SPOILERS FOR THE MANDALORIAN SEASON TWO PREMIERE AHEAD!
For me, one of the biggest questions coming out of The Mandalorian‘s season two premiere is how to label it in my title headings: because, technically, you’d think it should be season two, episode one…right? But Disney+ lists it simply as “Chapter 9” of the total series, based on the assertion that the entire series is one continuous story. I’ve settled on the more neutral term “Premiere” for now, but I can’t say I fully agree with the terminology used by Disney+. Honestly, the premiere doesn’t feel very much like an immediate continuation of the story so far: under the direction of Jon Favreau, it jumps right back to the style of episodic, slow-burn storytelling that was so controversial (but ultimately successful) during The Mandalorian‘s first six episodes. I imagine that, unless things take a turn quickly, that’s how season two is also going to unfold – but this time at least I’m aware that’s what’s going on, and prepared to wait it out.
Favreau’s premiere episode has all the hallmarks we now expect of a typical episode of The Mandalorian: an entertaining side-quest on a backwater planet, and an uneasy alliance between our protagonist, Mandalorian bounty hunter Din Djarin (voiced and sometimes played by Pedro Pascal), and one or two new characters. This time, however, the side-quest is big, elaborate and prolonged – going on for almost an hour – and the episode even includes some flashback sequences to help us become attached to our new characters. Both quest and characters are also slightly more interwoven with our main plotline. Din Djarin and his tiny, adorable companion Baby Yoda find themselves on the planet Tatooine, following the trail of other Mandalorians who can help Djarin track down the whereabouts of Baby Yoda’s people. But that plotline gets put on the back-burner while Djarin tries to unite the bandits of Mos Elgo and the desert-dwelling Tusken Raiders against a ravenous Krayt dragon that has been terrorizing both groups – in exchange for a marvelous suit of Mandalorian armor possessed by Mos Elgo’s charismatic marshal.
Tatooine has been explored to death in the Star Wars universe, but The Mandalorian keeps coming back to it because it’s the planet that best exemplifies the series’ general sci-fi/Western vibe. And to its credit, The Mandalorian has at least made it feel fresh again by exploring some new corners of the desert planet besides just Mos Eisley – in this particular episode, the small frontier town of Mos Elgo. The town is run by a motley assortment of bandits, bounty hunters and low-level criminals, but is far from being a hive of scum and villainy. In fact, Mos Elgo seems pretty well-organized and well-governed, and even has a schoolhouse for the kids. It’s also a treasure trove of cool Easter eggs and Star Wars artifacts, such as a speeder bike made from one of the engines of Anakin Skywalker’s podracer in The Phantom Menace.
An alliance with the elusive Tusken Raiders means more opportunities to see just how much the portrayal of the Raiders has changed over the decades: once minor antagonists to Luke Skywalker’s journey, they’re now mostly depicted as sympathetic characters, no different from anyone else trying to aggressively carve out territory on Tatooine’s inhospitable surface in order to survive – and that shift is largely thanks to The Mandalorian, which showed Din Djarin peacefully interacting with them in season one and again in this season’s premiere, both times using sign language communication to strike up bargains with the Raiders. In this case, the Raiders are interested in helping the people of Mos Elgo defeat a Krayt dragon – a huge, carnivorous creature which technically made its first onscreen appearance back in the very first Star Wars movie; as a skeleton buried in the planet’s sand dunes. Now, over forty years later, we’ve finally gotten the chance to see one alive and in action, and it’s spectacularly fearsome (though eventually defeated by a poor, unsuspecting Bantha beast outfitted with explosives).
The season two premiere simultaneously finds room to include surprise appearances from characters we met on Tatooine in The Mandalorian‘s first season, like the human mechanic Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris) and her small fleet of pit droids. The unexpected Motto/Baby Yoda reunion plays out just as one would hope, with Motto only half-joking when she asks Din Djarin if she can keep the child. For those wondering, Baby Yoda himself is still as adorable as ever (shocker, I know), and it’s a great relief to have him back after such a long, wearisome year. I just hope he finds an opportunity to exercise his growing Force powers sometime soon, because I’d hate to see him get upstaged by anybody else – and a newcomer has already come very close to doing just that.
Said newcomer is none other than the Mos Pelgo marshal Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant, currently still trending on Twitter), a character from the Star Wars: Aftermath novels. Olyphant shines in the role, and not just because he gets to wear Boba Fett’s famous suit of armor, bought from Jawas who recovered it somehow from the sarlacc pit where Fett went down. He’s a lot of fun, with a braggadocio and swagger that comes from being able to pass for a Mandalorian, and a disarming, warm attitude. Can he be trusted? I think so, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up again later in the series: especially since he’s unintentionally gotten himself involved in something much bigger than he probably imagined. Vanth is, however, lucky to have been able to give Din Djarin his armor after the success of their dragon hunt, a generous action that will probably save him in the long run – because somebody else, somebody with a personal, irrefutable claim to that armor, is also on the hunt for it…and judging by the assortment of large, nasty-looking weapons this somebody has on their person, I’m guessing they’re prepared to fight for it.
This somebody is Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) himself, of course; a character I’ve always personally found to be quite overrated, now returning for a chance at redemption after his humiliating “death” in Return Of The Jedi. Although the Boba Fett reveal comes at the very end of the premiere, it’s not exactly a big surprise to anybody who’s been following the production of the series closely, having been reported on some time ago. Nonetheless, it’s still exciting for several reasons: firstly, because it’s finally canon confirmation that Fett escaped the sarlacc pit, something that’s been debated in the fandom for decades; it’s likely confirmation that it was Fett whose shadowy figure we saw in season one, investigating Fennec Shand’s dead body; and it bodes well for what’s to come, as the series begins to dive into the history and lore of the Mandalorian people.
Whether or not Din Djarin stays on Tatooine any longer, I have a feeling that him and Boba Fett will meet up soon: the older Mandalorian warrior seems to have adapted to his new life as a desert nomad, but I’m sure he won’t pass up an opportunity to reclaim his old armor and his dignity – though, if it’s dignity he’s after, he might want to consider fixing or simply discarding his famously faulty jetpack, which malfunctions again while Cobb Vanth is using it. Just a suggestion.
Episode Rating: 7.5/10