The Mandalorian season 2 review: Killer action and a major Star Wars tease
Chapter 9: The Marshal, streaming now on Disney Plus, hints at Star Wars connections, but not too much. Here's our spoiler-free review.
Richard TrenholmFormer Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
The episode titles for season 2 roll on from season 1, so this hour-long premiere installment, streaming now on Disney Plus, is titled Chapter 9: The Marshal. It opens with the laconic and iconic bounty hunter arriving at an underground fight club alongside a typically multifaceted Star Wars crowd, and the action goes from there. The Mando is traveling the galaxy with Baby Yoda -- officially known as "the Child," but whatever -- searching for the foundling's family. But first he needs to find some fellow Mandalorians -- taking them to a planet all Star Wars fans will recognize (we won't spoil it -- no spoilers in this review).
Viewers who know anything about the show's Wild West influences will also recognize what follows. This episode isn't called "The Marshal" for nothing, as the Mando rides into a dusty frontier town to the twanging of a guitar and tolling of a bell. To complete the Western genre allusions, gunslinging Justified and Deadwood star Timothy Olyphant saddles up alongside our heroes.
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In no time at all, the Mando, the Child and the Marshal are embroiled in another Star Wars-flavored adventure. Like the first season, it seems season 2 will feature more standalone adventures stuffed with bounty hunters and backstabbers on the fringes of the galaxy. In the plus-sized season 2 episode 1, new characters and uneasy alliances already form in a fun romp across the distant desert.
The climax of the first season saw the plot thicken with the appearance of Imperial warlord Moff Gideon, which raised big questions when we saw him wield an interesting twist on a signature Star Wars weapon. Once a TV show's bigger plot is set up, it can be hard to scale your interest back down to monster-of-the-week episodes as the Mandalorian yet again runs into a relatively small problem that can be solved inside 25 minutes. If this first episode is anything to go by, the format of the show will remain the same even though the Mando and the Child are on a new quest: They ride into town and team up with a fellow shady type to fight a local menace.
Unless done well, these kind of episodes can feel like side quests filling in time before we get back to the overarching story. This first episode of season 2 certainly runs that risk as the extended run-time actually riffs on the plot of one of the earliest episodes of the show's previous season.
Still, Chapter 9: The Marshal enjoyably levels up from the desert creature of that earlier episode. It's an epic cinematic adventure on a scale that gives the forthcoming Dune movie a run for its money. Even if the story is relatively small in scope, the visuals and effects are huge and spectacular.
And hey, even if The Marshal is comfortably familiar, it's just a pleasure to be back in this universe. It's so much fun to hang out with Baby Yoda and the badass in a mask, flying round space, blowing stuff up, seeing cool Star Wars stuff happen, watching guest stars have fun. And all in a family-friendly, gorgeous-looking, bite-size form.
Even when the Mando is engaged in a quest that isn't directly related to the bigger story, the mini adventure is still rich with interest for Star Wars fans. The first season shrewdly stayed away from direct links to the movies, avoiding the kind of knotted and contradictory continuity that plagued the prequel trilogy movies. But let's face it, everybody is waiting with bated breath to find out how The Mandalorian will tie in with the story of the original armored bounty hunter Boba Fett. This second season goes ahead and teases its connection with Star Wars lore right from the start, but in a vague enough way to hook Star Wars fans without going too far. (Check out a roundup of the connections and Easter eggs in season 2 episode 1 right here.)
As well as a tantalizing hint of the moment we're all waiting for, season 2 builds on season 1 as it places the show within the wider Star Wars universe. We don't need gimmicky cameos by movie characters to tie in with the saga as a whole, and The Marshal offers something arguably much richer. Instead of bringing in characters we recognize, the episode shows a major moment from the films, and, more importantly, what happened next.
The Mandalorian's galaxy-roaming remit and its place in the timeline between the trilogies makes it well placed to explore how the sections of the Star Wars saga connect. The brief flashbacks in this episode give an intriguing look at the power and politics of rebellion, examining what victory means for the people on the fringes.
Then, of course, it's back to the fights.
Special mention should once again go to the triumphant electro soundtrack by Ludwig Göransson. The music has always seemed suitably sparse and low-key, as laconic as the show's characters, but when the main theme kicks in this time it feels as soaring and iconic as any piece of music from the Star Wars movies.
The Mandalorian is well and truly back to brighten up the end of 2020. Don't fight it, enjoy it.
Check out our recaps for all the Mandalorian's Easter eggs and important Star Wars continuity references: