Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

mandalorian Archive

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January 2021

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The Mandalorian Season 2 Review

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Season two of The Mandalorian began with a fairly daunting task. The show built an enormous amount of goodwill during its freshman effort for crafting a narrative that carried the aura of being far-removed from the rest of Star Wars lore, even if the constant, subtle Easter Eggs tended to suggest otherwise. As the sequel series faltered, The Mandalorian suggested that the future of the franchise rested in standalone storytelling.

All the recent announcements of close to a dozen new Star Wars series throw a wrench in this whole thesis, but it’s clear that The Mandalorian had been inching toward this destination for a long time. The chance to feature series favorites such as Bo-Katan, Boba Fett, and Ahsoka Tano transformed what was once predominantly an episodic meme-factory for the hijinks of an adorable puppet and his adopted father. Season two will be defined as the point where The Mandalorian stopped explicitly being “The Baby Yoda Show,” and not just strictly because the cute little fella finally got a proper name.

The perfectly executed season finale should rightfully spark melancholic feelings toward the change in status quo for The Mandalorian, which now finds itself firmly entrenched in Skywalker lore. Season two featured plenty of episodes defined by their self-contained adventures, from the slaying of a Krayt dragon to the head-scratching detour to ice-spider planet. Individual victories from episode to episode are bound to take a backseat to big mic-drop moments.

The Mandalorian built an enormous amount of goodwill for moments crafted by its own characters. For a man who rarely shows his face, Pedro Pascal brought an impressive depth of emotional range to Din Djarin, subtly setting up the tear-jerking departure of the final episode, where he bucked his traditions and removed his helmet. Those are the kind of set-ups that The Mandalorian excels at, but it’s harder to recreate that dynamic when the complications of decades of fan-nostalgia begin to occupy the same space.

Season two benefited from an untapped reservoir of guest stars, rewarding longtime fans for their dedication in following the animated series, comics, and broader Expanded Universe. Soon there will be other places to find those highs, including The Book of Boba, which will air at the end of this year. The Mandalorian will hardly be the only game in town.

Show creator Jon Favreau improved upon season one in practically every way imaginable. The episodes felt more vital, even as they relied upon their own self-contained adventures. The show eased up on its love of rocky desert planets. Grogu didn’t lean too hard into his status as a walking meme, aside from perhaps the moment where he decided he’d practice the Force by swiping blue macarons. For all the moments in season one that felt like the show was dragging its feet, season two moved the ball forward in practically every episode.

Season two built on the strong foundation of the first while expanding the narrative to define The Mandalorian’s place in Star Wars lore. Favreau accomplished all of this while not losing sight of his two heroes that made all the magic in the first place. A cameo from Star Wars’ original hero may be the most noteworthy thing to come out of the show, but The Mandalorian ensured that the franchise won’t be defined by its first family.

It is weird think that The Mandalorian may have already established its legacy two seasons in. The streaming world it helped established will look very different when the show returns, presumably in 2022. It may be a bit overblown to say that The Mandalorian “saved” Star Wars, a billion dollar entity that can absorb some lackluster installments.

The urge to reach that conclusion comes from a fairly natural point. There may come a day when the show loses itself in endless callbacks, a fate suffered by the sequel trilogy. The Mandalorian is great TV. That’s pretty much the only thing that needs to matter.

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Saturday

19

December 2020

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The Mandalorian Season 2 Review: Chapter 16

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As a franchise, there’s little Star Wars loves more than the past. Two of the three entries in the sequel series existed primarily as shrines to nostalgia, while its middle installment sparked endless controversy for daring to engage the idea that maybe we should, “let the past die.” The Mandalorian has mostly charted its own course, albeit carrying plenty of crowd-pleasing Easter eggs along the way.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a current work possessing deep reverence for its broader lore, as the season two finale proved. Great storytelling can be powerfully enhanced by interweaving the present in with the characters fans have grown to love. Luke Skywalker never looked more powerful than when he was mowing down Terminator-esque Dark troopers one by one, delivering on a wish fans have clamored for since Return of the Jedi.

This episode combined all the best elements of the show, a near perfect finale. The show’s supporting bench was mostly all-hands on deck to rescue Grogu from Moff Gideon’s light cruiser. Dr. Pershing is a fairly compelling tertiary character, though his quick defection to Team Mando seemed a bit rushed.

The stand-off on the Imperial Shuttle was perhaps the episode’s lone clunky bit of fan service, a back-and-forth over the ethics of blowing up Death Stars ripped straight out of Clerks. A chief complaint of the Skywalker Saga as a whole has been how small the galaxy seems with everyone knowing every else. Between the shuttle and Bo-Katan’s instant familiarity with Boba Fett, it felt like this episode was crafting an intimate family drama rather than a giant space epic.

The action sequences were predictably phenomenal, giving the female members of the team plenty of chances to shine while only just barely dipping into the cringey “girl power” energy that Avengers: Endgame consumed to excess. The Dark troopers were appropriately menacing, even in scenarios where they didn’t really get a chance to wield their full power. Mando destroying one with his flamethrower might suggest that they’re easier to beat than the show lets on, but it’s understandable that none of Mando’s crew didn’t want to test this theory too much.

Moff Gideon has been a pretty menacing figure despite only making sporadic appearances. Giancarlo Esposito has a gift for playing characters who display a transactional sense of villainy. For a second, he really makes you believe that he’s simply okay letting Mando and Grogu walk away, before swinging the Darksaber right at Mando’s back.

The fight itself was pretty solid, though the sight of an old man parrying with an armored bounty hunter, albeit one who was recently bashed in the head, ran the risk of carrying on past the point of plausibility. Gideon seemed like a likely candidate to not make it past the episode, though Chapter 16 opted not to add to the show’s body count. All hands are still on deck for an eventual war on Mandalore, as the show is increasingly hinting will be its focus for next season.

Luke’s entire sequence was perfect, a moving tribute to the franchise’s most beloved hero. The use of body-double Max Lloyd-Jones mostly worked, though the dialogue portion was a bit clunky. The sight of R2-D2 brought tears to my eyes, a beloved character who was woefully neglected by the sequel trilogy.

Luke never got a chance to bask in the limelight after beating the Empire. Regardless of how you feel about his well-crafted arc in The Last Jedi, it is a shame that Star Wars turned the page on Jedi Master Skywalker without giving Hamill a chance to enjoy Luke in his prime. This episode was a great tribute for those of us who lament the end of the Expanded Universe.

The most impressive thing about the last ten minutes of the episode was the way it managed to give simultaneously both Mando and Luke their tearjerker moments. Mando taking his helmet off to say goodbye to his adopted son had been hinted at, but it played so powerfully here. Grogu not wanting to leave was perfectly complemented by R2’s exuberance at seeing the young child.

The whole scene worked on so many levels, combining Star Wars’ vast lore with the affection we’ve built for our current cast of characters. The franchise finally used nostalgia not as a crutch, but as a seasoning for its carefully curated buffet of emotion. It’s hard to think that The Mandalorian will sideline its breakout character for very long, but the show succeeded in presenting that as a possibility.

“The Rescue” represented the finest chapter in the Star Wars saga since The Empire Strikes Back. The episode utilized every single moment to its advantage, both in the present and with regard to planning for next season. Both Mando and Grogu will have their hands full with new adventures next year, giving comfort to those who might still be sobbing over the idea of their separation. It’s hard to think of a better way to end this era of The Mandalorian.

If that wasn’t enough, we were treated to an excellent post-credits scene where Boba Fett and Fennec paid a visit to Fett’s old friend Bib Fortuna at Jabba’s Palace. Fett hasn’t had nearly enough chances to shine since his introduction, playing bit roles in the past two episodes. Looks like a spin-off is on the horizon, along with all the other Star Wars projects in development.

Quick programming note. We will return with a review of the season as a whole. Be sure to check out Estradiol Illusions’ weekly podcast recaps. Thank you so much for following along with us every week! Happy Life Day.

 

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12

December 2020

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The Mandalorian Season 2 Review: Chapter 15

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This season of The Mandalorian has done a superb job with its big moments. Ahsoka Tano, Boba Fett, and Bo-Katan all shined in their debut episodes. As a medium, television rarely relied so heavily on the giant splashes before the streaming era. The quieter moments need to count too.

The Mandalorian is not very good at stopping to take a breath in order to process its events. Mando has assembled an impressive team of Fett, Fennec, and Cara Dune to help him rescue Grogu, but as an episode, “The Believer” cares very little for any of these people. Chapter 15 belonged to Migs Mayfeld.

For a show starring a puppet and a bounty hunter who never removes his helmet, The Mandalorian has done a fairly decent job building up its supporting bench. Bill Burr shined in last season’s sixth episode as the backstabbing former Imperial sharpshooter. Now imprisoned, Mando needs his services to figure out the location of Moff Gideon, whose imprisonment of Grogu apparently prevented him from making an appearance this episode.

The whole Morak quest was a fairly paint-by-numbers undercover mission. The Mandalorian often leans heavily into Western tropes, but here it was borrowing heavily from the spy/adventure shows that once populated the network TV landscape. It’s fun without being particularly inventive or ambitious.

Most jarring in the episode was the sequence after the undercover Mando and Mayfeld fought off a raiding party, only to be greeted with a chorus of applause from Stormtroopers. We rarely see Stormtroopers winning anything, let alone actually hitting a single target. If anything else, it was entertaining to watch.

Burr did a great job with fairly mundane material. His commentary on the geopolitics of Morak was a clear substitute for American interventionism abroad in places like Vietnam and Iraq, fairly out of place in the Star Wars universe. As the audience, we can follow along with his broad points as they relate to our reality, but that isn’t a dynamic Star Wars has ever really shown to us. The Empire and the New Republic are not really two sides of the same coin.

The dramatic tension in this episode mostly stemmed from Mando being forced to remove his beskar helmet. As soon as the Stormtrooper helmet went on, it became clear that we’d probably get an appearance from Pedro Pascal, mustache and all. Bo-Katan’s statements on Mando’s sect of Mandalorian being extremists set this all up quite well.

Pascal handled the dynamic well, constantly looking like a fish out of water without his security blanket. It’s not a super compelling conflict, since I imagine most of the audience would rather see Pascal on a regular basis rather than stare at Mando’s expressionless helmet. Like Mayfeld’s pontifications on relativism, much of this drama felt like going through the motions.

Mayfeld gets redemption as a character through his ill-advised rant to his former commanding officer Valin Hess (Richard Brake, who’s familiar to Game of Thrones fans as the first Night King). The whole sequence was obviously made to set up his release at the end of the episode, while maybe also serving to show him as not a bad guy. It’s entertaining while also being just a tad too predictable.

The action was mostly good, even if the sight of numerous Imperial officers running to their immediate deaths in the mess room hallway seemed a tad ridiculous. Cara and Fennec had some moments, but Fett was left with not enough to do. I guess we can blame that on some stage fright that some Imperials might recognize his face after his father served as the template for the entire Clone army.

This season has largely been about Mando coming into his own as a father. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why the show wanted to have Mando send a threatening message to Gideon. It did feel rather out of place for him as a character though, needlessly showing his cards.

While a bit lazy in its execution, Chapter 15 served as an effective set-up for the season finale. Burr got his moments to shine, but with a 38-minute runtime, it’s hard to make the case for why no one else could have had a moment as well. Fett superfans were bound to be disappointed by the sidelining of the original helmeted bounty hunter. The Mandalorian needs to do a better job with simply taking a breath every once in a while.

For more Mandalorian coverage, check out Estradiol Illusions’ weekly recaps 

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December 2020

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The Mandalorian Season 2 Review: Chapter 14

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Eight episodes is not a lot of time to get much done in a single season. For all the ways that The Mandalorian has excelled at episodic storytelling, season two has pushed the broader narrative forward in a way that seemed quite unlikely given the trajectory set forth by its freshman effort. Six episodes in, season two has jammed in a very impressive amount of plot development.

Boba Fett’s shadow has loomed in the background of the show since at least its fifth episode. The figure who saved Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) was widely believed to be the fan favorite bounty hunter who made his debut in The Star Wars Holiday Special. Fett’s cameo at the end of this season’s first episode further reinforced this notion, especially after Mando acquired his armor from Cobb Vanth.

The Disney era of Star Wars has given the prequels a newfound sense of relevance, both in relation to the sequel trilogy and for the fact that many of the actors are still available for follow up appearances. As terrible as Attack of the Clones is for many reasons, Temuera Morrison’s performance as Jango Fett represented one of the best aspects of the film. Since Clones established Boba as a clone of his father, Morrison represented the natural choice to play the adult character seen without his helmet for the first time.

“The Tragedy” made Star Wars history for introducing the planet Tynoth into the live-action canon, with its vital importance to Jedi history. That said, this episode belonged to Morrison. For all the love the character gets from the fandom, Boba Fett is an extremely minor character in the original trilogy, with only a single scene of dialogue. Morrison showed his talents as Jango, bringing a subtle level of depth to the battle-hardened mercenary with his restrained emotions.

Like Mando, Boba Fett works in a scummy profession. Also like Mando, Fett has heart. He does bad things without necessarily being a bad person. Here, Fett opposes Mando on reasonable grounds. Mando has his armor, thinking he’s doing what’s best by withholding the beskar from a non-Mandalorian. Mando’s encounter with Bo-Katan earlier this season cast showcased that his sect of Mandalorian culture isn’t necessarily the only “way.”

The episode started off with a touching exchange between Mando and Grogu, reflecting the growth of their father/son relationship, often best expressed through the child’s affection for his round metal ball. While The Mandalorian isn’t likely to permanently separate the two until the series has run its course, it is important for the show to acknowledge that Mando’s core objective is to safely return his adoptive son to his people.

Grogu’s rock-induced message was a little silly, coupled with Mando’s inability to contact him. The dumbest point of the episode centered around Fett asking Mando to remove his jetpack with no sensible narrative rationale. Obviously that line was designed to provide a reason for why Mando couldn’t chase after the Dark Troopers, but the whole sequence was a bit forced.

Episode director Robert Rodriguez lived up to the high standards set forth by his film resume. The Mandalorian almost always has great action sequences, but seeing Boba Fett make quick work of the Stormtroopers was very entertaining to watch. The Stormtroopers armor hasn’t been this worthless since they were defeated by a bunch of rock-throwing Ewoks back in Jedi. The missile shot that blew up two Imperial ships was one of the coolest things Star Wars has ever done.

In some ways, the short episode runtime was justified by the scope of the narrative presented. Save for brief scenes aboard Moff Gideon’s Imperial cruiser and Mando’s encounter with Cara on Nevarro, most of the episode took place on a single stretch of Tynoth. Some exposition for how Fennec and Fett became allies would have been nice.

Viewers are bound to wonder how Boba Fett escaped the sarlacc in Jedi as well. The now-noncanon Legends book series offered a fun explanation, with fellow Empire bounty hunter Dengar coming to Fett’s rescue on Tatooine. Given that Fett will be around for at least a few more episodes and that The Mandalorian has shown some affection for the Expanded Universe, I wouldn’t say this explanation isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility for the show.

R.I.P. Razor Crest. After the mess on the ice planet, it’s not too surprising to see Mando’s ship bite the dust. Mando deserves a better ship anyway, preferably one where Grogu can have his own bedroom.

The whole kidnapping plotline felt a bit predictable. Moff Gideon was bound to get his hands on Grogu eventually, but the method deployed came across as forced and contrived. The episode quickly redeemed itself when Baby Yoda choked a few Stormtroopers and Gideon pulled out his Darksaber, but a more prolonged confrontation might have made this whole sequence more justifiable.

Chapter 14 gave an underappreciated fan favorite a much needed victory lap. Rodriguez proved to be a perfect choice for directing this action-heavy episode. The Mandalorian has been pretty spectacular this year, with very few episodes that could be classified as filler. With all the talk of the Mandalorian civil war and the formation of the First Order, the show is starting to lean heavily into broader Star Wars lore. Hard to believe that there’s only two more episode this season to explore all of this.

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28

November 2020

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The Mandalorian Season 2 Review: Chapter 13

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There is a reason none of the Marvel characters from the Netflix series made appearances in Avengers: Endgame, a film with a finale designed to cap off a historic era in film connectivity. Popular as they may be, the inclusion of such characters presents some problems for a global audience that may have no idea who these people are. The hardcore fans are left with a natural degree of wanting for scenarios that would have been so incredible to see up on the big screen.

Ahsoka Tano is the breakout star of the popular animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, the former of which carried the torch for the fandom as it transitioned from the post-Revenge of the Sith Lucas era to its current home at Disney. There was a period of time where Ahsoka Tano was the best Star Wars creation of the 21st century, a sentiment countless Clone Wars fans undoubtedly still hold.

Tano’s appearance in The Mandalorian has been rumored since the show’s inception, a naturally tantalizing prospect for many. The logistics of her inclusion presented the showrunners with some of the same hurdles that the Marvel universe experienced with how to include a popular character in a global phenomenon that has plenty of fans who have never heard of her. Thankfully, Star Wars vet Dave Filoni rose to the task with near flawless execution.

The arrival on Corvus gave The Mandalorian a much needed reprieve from the piles of rocks on Tatooine and Nevarro, but also a chance to move the narrative forward in a game-changing fashion. This season has been about Mando delivering Baby Yoda to a Jedi. Given the show’s often glacier-slow pacing and affection for filler subplots, it might have been reasonable to assume that this might happen sometime at the end of the season.

Instead, we get a fan favorite character and a name for the Child. Grogu is not a good name. Yoda and Yaddle (the latter of which’s legacy was apparently forgotten by Tano, who presumably arrived at the Jedi Temple a little while after her death) are much better names. Grogu is the kind of cringy name that flies in the face of how adorable this fella is.

The action sequences were predictable phenomenal. Mando’s quest to find Ahsoka at the behest of former Empire leader Morgan Elsbeth was a tad perfunctory, but this episode had too much going on to be bogged down in narrative mechanics.

The audience could be forgiven for some eye-rolls at the timeline that Ahsoka provided for Grogu’s residence at the Jedi Temple. The little guy seems to understand Mando better this season, but he’s still basically a baby with a one-track mind for snacks. Are we really supposed to believe that he was trained at the Temple during the era of the prequels when he was 1/5th his current age?

Obviously Ahsoka is not going to train Grogu. That would require The Mandalorian to either lose its best asset or for the show to do a sharp pivot away from its title character. Neither Ahsoka nor Grogu popped up in the sequel trilogy, apart from the former’s brief vocal cameo in The Rise of Skywalker along with all the other Jedi who gave Rey a pep talk.

Rosario Dawson handled the fan favorite character quite well. Perhaps the highlight of the episode was when Ahsoka Tano reflected on her former master Anakin Skywalker in her refusal to train Grogu. Jedi are supposed to be trained at a young age to prevent outside attachments. Mando is for all intents and purposes Grogu’s father.

Mando can never succeed in his mission because it would mean the end of the series. In order to satisfy the viewers, the show is throwing out fan favorite mentions like Grand Admiral Thrawn and the planet Tython to keep things interesting. With the way “The Jedi” played out, longtime fans may get a bit antsy for more franchise reveals that probably won’t be coming anytime soon.

The only point that didn’t really work was Ahsoka Tano’s battle with Elsbeth. The whole nature of Tano’s efforts to make it seem like she killed Mando was a bit pointless, but seeing the skilled dual-wielding Jedi struggle to fight a woman wielding a beskar spear seemed very silly. Tano could’ve jerked the spear away with a single motion of the force. The fact that she didn’t gives fans a bit more satisfying of an action scene, but this sequence was silly enough to begin with.

Mando and Grogu will almost certainly not arrive on Tython with only three episodes left of the season, especially with Moff Gideon tracking the Razor Crest. Chapter 13 was the best episode of the series, striking a perfect balance between casual viewers and Star Wars superfans. This wasn’t just good television, but a perfect roadmap for a franchise to use with regard to exploring its own ethos. The Mandalorian is pretty great when it’s just performing as “The Baby Yoda show,” but there’s so much more for the series to explore.

Be sure to check out Estradiol Illusions’ Mandalorian recaps!

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21

November 2020

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The Mandalorian Season Two Recap: Chapter Twelve

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Nevarro is not a very interesting planet, too much of a Tatooine clone in a way that’s only exacerbated by the existence of Jakku. There are seemingly countless planets for The Mandalorian to explore, but so far the show has followed the Star Trek model of prioritizing places that piles of rocks. Piles of rocks make for easy reusable set pieces.

The Mandalorian has very few recurring characters, let alone ones who are friendly to Mando and Baby Yoda. Greef Karga and Cara Dune are about it among the living. By practically every measure of conventional television storytelling, it makes sense that they’d pop up in season two, even if the plot might be better off with heading into new territory.

Mando’s arrival to Nevarro was a bit awkward, featuring some pretty wooden dialogue between Mando, Cara, and Greef. The Mandalorian has never been much for exposition, but a scene or two with Mando laying out the stakes of the season felt needed in this briskly paced episode. It’s always fun to see Carl Weathers again, who also directed this episode, but the writing hardly did his character any favors this time around.

As often happens with The Mandalorian, the action sequences are used to cover up the rushed exposition and clunky dialogue. The return of the unnamed Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) who Mando first captured in the show’s very first episode was a fun callback, though Greef and Cara’s unnecessary meanness toward him in the Imperial base was a bit much. Yelling at a guy to hurry up the second he started pushing buttons on a control system is hardly proper manners!

The first half of the episode made no effort to present the mission to blow up the Imperials as anything more than filler. Things took a completely unexpected turnaround when the team discovered that Moff Gideon had been using the base for genetic experiments. Putting aside the sly reference to midichlorians, the whole sequence served to give this detour real stakes in the show’s lore.

The action sequences were unsurprisingly spectacular. To some extent, the Stormtrooper cannon fodder is getting a little stale, but the sets are so fun to look at that it’s hard to care. The Trexler Marauder ship battle between the speeder bikes and the Tie Fighters was one of the highlights of the whole series, something that could have easily been showcased in a feature film.

One of the big questions I had heading into the season was how hard the show would try and capitalize on Baby Yoda’s status as one of the cutest fictional characters in the world. Baby Yoda being dropped in a classroom only to steal a student’s blue macarons is the kind of sequence that pretty much solely exists for memes. The little fella has a one-track mind when it comes to food, and it’s pretty much the most adorable thing in Star Wars history. He may not be a very good ship engineer, but he’s got a career waiting for him on The Food Network when this is all over.

The return of Captain Carson Teva, last seen leaving the ice planet in his X-wing instead of helping Mando fix his ship, hints at a broader role for the New Republic. The Outer Rim has historically been a problematic area for both Imperial and Republic control, though Greef and Cara seem to be keeping Nevarro in relatively good shape. As a series, The Mandalorian hasn’t spent a ton of time trying to bridge the gap between The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.

 It seems unlikely that Mando will want to be a part of any broader conflict between the remnants of the Empire and the New Republic, exacerbated by the show’s fairly slow pace. The show does a good job presenting its adventures as existing in the larger canon without getting anyone’s expectations up. The Empire is tracking the Razor Crest, hinting that perhaps the broader New Republic will get involved after all.

Chapter 12 recovered nicely after a bumpy first act, putting forth some of the series’ best action scenes. One could be forgiven for an eye-roll at the return to Nevarro given how much this season has dragged its feet already. With four episodes left to go, hopefully the show will stop taking detours. For now, it’s still some of the best entertainment television has to offer.

Be sure to listen to Estradiol Illusions’ Mandalorian recaps!

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14

November 2020

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The Mandalorian Season Two Recap: Chapter Eleven

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Would Mando be better off simply traveling to various planets asking locals in their bars for help finding Jedi? Maybe he should stand on a table holding Baby Yoda up, yelling, “Does anyone know where this kid came from?” That’s basically where we’re at.

Last episode saw the Razor Crest almost destroyed because Mando needed to travel at sub-light to protect Frog Lady’s eggs. The reason beyond this dangerous missions was supposed to be that Frog Lady’s husband had valuable information as to where Mando could find other helmet-wearers like him. Mando will likely spend the rest of his days picking spider webs out of his ship in service to this vital step in his journey.

Upon arriving at the water-heavy planet Trask, almost destroying what’s left of the ship in the process, Mr. Frog Lady does have a big reveal. He points at a bar. That’s it. That’s the information Mando almost died for. A glorified chowder recommendation.

Mando would have been much better off simply asking the X-wing pilots if they knew of any Jedi. They probably do. None of this is nitpicking. This season has yet to supply a reason for its broader quest to find other Mandalorians.

Mando finds some leads while Baby Yoda chows down on octopus chowder. Mr. Frog Lady didn’t exactly give the best intel, as the Quarren fishing boat was less interested in helping Mando than acquiring his armor. Baby Yoda’s floating bassinet apparently doesn’t float over water.

Part of the beauty of The Mandalorian is that it’s clearly crafted by people who love Star Wars. The series isn’t constructed in a way that forces anyone to watch animated shows like The Clone Wars or Rebels, while rewarding those that do. Seeing Bo-Katan in live-action is amazing, especially with Katee Sackoff reprising her role from the animated series.

Unlike Mando, Bo-Katan and her buddies are free to remove their helmets. While fitting in line with their animated appearances, seeing helmet-less Mandalorians is also valuable for the audience. People like to see faces and the expressions worn on them. This dynamic also allows the show to explore Mando’s core belief, one that would naturally sound pretty radical to any casual viewer.

Bo-Katan suggests that Mando is a Child of the Watch, essentially a Mando-extremist cult that broke off from the rest of Mandalore’s society. Mando doesn’t have a ton of time to process this information before the rest of the 35-minute episode’s action scenes need to take place, but this is a valuable question for the show to explore over the course of its run. Ideally, we the viewer may like to envision a scenario where Mando settles down, able to look at his adopted son with his own eyes.

Speaking of Baby Yoda, thankfully the little guy didn’t eat any more of Frog Lady’s eggs. It’s kind of ridiculous that Mando would ask her to babysit considering his snacking habits last episode, but it’s not like he has a ton of friends, on Trask or elsewhere. Kuiil would have been a great traveling babysitter. I miss him.

The action scenes aboard the Gozanti-class Imperial cruiser were great. It was super fun to see TV veteran Titus Welliver as the ship captain, who sadly died before he got a chance to have some tea. Obviously the other Mandalorians weren’t interested in raiding the ship for blasters, or other weapons.

Great to see the return of Moff Gideon. Giancarlo Esposito is fabulous in everything he’s in. Darksaber is one of the big questions of this season, one that I suspect the show won’t be in too big of a rush to address. Fun episodes like this make the destination less important than the journey.

Mando’s quest to find other Mandos did prove fruitful. After quoting Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger Together” slogan from her 2016 campaign, Bo-Katan tells Mando to head to Calodan to find Ahsoka Tano, another fan favorite. He probably could have stumbled upon that tidbit without having to travel by sublight to Trask, but here we are.

“The Heiress” demonstrates the show’s keen ability to simultaneously satisfy casual fans and Star Wars diehards. The Mandalorian rarely suffers when it drags its feet, but this episode moved the plot forward in a way that’s been lacking from this season’s first two installments. We’re almost at the halfway marker, as much as it feels like things just got started. Boba Fett may not come back until the end of the season, if at all. For now, that hardly seems to matter.

For more of Ian’s Mandalorian analysis, be sure to check out Estradiol Illusion’s weekly recaps

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7

November 2020

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The Mandalorian Season Two Review: Chapter Ten

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Big reveals like last episode’s Boba Fett cameo naturally create a sense of anticipation that The Mandalorian is obviously not in any rush to address. For the most part the show does a pretty good job with episodic storytelling, delivering quality television in a way that makes you okay with the fact that the big questions aren’t going to be answered any time soon. Elaborate action sequences and short episode runtimes don’t leave a ton of time for narrative.

Episode Two, “The Passenger,” does not care about story. The pieces of this episode feel like puzzle pieces that were jammed together out of place, reverse engineered to justify a giant spider sequence. This is by far the clunkiest narrative of The Mandalorian thus far. Frog Lady (literally the name listed on the show’s IMDB) is nothing more than a plot device.

The episode starts off with a fairly impressive action sequence on the outskirts of Tatooine, involving a failed attempt to ransom Baby Yoda for Mando’s jet pack. Baby Yoda’s cutest moment in the episode came early, delivering a sly glance of approval toward his adopted dad’s antics. Obviously the bandits were not going to get away with stealing Mando’s toys.

We run into Peli Motto at the famed Mos Eisley cantina, playing sabacc with a giant ant, a not-so-subtle nod to episode director Peyton Reed, who helmed both Ant-Man movies. Peli’s scenes last episode were fairly rushed and perfunctory. Here, Amy Sedaris works her charm with a bit more screen time, albeit in an exposition-heavy sequence that almost immediately got right to the chase.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mando’s early conversations with Greef Karga. Carl Weathers was given plenty of time to make his character shine, providing a valuable ally for Mando to interact with. This show doesn’t have a ton of recurring characters.

Peli is given a fraction of the time that Greef received, while essentially aiming to serve in a similar function. Peli got a few lines of rushed banter in before neatly advancing the plot, the kind of fast pacing you’d see on an episode of Law & Order. Can’t she have a moment to breathe?

The bigger issue with this whole dynamic is that the show has yet to make a case for why the audience should care about Mando’s quest to find other Mandalorians. The mission feels like an obligatory plot device, a notion in line with the amount of time it’s received these past few episodes. The show doesn’t need to solve this narrative right away, but it would be nice if The Mandalorian at least made an attempt to explain the importance of this season’s broader arc.

Detours can be fun. Seeing New Republic x-wings is fun. This episode had excellent action sequences, but time and time again it failed miserably on the narrative front. The sub-light travel mandate was only sort of convincingly explained, a slight step up from Frog Lady using pieces of the mercenary droid Q9-0 from last year’s sixth episode to communicate.

The weakest scene by far involved Frog Lady trying to guilt Mando into saving her eggs while the Razor Crest sat on an unstable pile of ice chunks with a giant hole in its hull. Are we really supposed to care about these eggs when Baby Yoda has been repeatedly chomping on them? Did Frog Lady notice what the little guy was doing, even after she’d saved his life?

Baby Yoda is cute and all, but the show too often tried to play it both ways with the eggs, using them for humor but also as an emotional anchor propelling Mando to care about Frog Lady. The spider sequence was fun to watch if you don’t think too hard about why it took Mando so long to use his flamethrower. Assuming these spiders fear fire like most arachnids, Mando could’ve easily kept them away from the ship.

The follow up scene with the New Republic pilots similarly fell flat. Maybe they had time to learn Mando’s noble history while flying around looking for the Razor Crest enough to not want to arrest him, though it’s unclear why they wouldn’t help him fix his ship. That hole looked pretty bad, though maybe not as big an issue as when the Jawas stripped his whole ship in the second episode of last season.

The stellar action sequences weren’t enough to make up for the cringeworthy nature of practically every scene involving dialogue. A strong contender for worst episode of the whole show. Bad Mandalorian is still fun Mandalorian, but this show is capable of better than this clunky plotting and bad writing. It’s hard to give filler a pass when it is this poorly assembled.

Be sure to check out Estradiol Illusions’ Mandalorian podcast recaps!

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October 2020

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The Mandalorian Season Two Review: Chapter Nine

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

As The Mandalorian progressed through its first season, the question of narrative constantly presented itself. The show has existed in the fairly uncommon middle-ground between serialization and episodic, most often preferring the advantages of self-contained storytelling over a broader long-game. The season one finale suggested a turning of the page of sorts for the series, with the titular character embarking on a specific quest to reunite the beloved Baby Yoda with his own kind.

That held true for about ten minutes into the episode, until Mando found reason to return, yet again, to Tatooine. For all the endless possibilities out there in the galaxy, this same pile of rocks seems to be the only place that matters. Tatooine certainly does matter, for throwback references such as the return of A New Hope’s R5-D4 and his bad motivator. Between Tatooine, Nevarro, and Jakku, Star Wars certainly loves its shades of the same desert aesthetic.

Episode one is essentially a retread of season one’s fourth episode, both centering on villages coming together to defeat a giant big-bad. The Krayt dragon is another figure of franchise lore, the figure who Obi-Wan impersonated with a loud shriek to scare off the Tusken Raiders back in the first movie. The Mandalorian brought to life an abstract idea that has existed in fan theories for decades.

The CGI-crafted menace was pretty impressive, putting aside the obvious Dune comparisons. Tatooine has always been compared to Dune, but Tatooine didn’t have its own sandworm before (Sarlacc doesn’t really count since they stay in their pits). Dune comparisons surfaced again with talk of water feuds between the village of Mos Pelgo and the Sand People. At least there wasn’t any talk of the spice!

As the Marshal, Timothy Olyphant was pretty perfect, channeling his roles in Deadwood and Justified. Show creator Jon Favreau, pulling writing and directing duties on the episode, also threw in a nice touch with fellow Deadwood alum W. Earl Brown turning up as the Weequay barkeep, giving Mos Pelgo the feel of a frontier mining town. Olyphant was a bit more Raylan Givens than Seth Bullock, his obvious joy radiating in every scene.

Olyphant’s exuberant performance as book creation Cobb Vanth was enough to carry the episode, otherwise relatively light on its cutest asset. Seeing Vanth in the Boba Fett armor practically overshadowed the episode’s biggest reveal at the end, with Temuera Morrison returning to the franchise, portraying the adult Boba without his helmet for the first time. In theory, Morrison could be playing one of thousands of Jango Fett clones, but it’d be pretty shocking if it wasn’t the most famous wearer of Mandalorian armor.

Neither Boba nor Jango are actually Mandalorians themselves, a point of great fan interest over the years which should make for a pretty interesting showdown later on in the series. As far as Mando’s primary quest this episode goes, it’s a little weak to have him roaming around looking for others of his kind. Especially if that quest continues to take Mando and Baby Yoda back to familiar territory.

One aspect of the episode that didn’t really work was the return of Amy Sedaris as Peli Motto. Sedaris brought a lot of comedic charm last season, but her interactions in this episode felt rushed and perfunctory. For a nostalgia-heavy episode, I’m not sure we needed much nostalgia for last year. The writing simply didn’t give Sedaris anywhere to go.

The action scenes were extremely solid, if not a bit obligatory. There’s plenty to love watching Mando slay a dragon alongside Timothy Olyphant and celebrating with a big cut of Krayt steak for Baby Yoda to eat when he’s not chowing down on nuggies. I’m sure we all could’ve used a few more adorable moments from the little fella who took a backseat role this episode, the perfect antidote to 2020.

Olyphant’s exuberant performance carried an episode that was otherwise a bit too comfortable in familiar territory. Maybe the nostalgia will run out at some point, though the return of Boba Fett suggests that probably won’t be for a while. Endless callbacks didn’t exactly turn out so well for The Rise of Skywalker, but The Mandalorian has faired much better in this regard.

To some extent, one might want to expect a bit more out of a show that was nominated for the Emmy’s top prize. The Mandalorian is often better described as great entertainment rather than prestige drama, not the kind of fare that traditionally competes for Best Drama. As long as the show keeps putting out enjoyable episodes like this premiere, the long-game and serialization questions won’t matter all that much. We’ve seen this story before, but it’s a pretty good story.

Programming note: Estradiol Illusions will be featuring weekly podcast reviews for the show. Episodes will release either Saturday or Sunday after each new show. Thank you for reading!

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December 2019

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The Mandalorian Season One Review: Chapter 8

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

Chapter 8 came with plenty of high expectations, even if there probably isn’t a single soul out there who thought that Disney would kill off Baby Yoda after his capture at the end of last week’s episode. Director Taika Waititi, who also voices nurse droid IG-11, is one of the most imaginative filmmakers currently working, a perfect choice for the finale. Unsurprisingly, he delivered a spectacular episode of television.

The opening scene with the Scout Troopers was an emotional roller coaster. Jason Sudekis and Adam Pally were pretty funny, mocking their profession’s well-known reputation for being horrible marksman. They also repeatedly hit one of the cutest characters in television history. Hard to laugh when such an adorable baby is in pain.

For a show with relatively few characters, The Mandalorian managed to deliver satisfying arcs for practically everyone who appeared in more than one scene. IG-11 is not exactly a character who needed to return after chapter one, but the show gave the reformed assassin a redemptive narrative that ended up working quite well. The scene where he rode into town guns-blazing was an absolute treat.

Does Moff Gideon seem like the kind of guy to give people until nightfall, presumably several hours away, to turn themselves in? The whole sequence felt a little arbitrary, especially with the blaster-resistant sewer grate. The revelation of Mando’s name, Din Djarin, was almost as exciting as the sight of his face after all these episodes.

The flashback sequence was also well-executed, though hopefully we’ve seen the last of Mando’s droid bigotry. Baby Yoda’s use of the Force has been handled well, deployed sparingly in a believable manner. The way this episode handled IG-11’s death makes Kuiil’s quicker demise seem a little shortchanged by comparison.

The Armorer ended up being a more emotionally powerful character than I would have expected following her last appearance. Her support of Mando’s mission feels genuine, though the embrace of Baby Yoda by the Mandalorians in general makes you wonder why Mando didn’t just bring him to Mandalore in the first place. Her action sequence battling the Stormtroopers was well-handled. A death by those incompetent fools would have been a bummer.

Hopefully next season will feature more of the backstory behind what happened on Navarro after chapter 3. The Mandalorians paid a heavy price for helping Baby Yoda, especially when you consider how that whole mission went against The Guild, hurting their credibility as bounty hunters. We know little of their broader belief system, but they do seem like genuinely good people.

Carl Weathers did a fabulous job as Greef throughout the season. This episode saw the character deliver his best line, “Come on baby, do the magic hand thing!” His case for the planet of Navarro also felt quite genuine for something that was clearly intended to be comedic relief.

Moff Gideon was well-deployed this episode. The Tie Fighter sequence was great, and the Darksaber revelation was absolutely wild for fans of the Expanded Universe. I’m glad that he survived the season, as Giancarlo Esposito is too good of a villainous actor to only use in two episodes.

I do wonder why it seems that only important characters seem capable of surviving ship crashes in this saga. Luke took several shots to his X-Wing in the Battle of Yavin while practically everyone else not named Wedge Antilles saw their ships destroyed with a single blast. Maybe Moff Gideon had a great airbag.

As much sense as it makes that the group would go their separate ways at the end of the episode, part of me wishes that Cara Dune had stuck with Mando. That whole dynamic would have clashed with the show’s gunslinger vibe, but the episodes where Mando has an ally have worked better than the ones where he’s alone in taking care of Baby Yoda. It’s hard to imagine she won’t be back next season though.

This episode was easily the best of the season, one of the most exciting chapters in the entire Star Wars saga. The storylines came full circle in a very satisfying manner, while leaving plenty to be excited about for next year. The bar was set pretty high for Taika Waititi, who made the perfect case for why he should be given his own trilogy.

Quick programming note: my full season review will be posted later this week. Thank you to everyone who’s followed along with our recaps this season. I hope you had as much fun as we did.

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