The Mandalorian has dropped any pretenses it was still holding onto and is now fully embracing how different it can be.
Last season shattered expectations and, despite some flaws, managed to be one of the most interesting things to come from the Disney acquisition of the Star Wars franchise. Taking a cue from George Lucas’s original ideas for his story, the show pulls from Japanese cinema and the American Westerns in equal measure. Ol’ Georgie-Boy went for high class and took inspiration from Akira Kurosawa, but Filioni and Favreau have decided to take inspiration from the more fun Lone Wolf and Cub series. Kathleen Kennedy continues to oversee this endeavor and between the three of them we continue to get what is basically the live-action Samurai Jack series I always wanted.
“Chapter 9: The Marshall” is pretty much what I wanted from it. Many season announcements, from the castings of Temura Morrison and Rosario Dawson to the rumored return of Boba Fett (a character that only became popular with fanboys because he has rad armor, not because he actually does anything in the original trilogy), were frustrating because it all felt like fanservice. I’m exhausted by that. I want new from this franchise, things I haven’t seen before instead of what I already know and hold dear.
And then I just wound up loving this first episode for catering to my desires. I know, I suck like that.
Mando and the baby have been flying around the galaxy chasing rumors. The little bugger is headed back to his people, but no one has any idea how to find them. Instead of hunting down the actual species (something never touched on in the franchise), Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) is instead trying to find his fellow tribesman on other worlds to build a communications network and gain help in his assigned task. He hears a rumor of a Mandalorian hiding out on Tattooine and heads that way, hopeful about his prospects. He finds instead a man named Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant) wearing what I swear to you is Boba Fett’s armor. The advanced suit and its weaponry have gained him the job of protecting a small mining outpost in the desert. He’s defended from Tusken Raiders, insurgents, and other bandits that tried to take the place over. When Djarin arrives and demands the return of the armor to its ancestral tribe, Vanth offers to acquiesce if the Mando aids him in killing a Krayt Dragon that plagues the town. New alliances are forged, adventures are had by all, and we get The Child smiling his adorable ass off in the saddlebag of a swoop bike.
I was initially livid to return to Tattooine, then to find a Krayt Dragon part of the plot. These are things we know from Lucas’s work and things I just didn’t need to see again. Boba Fett’s armor coming back, worn by someone else after the man perished in the Pit of Carkoon, was also a pain in the ass. But, as with all things Star Wars, I look instead to find things I like and wound up having a good time.
A lot of that is Timothy Olyphant, who is a perfect addition to this cast. This is where the show ceases to try being anything but an open and honest Western. Olyphant cut his chops in this field working on Deadwood and Justified, embracing the inner cowboy and becoming a sort of “Diet-Clint-Eastwood” type. It works here as he tosses back shots of electric blue liquor, swaggers around as a cocky town sheriff (I’m sorry…town MARSHALL), and slings guns with the local indigineous people. He fits the role perfectly and the script was not even shy about his return later in the season.
Apart from that we’ve got a simple mission. Kill the Krayt Dragon to save the town, regain Boba Fett’s armor, and set up a peace treaty between the town and the local Tusken Raiders. Honest, straightforward, and blunt, the script never deviates from the main mission. This is simply one of those adventures had by a baby and his assassin stepdad on a backwater desert world while they try to find a new home.
That’s the beauty of this show – its episodic nature. After decades of family legacies and galactic conflict I’m happy to just see a corner of this universe be explored and fleshed out. These people are mostly just normal folks, ones that are still trying to rebuild lives after the fall of the Empire, and they’ve got problems normal folks in this galaxy would have. Look, you and I don’t have to deal with a giant Shai-Hulud-esque sand dragon eating our banthas, but the fact that we have humdrum lives and problems and rivalries with people should be relatable. That’s what I find so charming about this episode and I want more of this kind of thing. A friend of mine has consistently told me that the show feels like Samurai Jack and that’s accurate. I dig it, and I’m glad to see it back in the midst of a tumultuous time in my life. It’s just trying to have fun and give you as much as it can with small stories.
Oh, and that tease at the end is pretty rad. We’ve still got a larger ongoing story, but it feels like they’re going to drag it out a bit. Fine by me.