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‘The Mandalorian: The Complete First Season’ and ‘The Complete Second Season’ Blu-ray (review)

Disney

 

Following the sequel trilogy, Star Wars fans like myself had all but given up on Star Wars. The Prequels and Sequels were fine, but that’s their problem. They were just fine.nnnn

Then came The Mandalorian.

Not since 1983’s Return of the Jedi have Star Wars fandom universally celebrated an adventure from our favorite far, far away galaxy.

Fans will argue over the quality of the Prequel and Sequel trilogies, and the stand-alone Rouge One and Solo Star Wars stories. And with good reason. As with every feature film and Television show ever committed to film or digital capture, their success comes down to one thing: storytelling. These efforts failed telling stories that resonate as potently as the Star Wars original trilogy. That’s why there’s such vigorous disagreement across fandom over these films.

Great storytelling is why The Mandalorian works and works in spades. Seasons one and two especially. Sure, not every episode of the sixteen episodes between the two seasons is perfect. But, when it works, The Mandalorian brings out the ten-year-old in me and inspires me to tell great character and story driven adventures.

The pilot episode, Chapter 1: The Mandalorian, does everything right. The tone of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western is set immediately introducing our hero, the mysterious Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal), a bounty hunter clad in armor and his helmet which he is honor bound to never remove. No nonsense. Tough. Very good at his job, eking out an existence in the post Galactic Empire. A nefarious client, an Imperial remnant, engages our hero’s services and off we go.

Along the way we meet Quiil (Voiced by Nick Nolte), a free Ugnaught living on the planet our hero’s query is located. Quiil invokes the wise mystic, and even better, his repeated phrase “I have spoken,” resonates with us and begins to infiltrate pop culture. The Mandalorian creed “This is the way” also gives the audience an effective phrase to use in everyday life. Code for: I watch The Mandalorian and I’m a fan. Clever writing.

Along comes IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi), an assassin droid, the same model as The Empire Strikes Back’s mysterious IG-88, hunting for the same mark. Our hero now knows that his client lied and that his contract is not exclusive. Since 1980, fans have been wanting to see an IG assassin droid in action and IG-11 doesn’t disappoint. The interplay between the droid and The Mandalorian is simply fun as they work together to defeat the baddies holding the Mark captive. The action sequence is sublime filmmaking.

Having achieved victory, Mando and IG-11 find the Mark. It’s a child. But not just any child – a Yoda child. Yoda, the wise mystic of all wise mystics, second only to Gandalf the Grey. Our minds are blown. Not only has The Mandalorian’s universe changed, so has ours.

IG-11’s orders are: terminate the child. Our hero however, is not about to murder an innocent. That’s not what he signed up for. He destroys the assassin droid.

Written by Jon Favreau and directed by Dave Filoni, these filmmakers have just brought great storytelling and great characters back to Star Wars. Using a new LED screen backdrop technology called The Volume, we’re treated to a flawless and exotic looking galaxy that’s a feast for our eyes in every frame.

The remainder of the season is solid, but not without flaws.

Threads initiated in Chapter 1 are explored. Picking up from the animated series The Clone Wars, we learn that the once mighty race of Mandalorians were routed by the Empire and scattered throughout the galaxy. Homeless. Unwilling to see the innocent Child subjected to torturous Imperial experiments, our hero rescues The Child and discovers he has the power of The Force.

Both are now fugitives. Furthermore, The Mandalorian and The Child’s fates become intertwined as The Child is deemed a Foundling, one who is without a family bond. The Mandalorian, also called Mando, a foundling himself before taking The Mandalorian creed, is tasked to return The Child to his people, a mysterious religious cult called The Jedi.

We’re even teased with the return of Star Wars’ most popular character, Boba Fett (Temura Morrison), as well as learning what the infamous The Empire Strikes Back line, “no disintegrations” means.

Each episode is solidly made and directed by top directors such as Taika Waititi, Rick Famuyiwa and Bryce Dallas Howard. However, several in the middle, Chapters 4, 5 and 6, suffer from sidequestitus and fail to push the overall story arc forward in a meaningful way, save for introducing Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Fennic Shad (Ming-Na Wen), Migs Mayfeld (Bill Burr) and the controversial Mos Eisley grease monkey Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris).   All episodes still well worth watching.

What makes the series work is that out of the gate we experience something extraordinary. We quickly grow to love The Child. He’s just not cute and innocent. He’s stubborn, yet fiercely loyal and insatiably curious. All this from an animatronic puppet.

The standout is Chapter 6: The Prisoner. Your standard prison break episode, but self-contained, fun and character driven. Were introduced to Migs Mayfeld. I wasn’t a huge fan as the character was uncharismatic and a bit full of himself, but my opinion of him turns around one hundred and eighty degrees in season two. More on Migs later.

This episode also illustrates the fun the filmmakers are having within the Star Wars universe by making old new again. There’s floating R1 security units reminiscent of lumpy R1-G4 the Jawas were selling in the original Star Wars and the repurposed and recolored blue Imperial Security Trooper uniforms worn by the lone Republic security officer on board the prison ship.

Season one ends spectacularly over two episodes. Everyone is after The Child. Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), the head of Mando’s Bounty Hunters guild, lures Mando and The Child to make a deal. Knowing it’s a trap, Mando gathers his allies in Quiil, Cara Dune and the re-purposed IG-11, now programmed as a nanny droid. Sure, it’s a bit of the Magnificent Seven, aka The Seven Samurai, but these characters are wonderfully written. Even the Droid.

Greef Karga’s duplicity is the least of our worries, however. It’s the Imperial governor Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) who is revealed as the architect of the bounty on The Child, determined to exploit his ability to wield The Force.

As with the pilot, the finale achieves virtual perfection. We lose not one, but two of our heroes, upping the stakes for everyone. No one is safe. We finally get to see the man under the helmet, The Mandalorian himself, now known as Din Djarin. In defeat, we learn that Moff Gideon is no ordinary ambitious Imperial. He possesses the Dark Saber, a sacred Mandalorian laser sword held only by the ruler of Mandalore raising a whole host of questions and making us ravenous for season two.

Season One kept true to the spirt and themes of Star Wars, even without John Williams’ signature musical style. Instead, we’re treated to a cosmic western styled score. Each frame is beautifully composed visually, never for a moment overloading your visual inputs, unlike the prequels and sequels. We’re introduced to creatures and planets old and new and our expectations are continually subverted such as seeing an R2 Astromech modified to sprout arms and legs to act as a lava ferryman in the finale.

The entire experience feels as if the filmmakers are die-hard fans, bringing to the screen scenes that geek them out as much as they do us. Who didn’t think that the pirate confiscated Walker in Chapter 4 with its red lighted viewport eyes was as creepy as it was awesome?!

Season One’s excellence set a high bar, meaning that season two had deliver if The Mandalorian had any chance at all to stay relevant. A tall order.

Boy howdy, did it deliver!

The first episode began by succinctly reminding us who The Mandalorian and Grogu are and what their mission is: Return The Child to his people, the Jedi. We’re also introduced to a Star Wars novel character favorite: Marshall Cobb Vanth. The casting couldn’t be more brilliant with the most type-cast Marshall of them all, Timothy Olyphant. He’s just so good and charismatic as always.

Although the following episodes are side quest after side quest, they’re still lots of fun.

There’s something about Chapter 10 and the music that invokes a warm, fussy and safe 80’s movie feel before quickly devolving into a creature horror show.

We’re introduced to fellow Mandalorian Bo Katan in Chapter 11 played by Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackoff, who voiced the animated character in The Clone Wars. There’s a little head-scratching to be done as it had been at least 25 years since we saw her character, time-line wise, and she looks spectacular for her age. She and her companions also remove their helmets, shattering Din Djarin’s beliefs, calling him a cultist.

In Chapter 12 we discover that The Child’s abilities were exploited for use in cloning experiments. Clones that would lead to the sequel trilogy’s Snoke? We don’t know, but the speculation is fun.

The introduction of Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) in Chapter 13 sets into motion the finale and gives fans another detail to argue about: The Child’s name: Grogu. Ahsoka’s fights are superb and the imagery is taken from the acclaimed filmmaker Akira Kurosawa himself.

Needless to say, the quality of the filmmaking for Season Two remains on point. Top to bottom, every detail is simply a pleasure to watch.

What comes next are simply some of the best episodes of television I’ve seen in years.

Beginning with Chapter 14, aptly named The Tragedy, it’s been a long time since I’ve leaped up from my couch, mind blown by what’s happening. First, the return of Boba Fett. Seeing and hearing Slave One approaching was epic. Dark Troopers are unleashed! Droid units dating all the way back to the Dark Forces video game of the 90’s, cold and efficient. They capture Grogu. The stakes are raised. I’m glued to the screen.

But that’s not all.

Out of nowhere, Kablam! The Mandalorian’s ship, The Razorcrest, that’s been with us from the start, is utterly destroyed by Moff Gideon! I was in denial. Favreau and Filoni aren’t messing around. I haven’t been sucked into any sci-fi show this much since the Adama maneuver from the Battlestar Galactica reboot. Storytelling at its finest.

Chapter 15 is without a doubt a side quest to find Grogu’s location. But it’s also one of my favorites of the series. Only one man can help Mando and his team gain access to the Imperial network to find Moff Gideon and Grogu; Migs Mayfeld.

As I said earlier, Mayfeld wasn’t my favorite character. However, this time around, Bill Burr was given material worthy of an Emmy nomination. There’s a lot going on in this episode. The theme is devotion to a cause, and questioning how far one is willing to go for that cause.

We get that answer from both Din Djarin and Mayfeld. Given a choice between his devotion to The Mandalorian Creed and Grogu, Mando chooses Grogu by removing his helmet to find his location. A strict violation of his creed. With Mayfeld, when confronted by a former commander who committed horrific war crimes, Mayfeld elects to kill him. Part revenge, part prevention of more atrocities, this jeopardizes the success of Mando’s mission.

The finale is perfection. Joined by Cara Dune, Fennic Shad and Bo’Katan, Mando sets off to rescue Grogu from Moff Gideon.

One thing I love in particular about this series is the visual continuity with the original trilogy. The Empire Strikes Back, especially. Empire is a gorgeous film and there were many sequences on board Moff Gideon’s Imperial cruiser that invoked the epicness of the escape sequence of Cloud City.

The battalion of Dark Troopers are just brutal. Mando has a hard time taking out just one of them. Even when they’re sucked out into space, it isn’t the end of them. They just fly right back to the ship and corner our heroes, with rescued Grogu on the bridge. Pounding mercilessly on the thick blast doors, our heroes are no match.

When Grogu was kidnapped, per Ahsoka Tano, he was meditating at a Jedi spiritual site, calling out to the universe to find more Jedi. The Mandalorian’s mission.

We get our response in a sequence that kept me audibly repeating “no” in joyful disbelief. The filmmaking superb beyond description with carefully paced reveal.

First there’s the X-Wing. Which one? Red 5? A figure in a familiar black cloak. A green lightsaber effortlessly destroying the Dark Troopers, a Jedi!! A black gloved hand. It can’t be Luke Skywalker. Can it?

It is!! Mark Hamill (with some special effects assistance) returns to his iconic role.

The entire exercise is fan service done right! Not just this sequence, but the entire series so far.

Here’s the thing. The first two seasons of The Mandalorian were done so well and tell such a complete story that if The Mandalorian came back for season three without Grogu, I would have been just fine with it.

If the original trilogy was the Classical Era and the prequel/sequels the Dark Ages, The Mandalorian is surely the Renaissance.

Extras include concept art sketch cards, and featurettes.

 

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