[Editor’s Note: The following review of “The Mandalorian” contains spoilers for the second episode, “Chapter 2: The Child.”]
“The Mandalorian” covered plenty of ground and raised a handful of questions in its pilot episode. Also: Baby Yoda. Baby Yoda is good. Baby Yoda is the true star of this show.
The show’s second episode doesn’t lack for scenes focused on the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) bonding with his new little green friend, but outside those moments, there’s worryingly little in the show’s latest 30-odd minutes to help it stand out from its sci-fi adventure contemporaries. References to older aspects of “Star Wars” abound, but throwbacks to Wookiees and Sandcrawlers aren’t enough to mask stilted dialogue and a plot that mostly just impedes the larger narrative “The Mandalorian” seems to be building toward.
After a brief, albeit satisfyingly intense, ambush by two rival bounty hunters, the Mandalorian treks back to his ship with Baby Yoda. Unfortunately, a band of Jawas have stripped the spacecraft clean, so the Mandalorian must put the plot on hold to chase after the diminutive scavengers and reclaim his ship’s parts.
Jawas have always been weaselly little cretins in “Star Wars” lore, and longtime fans will delight in seeing the creatures’ antics after such a long live-action absence. They scurry around like rodents, make funny noises, and are pragmatic enough to wheel and deal with the Mandalorian, despite the bounty hunter disintegrating several of their colleagues and hurling a few more to their presumed deaths. They’ll trade the Mandalorian’s ship parts back if he can get them a big egg, and off the hero goes on an episode-length video game fetch quest.
That the plot detours like this is disappointing, but it would be excusable if the episode used the time to satisfyingly flesh out its characters and worldbuilding. The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda do indeed bond and it’s the highlight of the episode — more on that in a moment — but outside those scenes, it’s hard to shake the feeling that “Episode 2” isn’t much more than filler.
There’s not much in the way of dialogue to convince viewers that this egg excursion is little more than a roadblock to a potentially more interesting story. Conversations are largely limited to explaining things the audience is already aware of, and the delivery of most lines are as robotic as the prequel trilogy’s battle droids. It’s telling when the episode’s best line, where a Jawa mocks the Mandalorian’s attempt to speak their language, is delivered via unintelligible alien-speak.
Weak dialogue and some logic gaps — the Mandalorian’s Blurrg mount apparently vanished, among a handful of other admittedly minor gripes — aside, there’s little to actively complain about in the moment-to-moment action. If nothing else, “The Mandalorian” is a joy to listen to; Composer Ludwig Göransson’s score manages to sound faithful to the franchise’s classic music while also having its own dramatic flair. Series creator Jon Favreau has raised haughty comparisons to the “Mad Max” franchise, but it genuinely comes through in the audio department.
Göransson’s work shines especially bright when the Mandalorian fights a giant alien rhinoceros thing (brought to life with some particularly impressive CGI). The fight scene is generally great and takes an especially thrilling turn when Baby Yoda uses the Force to stop the creature in its tracks and lift it in the air. That Baby Yoda uses the Force is hardly surprising, but even the most cynical “Star Wars” fan will have trouble restraining a joyous cheer when it finally happens. It’s fan service at its apex.
But for viewers that won’t be agape at the sight of Jawas or Baby Yoda doing some Space Telekinesis, this is all fairly routine sci-fi stuff. “The Mandalorian” is doubtlessly enhanced by its IP, and though it is competently shot and choreographed, the series has yet to elevate itself beyond anything else major sci-fi titles — or other “Star Wars” projects, for that matter — haven’t already done. It’s doubtlessly entertaining and never truly drags, but it’s rarely more than mildly enjoyable, either. It’s…fine.
The primary exception is Baby Yoda, who is as adorably delightful as social media sentiment suggests. Episode 2 features several quiet scenes where the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda interact, and they’re equal parts silly and wondrous.
The dialogue between the two is mostly limited to Baby Yoda’s occasional whimpering and cooing, which is absolutely for the best. “The Mandalorian” is strongest when the actions of its characters, rather than its words, drive the story, and if the show leans further into this buddy cop — or buddy space bounty hunter and little green alien thing — dynamic in future episodes, all the better.
The Mandalorian repairs his ship and sets off to deliver Baby Yoda to Werner Herzog’s character (who is tragically absent here) at the end of the episode. With the egg side quest completed, “The Mandalorian” has the potential to deliver on the gritty, morally grey action its prerelease publicity machine promised. It’s just a shame to see the flagship Disney+ series kill much of its momentum so early in the season.