The Mandalorian Season 2 has come to a close, and the show is at a crossroads.
The Mandalorian has ended its second season, and it is very likely that most people will be thoroughly pleased and energized with what this season had to offer. And there was certainly plenty to enjoy. The Season 2 premiere was a great example of how the series was able to throw in a few treats of Star Wars lore and familiarity while still feeling like the knight-errant story that the show presented in its initial episode. When the show has stuck to that mission statement, it has been a real joy.
But, this is Star Wars. And that means that The Mandalorian was eventually going to be subjected to an incursion of elements that existed outside its own sphere of influence. And the finale of Season 2 puts such a point on that with a major returning character that it nearly knocks the wind out of the entire show. Many fans will jump for joy at The Things They Know, but The Mandalorian has felt like such a breath of fresh air in the Star Wars universe because it felt like it was actually committing to carving out its own path and identity.
To be fair, it has been successful at that when it comes to the filmmaking on display. The Mandalorian has been a delightful experience when it comes to injecting a new sense of mood into the world of Star Wars. This season was littered with expertly crafted episodes that made Star Wars feel vibrant and unexpected again. And that certainly carries through the Season 2 finale – the dark troopers get some absolutely phenomenal closeups that make them feel like some of the most exciting Star Wars antagonists of this new era – but it all gets swept under the rug once all the peripheral lore elements come smashing through the set.
In all honesty, the ending of The Mandalorian Season 2 almost feels like a weird meta-commentary on this very aspect. The final scene (before the fun post-credits teaser for another show) has little Grogu being taken away by old remnants of the Star Wars franchise. And as Din Djarin looks on with tears in his eyes as his de facto son is going away, the episode seems to want us to feel equally sad. But, at the same time, it wants us to celebrate this glorious return of The Things You Know as ultra badass and rewarding. Is The Mandalorian actually starting to examine its own relationship to the Star Wars franchise? Is it wanting us to feel bad about abandoning this new world and characters to the past? Or is it even aware of the commentary it’s making about itself?
Season 2 of The Mandalorian seems so at odds with itself in this regard. It wants to continue its mission as a fun riff on spaghetti Westerns/chanbara, but it also felt obligated to start stuffing in as many outside Star Wars facets as it possibly could. Nearly every episode featured some character that tied into previous material that existed before The Mandalorian. And the Season 2 finale doubles down on that in such a massive way that it can’t help but feel like it is sacrificing its own sense of identity in order to appease the old Star Wars guard.
Still, it is hard to deny the base cinematic pleasures of The Mandalorian. This is a truly wonderful show when it comes to how it presents itself photographically. Not to mention the delightful score work by Ludwig Göransson who brings a new flavor to so much of the show. The aggressively industrial-technological music that accompanies the dark troopers is unlike anything we have ever heard in Star Wars before. And while it maintains the aesthetic trappings of the franchise, it continues to find innovative ways to present them.
With where The Mandalorian Season 2 leaves off, the show feels like it is at a very definitive crossroads. It can either continue to drench itself in other pre-established Star Wars elements, or it can acknowledge its own sense of self-conflict and fight back against familiarity and comfort to continue doing something new. One way will probably make most Star Wars fans very happy while keeping things feeling the same old, same old. The other way is a risk that could pay off by making The Mandalorian one of the more standalone pieces of Star Wars fiction in the Disney era. But, it certainly seems like fans are exuberant after seeing The Things They Know, and if that’s the message Disney receives, then you can bet there will be even less focus on Mando going forward and more focus on Star Wars™.