Having arrived at the midway point of The Mandalorian Season 2, this feels like an appropriate time to look at how far the groundbreaking, Emmy-nominated drama has come over the last few weeks. And the answer, on a plot level, happens to be “not far.” Over the course of four episodes, all of which clock in at over half an hour, if not more, Mando has done a great job of getting his ship banged up, tussling with a wild assortment of alien creatures, making some new friends, reconnecting with some old ones, and keeping Baby Yoda alive while trying to track down someone who will know where Baby Yoda’s people might be.
It’s understandable if you’re frustrated with the show as it stands right now; it certainly doesn’t feel as electric as it was during its first season. But a lot of the frustration with The Mandalorian comes down to what we want the show to be, not what the show is. Certain patterns have been established, including a far more leisurely pace than, quite honestly, we’re used to from our Star Wars stories: Each episode hasn’t lacked for action: Chapter 9’s krayt dragon confrontation, Chapter 10’s escape from the ice spiders, Chapter 11’s heist adventure, and Chapter 12’s attack on the Imperial base have all been more than competently made action setpieces around which to structure an episode. But their varying degrees of essentialness is the problem.
I’m not the first to say that the story structure can’t help but remind one of traditional video games (“Mando, I need you to do me a favor” has become such an oft-repeated trope that drinking game players, beware) — specifically, side quests that technically advance the plot a little further thanks to some new nugget of information. But the reason quests are compelling is that there are strong characters at their core. Our protagonist Din Djarin (in case you forgot, that’s Mando’s actual name) was always going to be hard to bring to life as more than a cypher, and so far this season has lacked standout moments like his surprisingly tender connection with hot widow Omera (Julia Jones) last season. His one notable bit of personal growth — he didn’t trust droids until IG-11 sacrificed its life for his in the Season 1 finale — isn’t much to hang a character on, especially when you can’t see his face.
Sure, his unflagging loyalty to Baby Yoda makes him our precious Space Daddy, but while some of the show’s best comedy comes from him struggling with his parental duties, there’s also so far a very neglected subplot about Mando’s fitness as a parent — like why he thinks it’s a good idea to ask his young ward to help out with dangerous on-ship repairs…
Look, it’s so easy to get knotted up in the details of The Mandalorian, which is to the show’s credit, because existing as it does on the edges of the Star Wars universe, figuratively and literally, those details are a fascinating look at a story world which we typically only get to understand on an epic scale. One of the great moments of this season so far was Chapter 9’s flashback to the night the second Death Star was destroyed, as experienced by the people of Mos Pelgo: A moment of triumph, witnessed remotely, only to be cast under shadow thanks to the Mining Collective swooping in to ruin the party — a reminder that power always abhors a vacuum.
But sometimes, that sense of scale feels off. Our own Vinnie Mancuso put it best when taking on the most controversial issue of our time:
Appropriately enough for the halfway point, Chapter 12, “The Siege,” offered up some real and substantial information about why exactly Baby Yoda is a point of interest for the Empire (yep, we’re back to talking about midi-chlorians, y’all). And the back half of the season might accelerate the action, now that Mando seems to have the key pieces he needs to get closer to his one goal: reunite Baby Yoda with his people.
And let’s talk about that, by the way, as it’s probably the one big decision coming soon to our pal Din that might define him as a character: He’s clearly become fond of the Child, as the show will always insist on calling him, but will it be hard for him to let go? Of all the likely things to come in this season, including the arrival of Ahsoka Tano and a face-off with Moff Gideon and his darksaber, it’s the one I’m most intrigued by, because that sequence will tell us more about this person than a thousand stormtrooper slapdowns.
It’s also a moment that is one of many completely disconnected from the main Star Wars narrative, which feels like a big part of its appeal to its creators. Anyone who comes to play in a sandbox as well-established as this one does so knowing that they’re playing with someone else’s toys at the end of the day. However, Mike Ryan at Uproxx brought up this week the idea that creator Jon Favreau is literally influenced by toys — specifically the Kenner Star Wars line that made Boba Fett a childhood obsession for so many in the late 1970s. Executive producer Dave Filoni in his own way is also playing with toys — specifically pre-established characters like last week’s Bo-Katan and Ahsoka Tano from the animated series.
And that’s good! Despite awkward beats, lines of dialogue you can see coming a million miles away, and the occasional instance of a toddler attempting genocide, I gotta say I’m having fun here! After months without movie theaters, it’s hard to get mad at a show which is delivering, on just a smaller scale than usual, space battles and wisecracking aliens and Timothy Olyphant doing Olyphant things. Hell, it was even nice to see Gina Carano return this week (despite her social media antics of late giving me plenty of reason to wish Cara Dune would pull a Poochie, though I suppose she can’t return to her home planet… too soon?).
Most importantly, the quiet ways in which this take on the Star Wars universe manages to feel a little bit more wild, dangerous, and also inclusive than what’s come before are all to be commended. But to really embrace it appears to require settling into the idea of just moseying along with Space Lone Wolf and Cub, waiting patiently for the few things we know are going to happen, and in the meantime just enjoying the view, whether that be the beautifully rendered digital vistas, Timothy Olyphant doing Olyphant things, landspeeders plummeting over the cliffs, or Baby Yoda misbehaving. It’s hard to get that excited about the destination right now. But it’s not hard to enjoy the trip.