The Mandalorian is the best thing to happen to Star Wars since A New Hope. I know, I know. Everyone has their own barometer of what constitutes the perfect Star Wars story. Many think The Empire Strikes Back is the pinnacle of the series. Some are devotees of the animated series The Clone Wars.
And then there are the vegans of Star Wars fans; The Last Jedi fundamentalists. How do you know if someone thinks The Last Jedi is the finest film of all? Don’t worry. They’ll tell you.
And then, there’s Mando. Season one of The Mandalorian blew the dust off the franchise, presenting viewers with a clean, fresh take on the genre. At the same time, Mando is a complete throwback; a love-letter to the revisionist Westerns of Sergio Leone. It’s also the first story in the series to truly hearken back to George Lucas’s beloved Kurosawa. In a way, it brings the franchise ambling back to where it all began.
Maybe that’s why it hits so hard. It’s come full circle.
The Mandalorian Chapter 9 – The Marshal
But enough about series one!
We’re here to wax lyrical about the season two debut, which blasted it’s way onto our screens last night. 2020 has been an absolute Sarlaac Pit of a year, digesting us slowly in a viscous miasma of caustic juices. It might seem odd to say that this episode is a shining light in an at times insurmountable void of drama and tragedy, but… hey. That’s kind of what it was. Episode 9 of The Mandalorian, The Marshal, is a triumph.
Season one culminated in The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) obtaining a full set of pristine Beskar steel and adopting The Child (aka Baby Yoda) as a member of his clan. His mission now is to reunite the little green guy with his people. This is something of a tall order, given that chronologically, Yoda is dead (The Mandalorian is set in the wake of Return of the Jedi, with the universe coming to terms with the Empire having fallen). But Mando has a way to find his way through space and towards his destination: he needs to find living Mandalorians.
And guess what?
There’s one, he’s told after a brilliant opening fracas, on a planet we all know rather well.
The weakest two episodes of the first season were Episode 4: Sanctuary, and Episode 5: The Gunslinger. Episode 4 was a somewhat cloying rehash of the Seven Samurai trope; wandering rogue trains village of hapless villagers to fight off invaders. Not only had it been done before, but after the dizzying highs of the preceding four episodes, it felt like filler. Episode 5 was downright awful, bringing up soaring into the sandy dunes of Tatooine, where Mando met the single worst character of the season, an irritating young gunslinger named Toro (played by Jake Cannavale, who later got in trouble for sledging Episode 9 on Instagram in an insanely unprofessional series of posts). The episode felt like bad fan service, throwing up beloved locales and squandering them.
Episode 9, however, does something remarkable. It has Mando helping a town of people fight against something far, far more dangerous than they’re capable of standing up to on their own, but it does so deftly and with the kind of joyousness that makes Star Wars so great. In short, it does what Episode 4 tried to do, but better. And of course, the whole thing unfolds on Tatooine, but while Filoni’s disappointing Episode 5 felt trite, this time around it feels vital.
Perhaps this is because Jon Favreau wrote and directed Episode 9, whereas Dave Filoni handled Episode 5 – he’s a genius, but live action and animation are two very different beasts.
There are several reveals within The Marshal. Actually, there are three, and they’re utterly brilliant, but also strikingly different. The first, as the name of the episode would imply, is The Marshal himself. The moment he walks into the bar where Mando is asking questions, and the moment we see the iconic, battered armour of none other than Boba Fett, we know it’s not big green himself.
The man inside the armour this time around is leaner, for one. But the moment he began to speak, I had vivid flashbacks to Deadwood, to Justified, and I knew it was Timothy Olyphant. It’s inspired casting, in part because Olyphant is the single handsomest and most charismatic man in the whole entire world. But mostly, it’s genius on account of Olyphant’s ability to play a cowboy lawman with an effortlessness than makes every line he drawls such a joy to watch.
Season one of Mando was essentially flawless, but it did on occasion miscast some characters (The Gunslinger being the chief perpetrator). Here, The Marshal (who becomes Mando’s offsider throughout much of the episode) becomes the vital, scowling heart of the story. By the time the credits rolled, I’d added another unforgettable Star Wars scoundrel with a heart of gold to the pantheon of great Star Wars characters.
The second big reveal is… look. Odds are you’ve seen the episode. If you’re reading this, you’ve maybe even seen it twice. But Favreau pulls a trick which is at once subtle and exhilarating in The Marshal. And I’m about to talk about it breathlessly, so if you’ve not seen the episode, put this review down, watch it, and come back.
Here we go.
YOU ARE NOW ENTERING SPOILER TOWN.
As The Marshal, Mando, and their assembled crew face off against the truly enormous Krayt Dragon, and as the beast rumbles towards them with all the heft of an ocean liner tearing up out of the ground at a hundred miles an hour… the aspect ratio changes. The black bars recede as if to make room for the voluminous maw of the beast, and our heroes recoil. It’s as if their quarry has broken the show. I’m huge, it seems to be saying to the makers of The Mandalorian. You’re going to have to make room for me, NOW.
The fight against the dragon is properly scary and high-stakes because as viewers, we’re now watching our screens struggle to contain the thrashing, explosive heft of this burrowing horror. And only when the dust settles, when everything calms down, do the bars reappear. It is, if I’m honest, the best and strangest thing I’ve seen in any iteration of Star Wars. And the best part? They can’t do it again. It’s a glorious one-off, and I might never stop talking about it.
The third reveal, as you know (because you’ve done as I asked and seen the episode)… is Boba Fett. The REAL Boba Fett, played by Temeura Morrison, scarred from his time in the belly of the Sarlaac, wearing svelte black robes and bearing gaffi sticks on his back. Given the gorgeous new friendship between Mando and The Marshal, it’s a sure bet that our hero will be back on Tatooine this season, and when that happens, I fully expect to see Mando meet Boba.
The Marshal was an absolute barn-burner of an episode and a pretty flawless way to reopen the story of The Mandalorian. But if season one is anything to go by, I’m going to avoid spoilers and trailers where I can. The Mandalorian is a lot like blue milk: it’s best served cold. After all, Mando has no idea what dangers he’ll be facing each week. Why should we go in any different?