On Thursday, Disney announced seven new Star Wars shows would roll out on Disney Plus through 2023. On Friday, The Mandalorian reminded us why that’s a good idea.
The show’s first season was often exciting, and occasionally reminded you that Din Djarin occupies the same world as the heroes from the Skywalker saga. More often than not, the show was a series of disconnected incidents and planet-of-the-week style encounters without much of an overarching story. In the few episodes where the story was the focus, it rarely left room for anything else. The show’s second season doesn’t stray too far from the general format, but it does refine it to the point of excellence.
The Mandalorian season 2, with only one episode left unseen, has been outstanding. As a TV show it’s got some of the most impressive action around, and a great cast of side and one-off characters played by a deep-bench of actors that only Star Wars could attract. (Did you catch Richard Brake, the original Game of Thrones Night King, in Chapter 15?) Rather than the uneven, story-or-no-story pacing of the first season, season 2 manages to flirt with serialized storytelling that prestige TV has become known for while keeping its case-of-the-week style intact.
Take “The Believer.” Technically it’s just a heist mission. No different from when Din helped Ahsoka free a town from the clutches of the Empire or Timothy Olyphant kill a sand worm. But this time around the heist brought together characters from around Din’s orbit, and was so directly connected to his arc that it didn’t feel like a side excursion at all. It was an exciting action episode and a fitting next step in the journey, which is exactly the kind of justification that the first season often lacked.
Aside from just being watchable TV, The Mandalorian season 2’s real strength is that it’s great Star Wars. In two consecutive episodes (episodes 5 and 6) The Mandalorian brought Din face to face with some of Star Wars’ most legendary characters. In the case of Ahsoka Tano, the show introduced her to live-action viewers and managed to portray the beloved animated character in a way that was satisfying whether you knew her name before the episode or not.
And it wasn’t a cheap gimmick or a momentary fan-service cameo. She gave Din — and the viewers — more info on the adorable little campion he’s dedicated his life to protecting, and she did it in a way that only she could, by using the Force and being able to empathize with what it’s like to be cut off from the Jedi Order you’ve known your whole life. It was a prefect way to bring her into the series, without feeling egregious or cheap.
The feat of re-introducing Boba Fett was even simpler: Jon Favreau, director Robert Rodriguez, and the show’s crew turned a legend into a character. In just two episodes, The Mandalorian took a figure with decades of fan-built mythology, and almost nothing to do in the original trilogy, and turned him into someone interesting who still lives up to his own legendary status. The episode even dared to brush against prequel mythology. Just by showing us an over-the-hill Boba take down a squad of stormtroopers on his own the show manage to fully realize all the badassery that seemed implied since his first live-action appearance in Empire Strikes Back.
Filling in the margins and focusing on side characters is exactly what a Star Wars when free of theatrical obligations should do. Mando crossing paths with characters like Boba Fett, Ahsoka Tano, and even Bo-Katan firmly roots him in the Star Wars universe and connects him to the stories we already know, giving the series room to explore new ground. There’s no Luke, Leia, or Han anywhere near The Mandalorian (so far), giving the drama a sense of discovery and novelty that the sequel trilogy lacked. Instead of C-3PO popping up out of nowhere, the show makes room for a cute frog couple and their delicious eggs. Disney’s newly announced slate of shows could do that, too.
The new series promise to fan out all across the Star Wars universe. Shows like Ahsoka and Obi-Wan Kenobi will flesh out characters whose arcs feel incomplete, while Rangers of the New Republic will get into the weeds of the days and years that follow the Empire’s fall. Like Rogue One, Andor can explore new genre territory for the franchise, and give us an inside look at the day to day operations of the Rebel Alliance. Meanwhile, The Acolyte promises our first on-screen look at the The High Republic-era that’s completely divorced from anything we’ve seen in Star Wars thus far. The show will look radically different, but as the authors of the series have said, still contain the soul of George Lucas’ original films.
Of course, simply filling in the gaps of the Star Wars universe is no guarantee of quality — just look at Solo. But if The Mandalorian’s second season is any indication of what the Star Wars universe can be when it escapes the suffocating legacy of the original trilogy’s main characters, then there’s plenty of reason to think Disney Plus, and the TV culture at large, has room for Disney’s robust slate of shows.