon into swallowing a pack bantha that’s loaded down with explosives (banthas really don’t fare well in this episode) as well as Mando himself. There is a tense moment, as evidenced by Baby Yoda looking very worried, for where is Daddy? Then Mando electrocutes the dragon, bursts out of its mouth on his jetpack and detonates the explosives (and the poor bantha). The Sandpeople get the carcass of the krayt dragon (and a huge pearl – or is that an egg?), Vanth gets a chunk of dragon meat and Mando gets Boba Fett’s old armour. He is also covered in acid vomit, but beskar is tough stuff.
And so everything ends happily, except that as Mando takes off again, we see a bald and cloaked figure standing in the desert watching him. The figure turns around and holy crap, it’s Temuera Morrison with a scar across his face.
Now the last time we saw Temuera Morrison in Star Wars, it was as the Mandalorian bounty hunter Jango Fett (who apparently belongs to a clan which do take off their helmets on occasion) in Attack of the Clones. Jango dies at the end of that movie, cut down by Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu. However, Jango’s DNA was used to create the clone troopers and also his “son” Boba Fett. So is the scarred man in the desert Boba Fett who somehow got out of the sarlacc’s digestive tract, though sans his armour? Or is he just a random unemployed Stormtrooper? And for the record, I don’t even want to think about the implications of having likely millions of people with the exact same genetic profile running around the Star Wars galaxy. I guess birth defects will take a sharp tick up approx. twenty to thirty years after the fall of the Empire, as the children fathered by the surviving clone troopers grow up and some of them commit accidental incest. And yes, I know I’m overthinking this, but the implications are there.
Star Wars has always been very much a pop culture and genre mash-up – Emmet Asher-Perrin calls it the rainbow bagel of pop culture. The Mandalorian plays up the western elements of the Star Wars universe big time and this episode is very much a western that just happens to be set on an alien planet. However, it’s also the story of two armoured knights who go off to slay a dragon and succeed after several hardships, playing up the fantasy elements of the Star Wars universe. One reviewer – I forgot which one – also notes the biblical parallels, since Mando literally ends up in the belly of the
whale krayt dragon.
At least based on this episode, season 2 of The Mandalorian seems to be doing more of what made season 1 such a huge success: Neat genre mash-ups leaning heavily into science fiction on the one hand and western on the other. Baby Yoda being incredibly cute and his Dad being monosyllabic and morally grey, but ultimately a good guy. The episodes are largely self-contained adventures with an overarching plot (Keep Baby Yoda safe in season 1, keep him safe and return him to his people in season 2).
The Mandalorian is very much a variation of the old “A stranger comes to town…” story. We find this pattern in a lot of westerns. A stranger rides into town, gets involved in whatever conflict is brewing locally and solves it, then he rides on. However, it’s not just a western plot. The Jack Reacher novels function very much like this, as did the old TV series The Fugitive and Route 66 or the Incredible Hulk TV series of the 1970s or The A-Team in the 1980s. In science fiction, the adventures of the above mentioned Eric John Stark and Northwest Smith are very much variations on the stranger who comes to
town a new planet, as is Doctor Who. So is my own In Love and War series. Over in fantasy, Conan, Solomon Kane and many other sword and sorcery characters (including my own Thurvok) are also variations on this theme.
But this story pattern is much older and goes back to the questing knights errant of medieval legend. And the reasons it continues to be popular is because it works and allows to tell a nigh endless variety of stories, as the protagonist solves someone else’s problem and moves on to the next adventure and the next. It doesn’t matter whether there is a fixed goal to the protagonist’s quest as with Dr. Richard Kimble from The Fugitive or The A-Team or whether there isn’t, as with Jack Reacher. The protagonist will always move on to new adventures or new stories. And the Star Wars universe offers endless possibilities for new adventures for Baby Yoda and his Mandalorian Dad.