Published on December 28th, 2020 | by Noah Dimitrie0
Why Season 2 of The Mandalorian Spells Doom for the Series
The Second Season of The Mandalorian has proven itself to be flashier than the first. But its storytelling has devolved into a plodding Disney formula.
The Mandalorian is the type of show I would’ve gone apeshit over if I was 13. And that’s not really meant to be a derogatory claim, despite it sounding snobby and elitist. It’s just meant as a way of expressing this show’s cunning simplicity. The Disney + flagship series is procedural in a Saturday morning cartoon kind of way but sophisticated in its vision and logical in its execution. It’s also a true touchstone in stroking that Star Wars-geek G-spot. In essence, it’s all the things the latest Star Wars trilogy tried and failed to be: universally salient, not just to the dumb kids who absorb the sheer fact of movies into their bloodstream but also to the average jaded adult filmgoer. The Mandalorian is precise and thorough without being boring. It’s a factory sealed success.
And that’s maybe my biggest problem with it. It is, or I should say ‘is becoming,’ a kind of processed cheese equivalent to sophisticated sci-fi. It’s ideas, its themes becoming increasingly ironed out by its fetish for fan service. And as Season 2 breezed through its 8 episodes in the last couple months, I couldn’t help but notice that while the stakes were technically bigger, they also felt much less suspenseful.
It’s obviously not for a lack of trying. The Mandalorian is bigger and bolder and louder in every way than it was in its first 8 episodes. But it’s storytelling mechanics are quite obstructively too good, too logical, that they tend to fall into a classic pitfall of the kind of franchise fare that has mass appeal.
What started out as the makings of a finely crafted, if somewhat predictable, character arc became something much more convoluted. And to make matters worse, the convolutions are not even so much in service of an arc in Season 2 so much as they manufacture Twitter mentions. The appearances of Ahsoka Tano, Bo Khatan, and Bobba Fett—each of which have their own dedicated episode—take attention away from Mando and place it on possible spin-off series. One could argue it’s because The Mandalorian’s central arc was rather easily telegraphed, but I think the problem is something more symptomatic of its enormous popularity in a rather rocky franchise.
Everything is a mission to find a thing so they can locate a person who will tell them to find a place which will reveal the all-so-certain truth that they must find another thing. Season 2 finds itself caught in this loop, whereas the First was merely a thorough introduction. It had a firm vision of itself as a story, not a series of incidents clunkily strung together. Mando finds The Child, forges a bond with The Child, protects The Child. Three acts. Boom, done. So what do you do in the Second Season? You find something for him to do with The Child, and this is where the show hits a slippery slope—it’s solution veers from the show’s central path. It’s a sequel rather than a continuation of one story. And what do most sequels do—they clog up a well-oiled machine with extra bells and whistles and macguffins.
Each one of Season Two’s primary introductions into wider Star Wars lore—which essentially is the real plot of the season—are less and less effective. Bo Khatan is interesting until you realize her only real impact is to tell Mando to go to another place. Ahsoka Tano: same thing. By the time they get around to Boba Fett, the show is just rinsing and repeating. The team that emerges from these adventures feels like it only exists to move the show along to the next episode. No real substantial connective tissue. No real emotional connection. And then there’s Baby Yoda, or should I say Grogu, who becomes less of a character and more of a nifty appliance that needs fixing. And a show can only tell us directly about two character’s bond so many times before it becomes ham-fisted. When he was kidnapped by the Dark Troopers, I felt nothing because I knew he’d be okay. And when the uncanny valley deepfake of Luke Skywalker reclaims him in the final episode, I felt lie I had just tuned into the last 10 minutes of E.T. without seeing the first 90. It was sad enough, I guess, but I didn’t feel sad for the characters. I felt like I was being told to be sad.
Everything felt like it built up to a phony conclusion in Season 2. It walked the walk well enough to make a splash, and the show’s slick style wet the appetites of Star Wars sycophants. But when you peel back the lush cinematography and production design, you have a real problem of a show, the kind that is already wrapped up with a big bow and handed to you, that it loses any real character it once had. And even when the show does touch on grander themes, like the Empire vs. Republic and how power on both sides leaves collateral damage, it does so only to stoke the fire of its viewers imaginations and fan theories. “Let them forge the thematic connections, we don’t need to bother.”
And Star Wars as a franchise may just be a series of ideas that are better extrapolated upon by its fans rather than its actual creators. The heavy borrowing of The Mandalorian from spin-offs, outside lore and apocryphal sub-divisions of the story only proves this unfortunate point. Going forward, I’d love to see The Mandalorian actually figure out what it wants to say with its masked mercenary. Because while it may sell a bunch of Legos and spin off a Bobba Fett show, it certainly hasn’t earned the right to phone in the important stuff in exchange for surface-level bells and whistles and plodding storytelling. While it may be fun eye candy, it is slowly but surely losing its grip as a drama. Once again, the Disney machine is diluting something that once had promise.