I didn’t get to the first season of “The Mandalorian” when it broke last year at this time, but I did tuck into it in the spring, when COVID and the collapse of film release schedules left me a bit at a loss for what to watch.
So I could do little more than raise an eyebrow over the 2019 toy season mania for Baby Yoda and the breathless buzz from the faithful about the serialized, A-list effects-driven treatment of the “Star Wars” universe, after the last Death Star was blown up.
I didn’t bother to review that first season, because zeroing in on the show’s second pass seemed more promising. Once the buzz dies down, we’ll see what we really have. I’d save my powder for that.
Glancing back over my reviews of the J.J. Abrams big screen installments, which were to a one inferior to the stand-alone “Rogue One,” and a little better than the poorly-cast prequel “Solo,” I had to approach “Mandolorian” with an eye for its intended audience, which it almost certainly serves well.
The idea is to generate interest in a still wildly popular but steadily-fading and over-exposed franchise to a new generation of addicts. So that “intended audience” for Jon Favreau’s spinoff about Boba Fett’s bounty hunter kin, Mandalorians, skews younger.
And if I was an eleven year-old girl or boy, I’d be waiting with bated breath for this Neverending Story to continue. But I’m not eleven. So brace yourself.
The second season premiere episode, “The Marshal,” takes one right back to the era George Lucas conceived his space opera in — the early ’70s. “Marshal” is largely set on the desert planet of Tatooine, Luke Skywalker’s dusty stomping grounds. And it is a straight-up early-70s TV Western with space ships.
There was always that element to the original trilogy — the naive hot shot kid on a quest, the grizzled gunslinger, the saloons, evil “bosses” and a faceless enemy — helmeted, not covered in warpaint — who exist simply to be slaughtered. Here, Favreau goes all-in for an installment that will set the tone if not limit the settings of this planet-hopping quest to find kinfolk who can protect this toddler with The Force from the lawless legions that would love to grab him.
Casting Timothy Olyphant, fresh (ish) off his “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” turn as a TV Western star of the late ’60s makes that connection obvious. That’s a valid, if not exactly novel approach to take. “Episode IV” owed as much to “The Searchers” as “The Hidden Fortress,” after all.
And truth be told, the first time I heard the Mandalorian who decides to protect the Baby Yoda speak, I thought Pedro Pascal WAS Timothy Olyphant.
“The Marshal” sends our traveling baby sitter from bar to MMA brawl in search of his kind, those who can join him protecting the tyke in the floating stroller egg. That’s how he’s directed to Tatooine, not to the friendly confines of Mos Eisley, but for the pretty much “wiped out” settlement of Mos Pelgo.
It’s where The Marshal (Olyphant) keeps order, and does it with Mandalorian armor, if not bloodline. Meeting him as he swaggers, bowlegged, into a saloon is laughably on-the-nose, a good kind of laugh.
Familiar creatures (Banthas, Tusken, Jawas) and transport (hover-bikes, Sand Crawler) are here, along with Amy Sedaris’ chatty, “Thank The Force” cliche-spouting comic relief, Peli Motto, complaining about her droids.
“You just can’t get good help anymore!”
The serious “Star Wars” speak doesn’t kick in until The Mandalorian and The Marshal swap Bantha-sized bon mots.
“I guess, every once in a while, both suns shine on a womprat’s tale!”
I like the kid-friendly death-threats doled out by The Mandalorian, safe behind his Batman-utility belt pack of hardware.
“Tell me where the Mandalorians are and I’ll walk out of here without killing you.“
But The Marshal gives as good as he gets, to Sand People, for instance.
“Sit back down before I put a hole inya!“
He gets on just fine with this menacing “new gun in town.” Heck, they team up in that Disney-fied “let’s all work together for a common goal” “Toy Story” way.
You want novelty? You’ll have to wait for later episodes. “The Marshal” is strictly comfort food, unchallenging and unexciting. Olyphant’s line-readings of the somewhat childish trope-trapped dialogue are as flat as the fellow whose face we’re not meant to see. The added length only highlights how repetitive and derivative the whole enterprise is.
Real menace? Giancarlo Esposito is coming. So maybe. Better fights? Former MMA star Gina Carano is due up. So, probably. Real conflict? Don’t hold your breath.
The tone they’re aiming for has been set, and the demographics bar lowered to tweens-and-younger. And no, a story that has lots and lots of locations, many races and character names, bartenders ranging from cyclops to Snivvians, is not necessarily deep.
As Billy or Wyatt or Johnny Ringo could tell you, a saloon’s a saloon, with or without a cantina band.
It’s not my place to dissect this show for those who obsess over it, parsing its minutia, dying for that next moment Baby shows he/she won’t be backed into a corner.
Still, do yourself a favor. Visit your favorite streaming, cable or broadcast “Westerns” channel. Jon Favreau certainly did. Look at what Hollywood was turning out on horseback by the early ’70s; exhausted, cornball rehashes of tales and archetypes that were old hat and worn out long before John Wayne won his Oscar.
Like Western watchers back then, waiting for “The Mandalorian” to get better is like waiting for nostalgia to finally get old.
MPAA Rating: TV-14, violence and lots of it.
Cast: Pedro Pascal, Amy Sedaris, Timothy Olyphant, Giancarlo Esposito, Gina Carano and Carl Weathers.
Credits: Created by Jon Favreau. A Disney+ release.