Two episodes in, it’s still not exactly clear what kind of show The Mandalorian is, but that’s not a complaint. The second episode, “Chapter 2: The Child” picks up not long after the conclusion of the first, but heads in a different direction. Nothing here deepens the intrigue of the first episode beyond revealing some new details about the Mandalorian’s bounty. Instead, it continues the Mandalorian’s adventures on Arvala-7, adventures that produce three rousing — and distinctly different — action scenes and some more time with the terse but helpful Ugnaught Kuiil before sending the Mandalorian and his charge off into the stars, and presumably back toward the Client so that the Mandalorian can complete the job for which he’s been paid, no matter how endearing his captive might be.
About that: What do we call the Mandalorian’s bounty? It’s tempting to call it Baby Yoda, but it’s not Yoda. And calling the baby “it” seems rude, but we don’t know if it’s male or female or something else. Even calling it a baby seems inaccurate. Despite the floating carriage it can toddle around and, we learn over the course of the episode, perform some impressive Force feats. We could call it by the name of Yoda’s race, but we don’t know the name of Yoda’s race. So let’s just borrow from the episode title and call it “the Child.”
The episode opens with the Mandalorian and the Child traveling peacefully through a lizard-filled desert canyon, but that doesn’t last for long. When they’re set upon by a trio of bounty hunters — they look like Trandoshans, the same race as the Empire Strikes Back bounty hunter Bossk — we get to see the Mandalorian in action, and get a glimpse of what a few of his weapons can do. (Why settle for a prod, a staff, or a rifle when you can have all in one?) While the Mandalorian recovers, the Child apparently attempts to heal him without him understanding what the little one is up to. Soon enough he’ll get a sense of what the Child can do.
But not, it turns out, until after a frustrating encounter with the Jawas who’ve stripped his ship for parts, as Jawas do. After disintegrating a few of the tiny bandits, the Mandalorian attempts to board their rolling fortress. He fails, but not before — in shades of Solo — The Mandalorian stages the Star Wars equivalent of an Old West train robbery (or at least an attempted robbery).
Directed by Rick Famuyiwa (The Wood, Dope) from a script by series creator Jon Favreau, “Chapter 2: The Child” doubles down on the Western references while bringing in other influences. It’s filled with striking images of a man (and child) walking a desolate, enemy-filled landscape, but also a giant monster in the tradition of other Star Wars beasts inspired by Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion creations. The tough-guy-and-baby-cart imagery also nods to Lone Wolf and Cub, a beloved, much-adapted ’70s manga series about a master swordsman wandering feudal Japan on a quest for revenge with his young son in tow (and his son’s weaponized carriage).
Will this morph into a show in which the Mandalorian and the Child have a string of violent adventures? That’s TBD at this point, but this episode suggests that might be perfectly satisfying. The action scenes — be it the fight with the bounty hunters, the crawling fortress chase, or the encounter with the furry rhino in which the Child saves the Mandalorian’s life — are well-staged and the show keeps revealing new, weird details about its world. All that work and it turns out the Jawas just really wanted to eat the egg. Who would have guessed?
If it does turn into that sort of series, however, it will probably do so on a different planet. As the episode ends, the Mandalorian bids good-bye to Kuiil and to Arvala-7 (at least for now) before heading to the stars. If Kuiil’s refusal to join the Mandalorian’s crew after demonstrating his mechanical skills doesn’t sting, his final words might: “May it survive and bring you a handsome reward.” We can’t see Pedro Pascal’s face, but it’s safe to bet some combination of doubt and guilt creeps over it at that moment.
• It’s fun to spend so much time with the Jawas, the Star Wars universe’s cutest felons. The episode nicely demonstrates how such little monsters could be a threat: It’s a question of numbers (and, of course, that heavily armored vehicle). This raises an interesting question, however: While Wookiepedia describes Jawas as being native to Tatooine, here they are on another planet. Are they advanced enough to travel from planet to planet? Did they stow away?
• The Child is cute! But also formidable. And it eats frogs whole. We also learn that it’s aware of its powers but those powers have some pretty sharp limits. After stopping the furry rhino, the Child descends into an almost comalike state.
• No sign of IG-11 this episode. Is he really out of the picture?
• This episode is short, clocking it at under 30 minutes once you factor out credits and the previously-on segment. That’s fine, really. It gets the job done and tells the story it needs to tell. Will future episodes be this length? Is this a conscious reaction to the widespread complaint about episode bloat in the streaming era?
• A nice touch carried over from the previous episode: the Ralph McQuarrie–like illustrations that play over the credits.
• Another fun detail: The Mandalorian keeps bringing in elements from some of Star Wars more embarrassing non-canonical stories. Last week included a reference to the Star Wars Holiday Special’s Life Day and the Blurrg first appeared in the made-for-TV Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (though they’d made some subsequent animated appearances).
• Anyone inspired to investigate the sources of The Mandalorian is in for a treat. The first episode made reference to both The Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Those wanting to know more about Lone Wolf and Cub won’t be disappointed with the original manga, which Dark Horse Comics has reprinted in English, or the six films released between 1972 and 1974, which are wild and creative and extremely violent (and, like The Mandalorian, they also feature a cute child). The Criterion Collection has released them as a box set and all can currently be streamed via the Criterion Channel. As for Harryhausen, you can’t go wrong with The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, which features the horned cyclops that helped inspire the furry rhino.