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THE MANDALORIAN S2 gets 8/10 Bounty’s revenge


Season 2, Episodes 1-2

Created by Jon Favreau
Starring Pedro Pascal, Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog, Taika Waititi, Giancarlo Esposito

8/10

Jon Favreau and team have kept Star Wars fandom kicking after a divisive sequel trilogy wrapped up with The Rise of Skywalker. The Mandalorian goes back to the root elements behind the success of Star Wars in 1977 by taking old stories and myths, and repackaging them in a shiny sci-fi fantasy package which can be enjoyed by all. This iteration exists as condensed for TV, with bite-sized open-and-shut episodes. It’s easy to jump in at any point with the meandering main story arc plugging away slowly in the background.

It’s slow enough expect the writing team have no intention of making substantial progressions with this main story until popularity wanes and an expiry date is visible on the horizon. No matter! Because in reality, this is all fine and enjoyable if you’re willing to get down with what is ultimately a return to the format of Saturday Matinee Serials which partly inspired Star Wars and Indiana Jones in the first place.

With Season Two’s feet firmly planted in the western genre more than ever, it’s easy to see yourself as a little kid in the 50s sitting on the lounge room floor basking in the “Radiation King’s” glow of that week’s The Lone Ranger, or Bat Masterson. This time we’re lucky to have some guest directors, such as Jon Favreau, Taika Waititi, Peyton Reed, and Bryce Dallas Howard straight out Disney’s Hollywood stables at the reins.

Season Two’s first episode opens in a seedy fight venue full of intergalactic no-goodnicks, and carries us back to Tatooine for some returning characters from Season One, as well as the chance to see the fabled Krayt Dragon hinted at in Star Wars films, video games and other media since 1977. The constant injection of fan familiar elements such as this could easily bog the series down in empty nostalgia, however, the fan service is delivered in more subtle and satisfying ways, that won’t interfere with the flow for the average casual watcher.

Yes, lots of familiar locations, props, droids, species and even classic Ben Burtt sound library entries are present to really sell the Star Wars feel, but these elements are used mostly incidentally, and there’s plenty of new things to explore and gawk at with each visit to the galaxy far, far away.

Technically, this show is a knockout. Whilst there are likely cinematographic limitations due to the show’s heavy use of Disney’s game-changing “Volume” set (a large LED video-screen set eliminating the need for green screen), it does the job needed for the simple joys of The Mandalorian. The show is a rare example where every tool is used at the appropriate time when it comes to special effects.

The performances puppeteers get out of the Child (or Baby Yoda, as popularly referred to) are spectacular and endearing, harking back to techniques used most effectively to bring “Gizmo” to life in Joe Dante’s Gremlins films. There is little doubt that the small, green, 50-year-old baby wouldn’t have such a potent universal appeal if it was an intangible CGI render.

There are some gorgeous looking CGI shots nonetheless. Episode One’s The Marshall features some epic imagery of the subterranean leviathan Krayt Dragon breaking through the sand that could even rival Denis Villeneuve’s Dune film when it finally hits screens. Not only does the team get compellingly real images on screen, but they nail the crucial visual flair of Star Wars, such as the kinetic energy of an X-Wing cutting through a scene, or a swoop bike cutting through desert sands.

So far, two episodes in for Season Two – it all seems to be holding together just fine, and looks to be carrying the Star Wars torch onward with more popularity than the recent conclusion to the cinematic episodes. Whilst it’s all part of the big evil Disney machine, the end product doesn’t smell too foul.

Yeah, there’s a bunch of “Baby Yoda” merch on shelves, but it feels earned, unlike 1999 where shelves were overloaded with products with the broadly despised Jar-Jar Binks slapped on it. They’ve created endearing characters, rooted deeply in the same cultural sources that inspired Star Wars. And Star Wars has always been a cultural experience where you can watch the movie and buy the lunch box.

JOHN HOLDCROFT

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