Disney thoroughly mucked up Star Wars as a big-screen franchise with the dreadful The Rise of Skywalker (aka the Sinking of George Lucas’s Life’s Work). Yet there’s new hope for the saga with The Mandalorian. It isn’t just the only thing worth watching on Disney + (sorry Jeff Goldblum). It also offers a glimpse of the intergalactic juggernaut Star Wars could once again become.
Series one has already handed Disney the merchandising opportunity of a generation in Baby Yoda – a cutesy space infant that can move objects with its mind and melt hearts with its adorable gerbil eyes. As series two arrives, however, the big talking point is that the episode run time has doubled to slightly shy of an hour.
That’s good news as perhaps the only flaw with The Mandalorian to date is that there wasn’t enough of it (new “chapters” will arrive weekly). Also back in an action-packed and riotously over-the-top first instalment is Pedro Pascal as the eponymous Man in the Shiny Helmet.
He’s a member of an enigmatic order of interstellar bounty hunters sworn to never remove their headgear in company (which is weird in most circumstances but especially if you find yourself standing next to one at a bathroom stall).
“Mando” is still self-appointed custodian of The Child, aka Baby Yoda, aka potentially the last living thing in the universe with the ability to manipulate the Force. That makes the protagonist sound a bit like a Lone Gunslinger with a baby carrier, which is essentially what he is.
The Spaghetti Western veneer is polished to a shiny finish by director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Lion King), returning to oversee the opening episode. With Giancarlo Esposito’s appalling Moff Gideon on their tail since the season one finale, the Mandalorian and the Child have set off in search of fellow members of the hero’s secret society. These are duty bound to help reunite the Baby Yoda with the Jedi.
The great thing about Favreau’s approach is that he doesn’t get bogged down in the needlessly complex plotting that blights so much prestige TV – and, for that matter, recent Star Wars films. Instead, he carves a sharp through-line through the story. The action proceeds briskly from a face-off with a one-eyed alien with a wrestling fetish to the planet Tatooine, aka Luke Skywalker’s old neighbourhood.
Tatooine is the hideout of one of the few other Mandalorians in the galaxy (or so the one eyed alien claims). Awkwardly, it transpires that the sacred Mandalorian armour Mando is tracking has in fact been swiped by a local marshall (Timothy Olyphant). Mando needs the kit – for reasons that are vague – but Olyphant’s law enforcement official will comply only if the newcomer agrees to assist in eliminating the Frank Herbert-sque Sandworm terrorising the locality.
Doing so, Mando explains, will require the townsfolk to strike an alliance with Tatooine’s native Tusken Raiders. Yes, the ones wrapped in space towels who biffed up Luke in the first Star Wars.
This is where the show’s Disney qualities shine through. Former foes must join forces, learn that really they’re all the same under the space towels, and gang up on the horrific “Krayt Dragon”.
Favreau is careful, though, not to lay on the sermonising too heavily. He is far more interested in fleshing out the icky details of the dragon, a sentient, super-sized log which spumes disgusting green goo. Some of us have waited years for a Star Wars spin-off in which the heroes are doused in glow-in-the-dark vomit.
The Mandalorian is now confirmed to be the series we’ve been looking for. The baleful barfing is merely a final hurrah, however, as the monster goes kablamo when Mando leads an elephant-like Bantha laden with explosives down its gullet.
If you’re wondering when Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and John Boyega pop up, the good news is that The Mandalorian is set decades before Disney’s ghastly “Skywalker” trilogy and after the events chronicled in Return of the Jedi.
So Darth Vader’s Galactic Empire has collapsed and the galaxy has sunk into a state of perpetual anarchy. Chaos has likewise characterised recent Disney attempts to retool Star Wars as a Marvel-like all-conquering franchise. The Mandalorian jet-packs past all that nonsense. Series one was the best Star Wars in decades. And, on this evidence, series two is shaping up to be even better.