The Mandalorian is back for its second season, and we have a review of the premiere, “The Marshal,” coming up just as soon as both suns shine on a womp rat’s tail…
Among the many pleasures of Mandalorian Season One was its briskness. Many episodes clocked in between 30 and 40 minutes, and they felt efficient rather than rushed. It was a welcome change from the bloat of so many streaming series, and well suited to both our no-nonsense hero and the fact that this is, fundamentally, a kids’ show. Shows geared first and foremost for younger audiences certainly can do hour-long episodes, but there’s an elegant simplicity to the kind of stories Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, and company are telling here that benefits from keeping things tight.
At first glance, the 55-minute length of “The Marshal” was a bit eyebrow-raising, and had me wondering if the success of that first season had led Favreau (who wrote and directed this episode) to overindulge with the second. But it’s only a bit longer than last season’s finale, and rules are often different for premieres and finales, anyway. More importantly, though, “The Marshal” doesn’t feel long. There are probably some spots that could have been tightened up, but on the whole it was very much of a piece with how the show worked so well a year ago.
After a prologue in a rare urban setting — with John Leguizamo (or, at least, his voice) as a shady criminal who hunts down Mandalorians to take their armor — we’re quickly back in Western mode, and back on Tatooine, at that, complete with the return of Amy Sedaris as Peli Motto. Mandalorian has to walk a delicate line between giving us more of what we want — including iconic Star Wars planets and popular former guest stars — and running in circles. In this case, the fact that Boba Fett and his armor were last seen on Tatooine — and the unanswered question of what booted figure approached Fennec Shand’s body at the end of Season One’s “The Gunslinger” — provides reason enough for a return visit, allowing for both another terrific guest performance and a way to set the new season’s plots in motion.
As I said when he turned up on this season of Fargo, it’s on the one hand wildly on-the-nose to cast Timothy Olyphant as a smug, talkative, quick-drawing marshal, and on the other hand the kind of typecasting I can get behind, because he’s just so perfect at it(*). He’s an also ideal choice for the misdirection going on throughout “The Marshal.” News that Temuera Morrison had been cast in this season primed Star Wars nerds everywhere to expect that the actor who once played Jango Fett would now be playing Jango’s son Boba, having somehow made it out of the sarlacc pit alive. So we’re back on Tatooine, and in walks a man wearing Boba’s armor… only it’s Raylan Givens himself, or, as he calls himself here, Cobb Vanth. Never mind those internet rumors, boys and girls! Next one’s comin’ faster!
(*) That said, having Olyphant do it on two streaming shows at once, and in the same year where he got back into Justified wardrobe for The Good Place, is probably the point past which both he and Hollywood need to give him other kinds of characters to play for a bit.
It’s a fun surprise, and Olyphant’s trademark relaxed demeanor makes for a nice contrast with Mando, who’s always on guard for the next fight. About the only downside to his presence is that it’s frustrating to watch Cobb and Mando side by side, Olyphant’s face on prominent display while Pedro Pascal (or his stunt double) can’t take his helmet off. The rules about the helmet remain one of the show’s few obvious weak spots, because what it’s gained so far in mystique isn’t worth the cost of limiting Pascal’s performance to this degree. But in this case, it’s also another clever way to delineate between our two armored heroes.
Once Cobb has been established as someone worthy of at least temporarily using the armor, “The Marshal” turns out to be, like so many Mandalorian stories, a pretty stock tale. In this case, it’s a pastiche of Westerns where the settlers and the Native Americans (represented here by the Tusken raiders) are forced to work in harmony against a greater threat. That threat is the impressively-realized krayt dragon, a ground-churning behemoth that makes a sarlacc look like a gecko in comparison.
It’s a clichéd setup, but the kind that The Mandalorian executes at such a high level that the familiarity becomes a feature, not a bug: It’s a treat to see how these Western archetypes can be so easily mapped onto the Star Wars universe. If anything, the episode probably could have devoted even more time to the miners and raiders figuring out how to peacefully coexist and work together. But the climactic showdown with the dragon played out at such a satisfying length — particularly when Mando and Cobb took the battle to the air via their respective jetpacks — that it’s OK just to imagine the subplot about a bigoted miner whose life gets saved by one of “the sand people.”
The episode also smartly keeps Baby Yoda on the sidelines throughout, an adorable observer of way too much violence for such innocent eyes, but never the deus ex machina who could use the Force(*) to save Mando from any threats. Those moments are surely coming, but Favreau and the others have a firm grasp of how much of the kid is too much, and thus far haven’t crossed that line.
(*) When Peli lays eyes on Baby Yoda again, she says, “Thank the Force,” which is an interesting name-check given that most of the characters we’ve met so far seem unaware that the Force, or the Jedi, were ever hugely important parts of this galaxy. The way she says it, though, suggests she may not know anything about Jedi magic, but rather thinks of it in more nebulous terms, perhaps as a phrase passed down from her parents.
And after the victory’s won and Mando and Baby Yoda head back to Mos Eisley, “The Marshal” revisits our expectations for the season. A bald figure is watching Mando’s speeder bike cross the Dune Sea, and he’s played by Morrison. Whether this is actually Boba, or Captain Rex, or one of the many other clones of Jango from the animated Clone Wars, remains to be seen. But there’s an appealing symmetry to the idea that Mando will spend this season searching for other members of his creed — whom he believes can, in turn, help him find Baby Yoda’s people — even as he’s being trailed by a man who wants the spare suit of armor that Mando’s now carrying.
So, no, “The Marshal” didn’t feel like a show getting fat on its own hype. We’ll see if Season Two episodes continue to run a bit longer, and if they can sustain themselves at such lengths, but, for now, it was just a pleasure to be back in this familiar world from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.