From the beginning of The Mandalorian, when Mando hooked up with Baby Yoda, he was charged with returning the tyke to “his kind”, but “his kind” turned out not to be the mysterious species to which Baby Yoda belongs, but to the Jedi. In and of itself, this is not catastrophically bad storytelling. We met a (former) Jedi in Ahsoka Tano and it didn’t kill the show.
Indeed, what The Mandalorian does well in season two is bring together threads of Star Wars canon from non-movie stories like the animated shows Clone Wars and Rebels, and even a reference to “Operation Cinder” from the Star Wars Battlefront II video game. The Mandalorian became a way to fill in some gaps between the original trilogy and the sequel trilogy, and it is pretty good at doing that. Without ever directly invoking the First Order or anything from the sequel trilogy, season two makes it clear that the Rebel victory in the original trilogy is not a magic bullet, that political chaos continues to reign, and that for many people, life under the New Republic is no different than life under the Empire. Meigs Mayfield (Bill Burr) returns in episode seven to make this point, that for many, who is in control of the galaxy does not improve their life on the ground. (Benicio Del Toro’s character, DJ, made this point in The Last Jedi, too.)
Throughout the season, we see that in effect, as even post-Empire, many of citizens of the newly minted New Republic are still living hard-scrabble lives, with no one to help them except themselves. This is the most interesting ground The Mandalorian covers, and Mando and Grogu hop-scotching across the galaxy gave a fuller sense of the galaxy, and how little Jedi and Skywalkers actually have to do with it all. The Force is a fringe religion, the vast majority of people go their whole lives without ever seeing a Jedi, and The Mandalorian gives us a view into what it would be like to be a nobody in Luke Skywalker’s galaxy. The developing father-son dynamic of Mando and Grogu is the show’s emotional fulcrum, and side stories like Ahsoka Tano’s quest for Ezra Bridger or Bo-Katan’s desire to rebuild Mandalore add some narrative color to the margins which enhance the show without detracting from the everyday mundanity of it.
But then HE showed up.
The final three episodes of the season are the most serialized storytelling the show has done yet, as Moff Gideon succeeds in capturing Grogu after Mando takes him to Tython to try and signal another Force-user that Grogu is in want of a mentor. Thus separated, Mando must assemble a team to try and get Grogu back. He goes to Cara Dune (Gina Carano), now a marshal on Nevarro for the New Republic. She helps him spring Mayfield from a prison work camp, and they make a run on a secret Empire mining base to find the coordinates of Moff Gideon’s ship. A lot of The Mandalorian feels like missions for a video game, and this is no different, though the reappearance of Mayfield does a lot to shade in the true state of the galaxy. It’s also nice to see The Mandalorian jumping off the lore it built itself and not relying too much on outside Star Wars stories for its narrative engine. In the final episode, though, that all goes off the rails.
After acquiring the coordinates, Mando and Dune let Mayfield go, and then fetch Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) and Koska Reeves (Sasha Banks) to help them invade Gideon’s Imperial cruiser. Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) also comes along, though Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) does not (The Mandalorian sets up a Boba Fett spin-off I do not care about at all). Mando has a crack team of top space ladies to help him get Grogu back, and the sequence in which they storm the Imperial cruiser is really good. I don’t hate this show! A lot of it is immensely entertaining and enjoyable, and the relationship that develops between Mando and Grogu is genuinely emotional and moving. I’m just disappointed that, in the end, The Mandalorian reinforces how small Star Wars really is as a narrative.
The most interesting thing that happens in the finale is that Mando defeats Gideon in a fight, which makes Mando the owner of the Darksaber (Elder Wand rules apply, I guess). This puts Mando into direct conflict with Bo-Katan, his ally. This is a GREAT set up for season three, not least because it builds off lore introduced by and now central to The Mandalorian itself. This show is self-propelling, it doesn’t need Jedi to make things happen, and the fact that Grogu is Force-sensitive is just an interesting character detail. But the excitement of The Mandalorian going off completely in its own direction is short-lived. As Mando and his team are under attack by a group of indomitable droid Dark Troopers, a mysterious cloaked figure arrives onboard. Armed with a blazing green lightsaber, he cuts through the Dark Troopers in a scene directly inspired by the Darth Vader Rogue One scene. And then, there he is: young Luke Skywalker in all his de-aged glory.
Mark Hamill returns as Luke, his gummy CGI face claiming he will mentor Grogu. If you think this was the only possible answer to who could mentor Grogu, remember that Ezra Bridger, another Jedi dropout like Ahsoka Tano, is also somewhere in the galaxy—he was even name-checked in a previous episode. Ezra could have taken Grogu, which would have continued The Mandalorian’s role expanding Star Wars away from Skywalkers and suggested a growing group of non-Jedi Force users at work in the galaxy. This would create more room for other Star Wars stories to continue spreading out, away from Skywalkers. But instead, we’re reinforcing that anything of significance that happens in this galaxy can only happen if a f-cking Skywalker shows up. God forbid ANY piece of Star Wars storytelling not have anything to do with the Skywalkers.
And look, I get it, the scene when Luke shows up is very cool. It is not technically bad filmmaking, and in a purely emotional sense it works. It is designed to punch your nostalgia button, and it punches that button hard. But Star Wars has shown a complete inability to tell stories without Skywalkers for 40-plus years. I look at the slate of upcoming Star Wars projects and I wonder how can this narratively tiny universe truly support all this storytelling? At this point, I think it’s inevitable we’re going to see someone cast as “young Luke Skywalker” because all these stories like The Mandalorian season three and Rogue Squadron are going to happen when Luke is still amongst the galaxy. Sebastian Stan jokes aside, that prospect does not excite me.
All I have ever wanted from New New Star Wars are new stories about new people doing new things in new places. We have yet to see it. We just keep reinforcing that this is all about Skywalkers and special blood and I am just so tired of it. I thought The Mandalorian would be our ticket out of the Skywalker black hole at the center of the Star Wars galaxy, but instead, we’re right back where we started: not one goddamn thing can happen without a Skywalker’s presence. The Mandalorian became yet another victim of the circular logic of Star Wars, that EVERYTHING must revolve around Skywalkers. No matter how promising a new piece of Star Wars storytelling seems, I fear we’re always going to end up here, staring down a Skywalker and the sense that this world is incredibly small, despite its galactic setting.