Review by Tim Robins
Another season of The Mandalorian has ended, but this time it’s met with a lukewarm response from commentators. That’s a pity. I enjoyed it, although I can give or take the cult of Mandalore and their backstory, all of which is nonsense of the highest order.
The Mandalorian, called Djarin from here on, is the helmeted bounty hunter and begrudging hero of the series. In this season of eight episodes, he attempts to restore his honour by returning to the homeworld Mandalore, and taking a bath in the Waters of Life. Djarin’s main transgression was allowing someone to see him without his helmet. But in the make-it-up-as-we-go-along galaxy of Star Wars, the entire season is about uniting the Mandalorian by waving this requirement. “This is the way!” turns out to be “Actually, there is another way!”. Now they tell us.
In Season One, there was a bit of consternation around Djarin showing his face to audiences, let alone to other characters. Reportedly, Pedro Pascal, who plays the titular Mandalorian, was only going to be paid as a voice-over actor. Pascal, understandably, declined this offer and his face was revealed. Ironically, in The Mandalorian Season Three, Pascal’s commitment to ‘The Last of Us’ has meant it is rarely Pascal even in the costume.
Hollywood stars have an aversion to hiding their faces behind masks. It also makes it hard on the audience when denied facial expression which, at the very least , shows who is talking. Not every character can come equipped with The Daleks’ flashing head lights. Fortunately, the resolutely helmeted Djarin is partnered by the mostly helmetless Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), a disaffected Mandolorian sulking on the world Kryze, having abandoned her attempts to restore the Mandalore Clan after losing the Darksaber to Moff Gideon (a role brought to villainous life by Giancario Esposito of Breaking Bad fame).
Then there’s “Baby Yoda” Grogu. The effects used to bring the character to life tread a tightrope between credibility and puppetry. Grogu’s force power is to be irresistibly cute despite – or perhaps because of – his rubbery face and CGI assisted tendency to bounce around a scene like a ping-pong ball on the loose. One of this season’s arcs sees Grogu attempting to become a Mandalorian under the tutelage of Djorin. Awww. Grogu’s most entertaining moments are when he is given the shell of a droid, IG-11 no less, to stomp around in while pressing buttons marked ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ according to his mood.
I’m not entirely sure why anyone would want to be a Mandalorian. They are a silly bunch, prone to making poor decisions. One of these is holding an induction ceremony for youngsters in an open area infested with monsters, including a ‘Dinosaur Turtle’ (sic) and an ugly bird thing in search of food for its young. The Mandalorians’ response to these creatures is pretty pathetic. Ray Harryhausan’s heroes would soon have seen the creatures off. And why couldn’t the clan make a pit of sacred water inside their cave? But most inexplicable of all is their jet packs, which seem to last only as long as the plot requires.
That said, The Mandalorian is the most successful Star Wars spin off on TV. If early seasons, particularly Season One, cleaved rather too close to the Spaghetti Western genre, the new season manages a happier mix of genres, even if we get a small town menaced by bandits. Individual episodes are digressionary but involving. I enjoyed the quasi-comedic attempt to discover why droids on planet Plazir-15 were malfunctioning, an investigation that leads to ‘The Resistor’, a seedy bar for droids. Ho ho. All very 2000AD and all the better for it.
Episode 3, takes a welcome diversion into 1984 territory, with a story focussed on the fate of Dr Pershing, last seen sampling Grogu’s blood on behalf of Moff Gideon. Life for those being rehabilitated from Imperial allegiances , consists of drudgery,drab concrete apartments and gloomy meals with fellow reprobates. Pershing is lured back to his cloning ways but things turn out about as badly as you might expect.
What works is the totality of the Star Wars universe, which has the breezy freedom to introduce all manner of silly droids and creatures against an expansive, Space Opera background. The series never loses its sense of adventure. We get to see Grogu’s escape from Naboo and a confrontation between Gideon’s forces and the Mandalorians bent on resettling Mandalore. There’s spaceships and jet packs galore, and the special effects are rarely unconvincing.
I’m not at all sure Season Three will attract anyone not already on board with Star Wars, but, after the disappointing Book of Bobba Fett, this is the way! At least for now.
• The Mandalorian is available on Disney+
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