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Wild West conventions abound: sweeping shots of a vast desert in the late-afternoon sunlight; the town sheriff having a drink in the local pub; an outsider walking in and the sheriff telling him, “I figure only one of us is walking out of here.” The camera lingers on the pistol in the leather holster during an almost-duel, the sheriff’s fingers hovering slightly over the trigger, and the lone wolf protagonist rallies the town against an outside threat.
These are the images that writer and director Jon Favreau reproduces in “The Mandalorian” Season Two premiere, “The Marshal.” Released on Oct. 30, the episode follows Din Djarin, the titular Mandalorian, as he continues his quest to reunite the Child (aka Baby Yoda) with its kind. Stylistically, “The Marshal” serves in part as an ode to Western film tradition. From the location (the desert planet of Tatooine) to the characters (the unnamed marshal of desert town Mos Pelgo and the stereotypically lone wolf Mandalorian), the season premiere pulls tropes and themes liberally from mid-century Western classics to create an intricate tapestry of “Star Wars” mainstays — like desert speed bikes and all manner of interesting animal species — and fresh, outside influences.
With the conventions of Western films as his backdrop, Favreau subtly draws parallels between cinematic cowboys and Mando, making his position as a lone ranger and outsider in Mos Pelgo especially palpable. At the same time, the similarities the episode has with Western cinema serve, too, to mark obvious differences. Despite being effectively solitary in his mission, the Mandalorian escapes the trap of becoming a one-dimensional John Wayne-type character. Instead, viewers see a Mando who is complex yet noble. He serves as the mediator between the warring groups of townspeople and the purportedly barbaric Tusken Raiders, all while treating both with respect. Favreau’s fidelity to Western tropes makes the Mandalorian’s divergence from the image of the macho cowboy all the more meaningful.
The episode, in classic Star Wars fashion, delves deep into themes of family and lineage. In the original Star Wars films, it’s Anakin Skywalker’s lack of a strong father figure that turns him toward the dark side and sets the Star Wars saga into motion. Fatherhood is central to the story, and Skywalker’s need to be a father to Luke is what eventually saves him. In “The Mandalorian,” this need is paralleled by Mando and the Child. The narrative — both in Season One and in “The Marshal” — is fully driven by the Mandalorian’s desire to help the Child.
Still, the relationship between the Mandalorian and the Child is far less prominent in this episode. While all of the Mandalorian’s own actions throughout the episode are rooted in his care for the Child, “The Marshal” still follows a very “side-quest” type of story when it comes to the grander trajectory of Mando’s mission. As he spends most of the episode uniting the people of Mos Pelgo and the Tusken Raiders in an epic fight to slay the krayt dragon, the Child falls to the wayside. Furthermore, rather than serve a purpose in the deadly fight — as he did on Tatooine in Season One when he used the force against a mudhorn — the Child here is used solely as a form of quick comic relief. For the nearly-hour-long episode, it does little more than make faces at the screen whenever there’s a moment of tension, which, albeit capitalizing on the cuteness of the Child, does little to forward the narrative.
While it was long, the episode’s commitment to getting a fresh look at the Star Wars universe — one that is just as rooted in shows of solidarity among different peoples (Tusken Raiders and Mos Pelgo townspeople) as it is in gunslinging action scenes — makes “The Mandalorian” a worthy watch for Star Wars diehards and more casual fans alike.
With the release of Episode IX and Season Seven of “The Clone Wars,” “The Mandalorian” is the only piece of new Star Wars content left. And yet, it is more unlike “Star Wars” than anything released in a while. Mando’s commitment to a singular journey and the show’s commitment to representing this goal in short, character-rich vignettes serves as a breath of fresh air in the Star Wars canon. In recent Star Wars films and offshoots, the stories seem to find their value in their connection to the grander Star Wars mythology, but in ”The Mandalorian,” the substance is in the episodic vignettes themselves.
In “Clone Wars,” each installment in the series would also follow one-off characters in random battles, but even then, the lore was always heavy, and it still felt very much like Star Wars. “The Mandalorian,” in contrast, just feels entirely like the day-to-day adventures of Mando. By rooting the story on him, a complex character with a strong background and a steadily growing character arc, “The Mandalorian” is able to exist without relying on the celebrity of the Star Wars universe as a crutch, while still engaging with the expansive themes and characters provided by the franchise. In this way, the show allows for the definition of Star Wars to move beyond campy dogfights and corny dialogue to something fresh and unique.
—Staff writer Sofia Andrade can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SofiaAndrade__.
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