The premiere for Season 2 of The Mandalorian was always going to struggle to live up to the pure hype surrounding it. Season 1 could be argued to have revitalized areas of the Star Wars fandom unhappy with the sequel trilogy, creating newfound trust and respect between Disney and the fans. Combine this with critical success leading to a fantastic showing at the Emmys and you have a mammoth level of expectation that any show would struggle to live up to.
It seemed with this episode, Chapter 9 subtitled as The Marshall, that director and creator Jon Favreau was really stuck in two minds with what to do. On one hand, you have what previously made The Mandalorian so successful: a willingness to change up everything we have seen of Star Wars to this point by allowing great filmmakers to tell stories that expand and change the universe. On the other, you have a desire to cling on to what fans had already loved.
The opening scene draws various parallels to the opening scene of the preceding season, both in the set up and the execution of the action. There are plenty of shots of Baby Yoda (cute as ever) making cooing noises with ears flopping, of the things that we have already seen. Even the plot falls into a category we have seen before, of the titular Mandalorian aiding a helpless village to defend themselves against a dangerous threat. These are the parts of the episode, minus the cuteness of Baby Yoda which I will always be a sucker for, that work the least. It doesn’t bring the excitement and wonder we have come to expect from this series, and in playing it safe, it can come across as a fairly boring approach.
The score is once against fantastic, as Ludwig Gӧransson is truly one of the best composers working right now. The action is solid, Baby Yoda is still the cutest ball of serotonin I’ve ever seen, and it expands the lore in interesting ways, but there is a slight hollowness to it all. Make this a mid-season episode and this is fantastic filler to show us a less trigger-happy Mando and develop an interesting character for the future in the Marshall. But in starting off a season, you really want it to kick start the plot for what’s to come. It does not do this. In terms of the main arcs, almost no progress is made in finding the Child’s parents, in exploring Mando’s backstory, or in learning what is to come next from Moff Gideon. There is a real lack of momentum, and moving forward, this is hopefully not the sign of plodding plot
Where Chapter 9 shines, however, is the areas in which it looks to be brave and expand the lore for the better. The use of Tusken Raiders is a real stand-out, and the expansion of the story around these characters and Tatooine on the whole is totally fascinating. Favreau has taken one-note characters that previous films only ever used as villainous plot drivers and turned them into a race with real depth and intrigue.
Further, the introduction of Timothy Olyphant as a Marshall wearing the armor of Boba Fett is a welcome one. There is a real skill to being able to espouse Star Wars dialogue and have it come across as consistently sincere, and this is a skill that Olyphant manages perfectly. While it seems obvious, it’s an issue certain actors in the series have had in the past and one I was more than happy to see lacking in Olyphant’s brilliant performance. Just as with Carl Weathers and Gina Carano’s opening episodes in the first season, a reappearance seems almost certain and it would be a welcome addition to the core cast if this were to happen.
Part of the reason Olyphant’s character works so well is that both actor and character are so perfectly suited to the western aesthetic created in Chapter 9. While the show has always had old-western themes prevalent throughout, this is the episode that has perhaps leaned furthest into it. Though the setup is quite similar to Sanctuary from Season 1, if that were an old Samurai tale, The Marshall is an old western version of that same story.
When examining this as a standalone episode, it is perfectly serviceable at points and brilliant at others. While there are issues with it, some of that is likely a result of the aforementioned hype – simply creating standards that would have always been incredibly difficult to reach. The characters are still well-written, the plot is engaging, and once again, Baby Yoda still manages to bring me joy with every little appearance. All in all, Chapter 9 gives me hope moving forward, as long as it sticks to what worked and strips away what did not.