Ah, Tatooine. The most action-packed backwater in the galaxy. One begins to wonder if Luke Skywalker was just being a petulant adolescent when he told C-3PO, “if there’s a bright center to the universe, you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from,” because both in the movies and on The Mandalorian, there’s plenty of action on Luke’s homeworld. Those who come into the series’ second season premiere expecting a continuation the events of last year’s finale will have to kick up their boots and wait a while, because with “The Marshal” series creator Jon Favreau is announcing his intent to take things as slow as a dehydrated Bantha under twin suns at noon. This week’s adventure could easily have been an episode of a classic TV Western were it not for all the Star Wars details, and making the season premiere a (mostly) standalone episode was a bold choice that paid off.
We open with a bit of misdirection wrapped in a thrilling action sequence, as Mando takes The Child down a dark, graffiti-covered alley full of red-eyed carnivorous rodent-type creatures on an unnamed urban planet—a place a 50-year-old of his species should never go, especially at night. “You know this is no place for a child,” says their target Gor Koresh (John Leguizamo), saying what we’re all thinking as two Gamorreans fight to the death with vibro-axes in the background. Mando and the Child have come to this rough-and-tumble arena on a bit of serialized business: Mando tells Gor he’s been given a mission to return The Child to his kind, but he needs the tracking skills of another of his kind—a Mandalorian—to help make that happen. But Gor, being a space gangster and all, is more interested in stealing Mando’s very shiny, very valuable armor. Melee ensues.
And soon enough, Mando is landing the Razor Crest back at Peli Motto’s (Amy Sedaris) garage, and Peli, like the rest of us, is pleased to see The Child again. And I’m always pleased to see Sedaris, but despite a few funny lines like, “if this thing ever divides or buds, I will gladly pay for the offspring,” her appearance was one of the few things about this episode that didn’t really click for me. The comedy felt a bit forced, a moment of levity inserted before one was really needed in the season. The frequent cutaways to reaction shots of The Child also felt a bit unnecessary, in the sense that the lil’ guy didn’t really factor into the plot of this episode; I kept waiting for him to intervene with the Force, because he appeared on camera so often, but the moment didn’t arrive. Then again, too much cute is a good problem to have.
[***Stop reading here if you want to keep the identity of this week’s guest star a surprise***]
Speaking of misdirection, this episode really teased us with the return of Boba Fett: When Gor tips off Mando that he’s heard about a Mandalorian on Tatooine, that’s where your mind immediately goes given that Fett was last seen sliding into the Sarlacc pit on that planet. But, as I mentioned up top, Favreau isn’t going to give us everything we want all at once. And so once Mando and The Child arrive in the extra-sleepy, extra-dusty town of Mos Pelgo, the armor appears, but not Fett. Turns out it’s Cobb Vanth, a classic Old West lawman type who first appeared in the 2015 (so, post-Disney, i.e. in-canon) novel Aftermath. Vanth is all about protecting the innocent, neckerchiefs, and delivering monologues with a faraway look in his eye, which makes Justified’s Timothy Olyphant, looking a bit like Pierce Brosnan with his silver hair and stubbled jawline, a natural for the role.
Turns out Vanth acquired Fett’s armor from a band of Jawas while he was stranded in the desert with a camtono full of silicax crystals—a long story, and a deviation from the character’s backstory in the novel. (Olyphant tells it better than I could, anyway.) Similarly honor-bound, Mando wants to return the armor to the Mandalorian fold, which kicks off the episode’s standalone plot. Everything mentioned here happens within the first 17 minutes of a 50 minute episode, the majority of which is devoted to Vanth and Mando uniting the townsfolk of Mos Pelgo with the local tribe of Tusken Raiders—filling, as always, the role played by Native Americans in a Western—to take down the Krayt dragon that threatens to swallow them all whole. (Really. That thing is enormous.)
The cinematography, creature work (both CGI and practical), and the action direction in “The Marshal” are all excellent: sweeping, exciting, and gorgeous to look at. Disney and Lucasfilm are clearly pouring a lot of resources into this show, and to have such an elaborate production finished within a year of last season really is an accomplishment. The adventure story was compelling as well, incorporating elements of medieval fantasy—two armored knights fighting a fearsome dragon—and Biblical parable—Mando in the belly of the whale—as well as the Western element of “cowboys” and “Indians” uniting against a common threat, with Mando as the lone gunslinger who acts as a go-between. That spin is very Star Wars, in that it emphasizes species coming together in service of a greater good. It worked for the Rebel Alliance, and it worked on Tatooine—which maybe now, finally, will go back to being a boring place where nothing ever happens.
- When we were putting together The Mandalorian character guide for the second season, I considered including Peli Motto, but thought to myself, “what are the odds they’re going to go back to Tatooine so soon?” Well, isn’t the Porg egg on my face.
- Between the red-eyed creatures that devour Gor Koresh and the womp rats scuttling around the edges of the action on Tatooine, this was a very rodent-heavy episode.
- Speaking of: Olyphant really is perfect for delivering folksy dialogue like my new favorite saying, “I guess every once in a while, both suns shine on a womp rat’s tail.”
- I actually recognized Olyphant just from his lanky frame when he first appeared in the doorway of the desolate Mos Pelgo cantina, which was pretty cool.
- The closeup on a windmill blowing in the hot, dry air as the Krayt dragon approached was a wonderful little space Western detail.
- Between Fett’s armor making it out no more than a little beat up and the Krayt dragon eating one for lunch, maybe Sarlaccs aren’t as inescapable as we all thought.
- The Krayt dragon skeleton made for Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope is still sitting out there in the desert in Tunisia somewhere, one of many abandoned props and sets left to bake in the North African sun after shooting was completed.
- I’m not going to spoil the identity of the mystery man at the end of the episode for those who didn’t recognize him, but if you go back and watch Star Wars: Episode II—Attack Of The Clones (or just check the end credits), all will be revealed.
- The baby cart has officially been weaponized. Hell yeah.
- This episode is also both a Deadwood and a Justified reunion, thanks to W. Earl Brown’s appearance as the Weequay bartender at the Mos Pelgo cantina. He’s been geeking out about the show, and his appearance on it, all day on Instagram: