It’s that time of year again where we can all forget about the drudgery and disappointment of the Sequel Trilogy and bask in the glow of “The Mandalorian”. I’m a die-hard “Star Wars” fan and have been since I was six years old and watched “A New Hope” for the first time. The first season of “The Mandalorian” reminded me why I love the “Star Wars” universe, something I was beginning to doubt as the new trilogy moved inexorably toward a cataclysmic end. And the first episode of the new season did not disappoint.
The galaxy far, far away became a wonderful escape in my teenage years. Through the Expanded Universe novels that helped keep “Star Wars” alive for many of the fans, I grew to enjoy the universe and all the myriad stories that could be produced in it (at least when the quality control on the novels were kept up but that’s a different essay for a different time). When the first season of “The Mandalorian” was announced, I was intrigued as I’m sure many fans were. And then we got a touching, action-packed Space Western that I don’t think any of us expected.
Here’s your warning: there are going to be some spoilers (not many, though).
Picking up where the previous season ended, Din Djarin (the titular Mandalorian bounty hunter) has been given a quest to find the Jedi to return the Child to. And the Child is still one of the best things about this show. Since it is an animatronic puppet rather than a CGI character, there is a realness to it that cannot be simulated properly (despite the major advancements in the technology over the past decade). It also allows for brilliant comic timing, such as the Child closing its crib right before a fight breaks out as soon as it sees the needle missiles on Din’s arm get ready to be fired.
The first episode returns us to a familiar location in Tatooine, which is one minor gripe I have with the “Star Wars” universe. In a galaxy this large, why do so many of the stories revolve around places we’ve already explored? But given what we get out of this episode, it’s a minor annoyance that was quickly rectified. Traveling to a remote outpost in the Tatooine wastelands, Din encounters the titular Marshal, played with understated flair by Timothy Olyphant (most famous for his six-season stint as Marshal Raylen Givens on FX’s “Justified”). It’s familiar ground for Olyphant but that doesn’t mean he phones in his performance. There’s a quiet, comfortable air around the Marshal, leading one to believe this is a man who is familiar with violence and not afraid to mete it out when necessary.
But the crux of their conflict is the Marshal is not the Mandalorian Din was hoping to find on Tatooine. Instead, he’s just a guy wearing a set of Mandalorian arms and armor he bought off some Jawas. Their imminent fight is placed on hold when a krayt dragon appears. Now, as a fan of the Expanded Universe (now known as the Legacy Universe), I was familiar enough with the beastie to know what it was as soon as it began to harass the town. But for those who do not know what kind of monstrosity it was, this was a rare treat for the audience. If you harken back to “A New Hope” and recall the massive skeleton that C-3PO encounters on his journey through the desert, that was the skeleton of a krayt dragon. This one is even more ferocious and magnificent.
Which leads into a quest to destroy the dragon, since Din is the wandering knight errant of this universe (granted, his moral code is way more flexible than the ideal knights of the bygone era in our history). This also allowed us to get a closer glimpse at the Tuskan Raiders, a group that up to this point hasn’t had much screen time (not counting the stories cultivated throughout the books and comics that have been produced). The points where the town and the Raiders have to work together is a classic trope of storytelling that they played into but ultimately didn’t follow through on. Tensions were kept to a moderate boil as the two groups worked to slay the dragon (not a phrase one would expect to hear related to “Star Wars”).
The ending fight was way more fun than I anticipated. Seeing Din and the Marshal team up to take the beast down was enjoyable, particularly as the two of them put their Mandalorian armaments to good use. The ending between the two showed the mutual respect that had grown over the course of the episode, which was a far cry from where the two started (nearly shooting each other in a bar, as is known to happen in “Star Wars”). Bartending in the “Star Wars” universe has got to be one of the riskiest jobs, aside from deciding to put on Stormtrooper armor (mainly because the boss sucks, the armor’s not much better, and their weapons are the worst kind of defective junk one could expect to find). And I do blame the equipment because no one who has gone through at least basic firearms training could miss that badly that often without it being a design flaw in the equipment.
Overall, I felt the first episode was a great spot to begin the next series of stories, particularly after the teasing shot during the ending (which I’m not going to spoil because that wouldn’t be any fun). I’m excited to see where the story goes, particularly since we know that a favorite of the “Star Wars” animated shows will be making a live-action appearance this season. My only concern is that the sophomore slump could occur at some point. Most shows like this come out of the gate with a great first season because the focus was on building the world and making sure we as the audience understand the stakes at play. Hopefully, Jon Favreau and the writers of the show are keeping that in mind as they carry the story forward.