The Mandalorian

The first episode of season two of “The Mandalorian” dropped this past Friday, and the show continues to cement itself as the best live action “Star Wars” product since Disney’s purchase of the property.

No one really knew what to expect from the first season of the hit show when it arrived alongside new streaming service Disney+ less than a year ago. The clips shown in marketing looked good, and the budget seemed high, but there were still a lot of unknowns. Could live action “Star Wars” actually work on the small screen? Could a TV show sustain a budget large enough to offer the exciting visuals by which the series is defined? Could a character who never takes off his helmet ever carry a show? Then the Child — also known as “Baby Yoda” — was introduced, and all of those comments and concerns gave way to a new level of fandom — and memes.

Once you cut through the hype and the excitement of weekly, quality live action “Star Wars” content delivered to your home, “The Mandalorian” begins to show some of its faults — especially in the early episodes. So much of the first half of the show seems to meander about, as if it’s buying time until it’s time for the final plot developments that will propel the series forward.

The pilot episode is gripping and engaging, as it introduces viewers to the titular Mandalorian, a no-nonsense bounty hunter willing to do whatever it takes to get paid. Within the first 20 minutes, the show establishes that it’s a different type of “Star Wars” than what has been seen in the past. It’s a little more gritty, a little more rough around the edges. There are no space wizards wielding lightsabers with over-the-top battles. This is a much more grounded and dirty universe — something for which many have asked for years.

When the Child is introduced, and the story shifts gears, the story comes to a crawl. There are just a few too many episodes of the Mandalorian and Child landing on random planets to hide out, until something happens and they’re forced to leave again. Even for such a short series — at 8 episodes of around 30-40 minutes a piece — there seems to be a little too much waste. It feels like a little more fat could have been trimmed, or the story could have been reshaped to move forward a bit faster.

The characters at the center of “The Mandalorian” really do shine throughout its short run. Pedro Pascal, of “Game of Thrones” fame, lends his voice to the titular character. While much of the on-screen work is done via stunt doubles, Pascal still delivers a good performance and sells the character with his voice alone. Carl Weathers’ Greef Karga is an interesting foil for the Mandolorian — with shifting allegiances and ulterior motives. It’s always good to see Weathers in more roles. And it seems Gina Carano has found her calling as Cara Dune, the former shock trooper, who doesn’t have a whole lot to do other than look angry and punch things.

The real star of the show, however, is the Child. The production crew made the right call to stick with practical effects. Forsaking puppetry for CG really hurt Yoda’s appearances in the prequel trilogy. This baby form of his species looks so endearing and cute in puppet form. His face has spawned a thousand memes, and the Child has created his own fandom based off appearances alone. Lucasfilm gambled with such a character, and it paid off with the most popular addition to “Star Wars” since Ahsoka Tano.

“The Mandalorian” packs just as much action and amazing special effects as the films. It was hard to imagine that Lucasfilm would ever be able to produce a television show with production values that rival the movies, but here we are. At no point does the show ever feel like its scope is confined by its budget, or that shortcuts had to be made in order to make everything work. This is as authentic of a “Star Wars” experience as you’ll find anywhere.

It seems season two will continue with that quality experience, perhaps even elevating it further with a much more focused storyline that relies less on random episodic moments, and much more on an overarching plot. If the first season laid the groundwork by proving “Star Wars” on television could work, season two appears to be pushing the envelope by expanding the expanded universe with new and interesting story elements. While the sequel trilogy may have been a bust for many, “The Mandalorian” proves there’s still plenty of gas left in the tank of “Star Wars,” with lots of new stories to tell — as long as the right person is in charge.

Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.

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