When last we saw the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and the Child, they were leaving the site of season one’s climactic showdown with Moff Gideon, an Imperial dead-ender determined to snatch the child for his own nefarious purposes. Though they defeated Gideon — who, as far as they know, didn’t survive the showdown — Mando and his sidekick didn’t exactly get to bask in victory. Instead, the Mando assumed a new quest: get the Child back to the Jedi even though the Jedi and the Mandalorians don’t exactly have a great history. An orphan and an exile, they now had to wander the galaxy with scarcely a friend to call their own and only the Razor Crest to call home.
That’s a pretty great setup for a second season, one that gives the season shape while still allowing the series to flit from place to place and from (mostly) self-contained story to (mostly) self-contained story. Based on “The Marshal,” the first episode of the show’s second season, showrunner Jon Favreau seems to know it. Written and directed by Favreau, “Chapter 9: The Marshal” picks up where “Chapter 8: Redemption” left off. It’s not clear how much time has passed, but Mando and the Child haven’t gotten too deep into their search for the Jedi. It’s quite possible that the blighted urban hellscape they visit in the opening sequence is one of many such places they’ve traveled searching for clues. This one, at least, bears fruit, but not without first placing our heroes in peril.
Mando’s looking for a shady, Cyclopean character by the name of Gor Koresh (John Leguizamo, though his voice is so unrecognizable you might not have noticed that until the credits), and to get there he has to take the Child through back alleys that are filled with graffiti and home to some snarling, light-averse creatures with glowing eyes. At the end of their journey, they find an almost certainly illegal arena where Gamorreans fight to the death. They also find that Gor Koresh can’t be trusted. He wants Mando’s armor and is willing to kill him to get it.
Mando’s prepared for this. And so, it turns out, is the Child, whose floating carriage has gotten a weapons upgrade between seasons, allowing him to disappear into his shell like a pill bug while the carriage takes out their enemies. (Once again, The Mandalorian isn’t trying too hard to hide its Lone Wolf and Cub influence.) Mando gets the information he needs from Koresh then leaves him hanging, literally, putting him at the mercy of the creatures with the glowing eyes. (That doesn’t work out so well for Gor Koresh.)
Destination: Tatooine, to look for another Mandalorian who might be able to help. And while it sometimes seems like Star Wars just can’t leave Tatooine alone, the episode pays off the return visit with reminders of the planet’s rich lore, including some contributions made by The Mandalorian itself. Chief among them is Peli Motto, the droid-loving mechanic played by Amy Sedaris. She’s happy to see Mando, who’s even grown a little less leery of her clumsy droids. (Maybe his time with IG-11 has changed his heart. Also, RIP IG-11.) He greets Peli as warmly as he greets anyone but doesn’t take her up on her offer to babysit. She’s a friend, probably, but he’s sticking with his “Where he goes, I go” credo. (Still, Peli’s other offer stands: “You know if this thing ever divides or buds, I will gladly pay for the offspring.”)
Their journey takes them to Mos Pelgo, a town that’s disappeared from the map after falling into chaos following the collapse of the Empire. Getting there means sharing a campfire with some Tusken raiders then arriving at a town that’s not quite as abandoned as Mando had been led to believe. Under the distrustful eyes of the locals, Mando sets out to find another of his kind, only to have the Mandalorian come to him in the form of the town’s Marshal.
Make that “Mandalorian.” It turns out the Marshal is no Mandalorian at all, just a man who’s picked up some Beskar armor. He’s also played by special guest star Timothy Olyphant, one of the few actors viewers might recognize under the helmet even before he says a word, so distinctive is his gunfighter’s posture. There’s really no one better to play a lawman whose charm can’t quite mask the deadly seriousness of his purpose than Olyphan, and his casting adds to the sense that “The Marshal” will be a standout episode for a series that’s never really dipped in quality since its debut.
Naturally, they don’t get along at first. Mando wants the Marshal’s armor. The Marshal would, understandably, rather not give it up. It’s helped him maintain order and, in turn, earn the locals’ respect. They like their marshal and they don’t like outsiders. But the would-be antagonists find they have a common foe when a krayt dragon rolls through town.
A quick note about krayt dragons: They’ve been a part of Star Wars from the start, making an appearance as a skeleton in Star Wars: Episode IV. But while they’ve turned up in novels and games since, this is the first time we’ve seen one in action and it’s pretty scary — even inspiring the Child to hide in a spittoon before it decides to devour an unfortunate bantha on the edge of town. It also just gets scarier as the episode progresses and we learn the full extent of its powers.
But first, we get a flashback in which the Marshal relates his past, which is notable in part because Star Wars doesn’t generally do flashbacks. But the rules are a bit different on The Mandalorian, which allows the Marshal to tell about how the destruction of the Death Star (“the second one, that is”) created a power vacuum filled by the Mining Collective, which hid its gangster-like approach under a benign name. Stumbling into a fortune allowed the Marshal to purchase some Mandalorian armor from Jawas. (Where did they get it? TBD.) And thus he became the Marshal, kicked the Collective out of town, and made sure Mos Pelgo ran fairly for those who remained — none of which will matter if the krayt dragon destroys everything he’s helped them build.
To defeat it, he’ll have to listen to the Mandalorian and form an alliance with the Tusken Raiders, which is no small request given the hostilities between the settlers and the Tuskens. Star Wars has used Tusken Raiders as stand-ins for Native Americans in Westerns since the first film. Last season saw The Mandalorian bringing some nuance to that dynamic via Mando’s civil relations with the Tuskens. This episode deepens that nuance. Much like later Westerns backed away from depicting Native Americans as barely human savages, “The Marshal” presents the tense relations between settlers and Tuskens as a complex situation with no easy answers. Sure, the Tuskens kill Mos Pelgo’s citizens (Mos Pelgoans?), but they also believe the settlers stole their land so … it’s complicated.
At first, the Marshal’s having none of it. He won’t drink from the stinky, seemingly smoke-producing fruit the Tuskens offer him. They take offense, but they were already on the verge of taking offense anyway thanks to their history with the settlers, until Mando steps in. He notes that they’re going to have to work together to survive, and even then it won’t be easy to defeat a creature so tough it lives in an abandoned sarlacc pit — because it ate the sarlacc.
That sets up a final act given over to an action scene that gets more intense as it goes along, one that requires the Marshal to bring in his own people to fight beside the Tuskens in an attempt to defeat the krayt dragon at its only weak point, its stomach. The strategy keeps not quite working until Mando descends, literally, into the belly of the beast. Complete with ominous rumblings and unexpected misdirects, it’s a set piece that can rival any of those found in the movies and indication that The Mandalorian might be upping its game this season, action-wise (not that season one slouched in that department).
When the day is saved, the Tuskens retrieve the pearl in krayt dragon’s tummy, Mando and the Child get a big chunk of meat, the Tuskens and the settlers reach a peace, the Marshal retains control (and examines his prejudice), and our heroes ride off into the twin sunset. But someone is watching their retreat.
• That someone is Temuera Morrison, the New Zealand actor who played the role of Jango Fett in Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones. But who is he playing here? And could that armor have been his?
• The Marshal uses the term “Sand People” to refer to the Tuskens, and the term is used almost entirely as a pejorative in the episode, though Mando does use it once when talking to the Marshal. This appears to be a bit of pragmatic code switching to get the Marshal on his side, however. “Sand People” sounds like, and otherwise likely is, a slur.
• The graffiti in the opening scenes contains some familiar images, including what appears to be C-3PO and a snowtrooper. Hmm …
• Another familiar droid making an appearance: R5-D4. That’s the droid that Luke initially wanted instead of R2-D2 and would have taken if it hadn’t blown a fuse or something. Apparently R5 didn’t just survive, he found a happy home with Peli.
• The promo picture on Disney+’s site and the “Previously On” all suggest that Greef Karga, Cara Dune, and other first season characters will play major roles this season, but this one’s all about the lone Mando and Child.
• That red scarf Olyphant wears bears a resemblance to the sort favored by John Wayne, doesn’t it?
• The Mandalorian has often played like a Western, and this episode is one of the most Western-inspired entries yet. But the basic plot — stranger comes to town to kill the monster the locals can’t — owes a lot to Beowulf.
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