Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Mandalorian Season 2, Chapter Nine: The Marshal

Sorry this review's so late. There was a lot going on the past week, as I was busy with work and the election had me too nervous and jittery to think about writing. Plus it's been so long since there's been anything to review that I honestly forgot how! I'll try and do better next week.

So, The Mandalorian's back for Season 2! I'm honestly not sure if that's a good thing or not.

As I've mentioned many times, I've been a massive Star Wars fan since I saw the first film way back in 1977. It's no exaggeration to say it shaped my career and life as well.

Then the awful Prequels happened and dealt my love for the franchise a mortal blow. Then came Disney's dismal Sequel Trilogy pulled the plug and buried it for good. Star Wars was officially dead to me.

Imagine my surprise then when The Mandalorian premiered and was not only surprisingly good, but proved there was a small flicker of life left in Star Wars after all.

Series creator Jon Favreau pumped out a near perfect first season, with only a couple of missteps. In fact I liked it so much I was honestly dreading Season 2, as I was terrified they'd find a way to screw it up.

Sadly, it's looking like that may end up being the case. Sucks to be right all the time!

One of the things I loved most about Season 1 is how it was firmly entrenched in world of Star Wars, but managed to distance itself from the main saga. Not a single mention of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader or even the Millennium Falcon. It occupied its own blissfully separate corner of the universe, allowing it to establish its own cast of characters and forge a completely new path for itself.

I have a feeling that's all about to change though. Rumor has it there's gonna be a ton of guest stars this season, including Ahsoka Tano of The Clone Wars fame, and of course fan-favorite character Boba Fett.

Jesus wept, Fett is the LAST thing this series needs. I've been a fan of the character for decades and have the merchandise to prove it, but he has no business on this show. He died way the hell back in Return Of The Jedi, and he needs to stay dead. Bringing him back just dilutes the show's main character and makes him irrelevant.

I realize I'm likely in the minority here, as the internet at large has already lost its collective mind over the prospect of seeing Fett again. Meh.

I worry that a constant parade of guest stars and cameos will become a crutch for the creative team, as they'll begin relying on stunt casting and nostalgia rather than giving us compelling stories. 

Heck, the cracks are already beginning to show with this week's episode. The Marshal was very well done and there was a lot to like about it. In fact I enjoyed it quite a bit, until I realized it featured the EXACT same plot as last year's The Child.

Don't believe me? In The Child, Manny lands on a desert planet and his ship is stripped clean by a group of Jawas. He hunts them down and demands they give back his ship parts. They agree, if he kills a vicious mudhorn for them and retrieves its egg. He battles the creature, brings back the egg and they give him his parts back.

In this episode, Manny lands on Tatooine (AGAIN) in search of a fellow Mandalorian. He eventually discovers a town Marshal who's simply wearing the discarded armor of a Mandalorian. Manny demands he hand over the armor to him, and the Marshal agrees— if he helps him kill a vicious krayt dragon that's terrorizing the town. Manny battles the creature, kills it and gets the armor back.

Jesus Christ, this is only the ninth episode and they're already recycling plots! If they're running out of original ideas this soon... well, it doesn't bode well for the longevity of the series.


The Plot:
Picking up shortly after we left off at the end of last season, Manny's been tasked by the Armorer to return Baby Yoda to his people.

Manny & Baby Yoda land on yet another unnamed planet, where they check out an illegal fight club. There, Manny meets with Gor Koresh, an alien who runs an illegal fight club. For reasons known only to himself, Manny believes this crook knows the locations of hidden Mandalorian coverts (?). He hopes the Mandalorians can help him seek out others of Baby Yoda's kind.

Koresh offers to give Manny the info in exchange for his Beskar armor. When Manny refuses, Koresh shoots one of the fighters in the ring for some reason. His henchmen then surround Manny and point their guns at him.

Manny tells Koresh he'll let him live if he gives him the info he wants. Koresh refuses, and Manny activates his "Whistling Birds" weapon, taking out several of the hired goons. Koresh then flees as Manny deals with the rest of the henchmen.

Manny catches up to Koresh outside and hangs him upside down from a street lamp. Terrified, Koresh says he'll tell him what he wants to know if he promises not to kill him. Manny assures him that he "won't die by his hand," which should have been a huge red flag to Koresh. Anyway, he tells Manny there's another Mandalorian living on Tatooine (GROANNNNN!). Manny thanks him, then shoots out the street lamp as he walks away. Dozens of red-eyed creatures emerge from the darkness and devour Koresh.

Manny then flies the Razor Crest to Tattooine again. You know, Tatooine, the planet farthest from the bright center of the universe, where nothing exciting ever happens but has been featured in six of the various films? Anyway, after landing he goes to see his pal Peli Motto, who appeared last season in The Gunslinger.

Peli tells Manny she's heard tales of a Mandalorian out near Mos Pelgo, a former mining settlement that was wiped out and no longer appears on any maps. When he says he'll check it out, she suggests he take a speeder bike to be more inconspicuous.

Manny finds the tiny outpost with no trouble, and is met with suspicious stares as he rides into town. He enters the one and only bar, asking the owner where he can find the other Mandalorian in town. Just then a figure appears in the doorway— wearing the distinctive armor of Boba Fett! GASP!!!

The figure introduces himself as the Marshal of the town, and orders two shots of spotchka, which is apparently the only alcoholic beverage in this universe. He invites Manny to join him, as he casually removes his helmet. DOUBLE GASP!!!

This is a huge insult to Manny, as he realizes the Marshal isn't an actual Mandalorian. He demands he remove the armor and give it to him immediately. The Marshal says that's not gonna happen, and the two enter into a tense standoff.

Just then the ground trembles, and the Marshal and Manny rush outside. They see a massive krayt dragon rumbling underground beneath the town's main (well, only) street. The Marshal says the dragon's been terrorizing Mos Pelgo for months, and has killed several citizens. He makes Manny an offer— help him slay the dragon in exchange for the armor. Manny agrees.

The two ride their speeder bikes toward the dragon's lair. Along the way the Marshal infodumps his origin story. His name is Cobb Vance, and he grew up in Mos Pelgo (I guess?). After the Empire was defeated, the Mining Collective moved in and enslaved the whole town. Vanth managed to escape with a container of priceless silicax crystals he stole from the miners for some reason. He fled into the Dune Sea, where he wandered for days.

Fortunately he was rescued by a Sandcrawler full of Jawas. Seeing the Boba Fett armor in their stash, he traded the crystals for it. He returned to Mos Pelgo, and with the help of the impenetrable armor, slew the Collective. 
The townspeople were so grateful they made him their Marshal.

On the way to the cave, Manny & Vanth encounter a tribe of Tusken Raiders. Fortunately Manny can communicate with them, and tells them their plan. The dragon's been terrorizing the Tuskens as well, and they agree to help in principle. They point out though that they simply don't have the numbers to take down such a massive beast. Manny casually volunteers the citizens of Mos Pelgo to help.

Vanth says the townsfolk will never agree to work with the Tuskens, as the raiders have killed many of them over the years. Manny tells Vanth it's his job to convince his people. They hold a meeting to discuss the matter. Naturally the citizens are against working with the Tuskens, who they see as monsters. Manny points out that if they don't work together, the dragon can easily engulf the entire settlement. Eventually they agree.

Some time later a group of Tuskens riding banthas arrive in Mos Pelgo. The townspeople begin loading the banthas with explosives left over from the Mining Collective. The townspeople and Tuskens then ride out to the krayt dragon's cave. The plan is to dig a large trench in front of the entrance, fill it with explosives, lure the dragon out and blow it up.

Once everything's set up, the Tuskens wake the dragon. It bursts from the entrance, and they fire numerous harpoons at it to prevent it from disappearing back underground. Unfortunately the dragon has a surprise up its sleeve, as it sprays highly acidic digestive fluid from its mouth, dissolving townspeople and Tuskens alike.

Manny waits till the dragon slithers over their trap, and gives Vanth the signal. He detonates the explosives in the hidden trench, but unfortunately it doesn't even phase the massive beast. Instead it angers it, as it begins burrowing underground and popping up to attack where they least expect it.

Manny and Vanth use their Mandalaorian jetpacks to fly around the dragon and fire on it, but they're too small to do any damage.

Manny sees one last explosive-laden bantha left and gets an idea. He yells for Vanth to get the dragon's attention, while he pulls the terrified bantha toward the massive monster. As the dragon approaches, Vanth lands and asks what the plan is. Manny hits Vanth's jetpack control, sending him careening into the sky. The dragon then swallows Manny and the bantha whole and dives deep under the sand.

After a few seconds the beast burst from the ground. It roars in pain as Manny fries the inside of its mouth with his blaster rifle and flies out. He detonates the explosives that are now deep inside the dragon, tearing it apart from within. The townspeople and Tuskens both cheer.

Sometime later the Tuskens are harvestingthe dragon's meat. One of them discovers a valuable pearl inside the dragon's innards.

Back at Mos Pelgo, Vanth tells Manny a deal's a deal, and hands him the armor. Manny thanks him and rides his speeder bike back to his ship.

Unknown to Manny, he's watched by a mysterious figure on a ridge. He turns toward the camera and we see he's a weathered Boba Fett. TRIPLE GASP!!!
• Welp, we might as well get this out of the way first thing.

Apparently whenever this series revisits Tatooine, it's State Law that the episode be jam-packed with cringe-inducing fan service. Last season's The Gunslinger was a particularly notorious example, as virtually every scene, prop and line of dialogue in that episode featured a callback to A New Hope.

Fortunately this episode's not quite as bad. There are a couple of blatant shoutouts, but nowhere near the sheer tonnage seen in The Gunslinger

As always, it might be helpful to clarify the term. To me, fan service is when a callback is unnecessary, oddly specific and doesn't serve the plot in any way.

The presence of Tatooine, droids, speeder bikes and Sandpeople is not fan service. Those are just elements that exist in the Star Wars Universe. But when one of those Sandpeople utters the exact same guttural howl heard in A New Hope for no good reason— then you got your fan service.

Here's all the pointless fan service I spotted in The Marshal:

— At one point Manny meets with his old friend Peli Motto. She calls an old R5 unit over to her to display a map for Manny. Ah, but this isn't just any R5 droid— this is R5-D4! The very same droid that Uncle Owen almost bought back in A New Hope!
How do I know this is the same droid? Because it's got a scorch mark on the top of its head in the EXACT spot where it exploded as it was heading for Luke's garage. Sigh...

— Manny encounters the Marshal, who isn't a Mandalorian at after all, but wears the armor of one.

Naturally he's not just wearing any armor, but that of fan-favorite character Boba Fett. Because of course he is. Nothing in this universe can ever just be a random piece of hardware, it has to be connected to a character somehow. 

— A bit later Manny and the Marshal ride their speeder bikes through the desert to check out the krayt dragon cave. Does the Marshal's bike look familiar to you?

It should. It appears to be cobbled together from spare parts of Anakin Skywalker's pod racer, since back in The Phantom Menace. Groannnnn! Jesus Jetskiing Christ, does anyone ever throw anything away on this planet?

— And of course the final seconds of the episode gave us the ultimate example of fan service. As Manny speeded back to his ship, a lone figure stood watching him from a distance. Of course that figure turned out to be weathered Boba Fett. Sigh...

Gods forbid a character ever die and stay dead in this universe. Let's bring 'em all back, so their fates become meaningless. Like Luke himself said, "No one's ever really gone."

This was my face every time I saw one of these scenes.

I never know how I'm supposed to react to fan service like this. Am I supposed to clap? Point at the screen and shout, "LOOK, IT'S STAR WARS! I KNOW THAT! I RECOGNIZE A THING!" 

For me, fan service is disruptive and a huge distraction, as it takes me right out of the story. I don't find these nods and callbacks fun, as all they do is make me want to turn off The Mandalorian and go watch A New Hope again instead.

• I was surprised to see this episode labeled as "Chapter Nine." I guess I just sort of figured they'd rewind and call it Season 2, Chapter One. I like the fact that they went with Nine though. It implies that the series is one long, continuous saga.

• This week's episode was written and directed by series creator Jon Favreau.

• From what I've read, the plot of this week's episode is very similar to that of two Star Wars videogames. In 2002's Bounty Hunter, you play as main character Jango Fett and battle a krayt dragon on Tatooine. Sounds similar, eh?

Then in 2003's Knights Of The Old Republic there's another krayt dragon quest on Tatooine. In that game they even use a bantha as bait!

• Looks like vandalism, er, I mean graffiti is a scourge all over the galaxy. As Manny and Baby Yoda head toward the illegal fighting ring, they pass walls covered with tons of space graffiti. 

Mixed in with the scribbled names are what appear to be renderings of a snowtrooper and a protocol droid that looks remarkably like C-3PO. Given all the annoying fan service in this episode, it probably IS supposed to be him!

• Manny meets with Gor Koresh, an Abyssin who runs an illegal fight club. Koresh was voiced by actor John Leguizamo, but I'm not sure if that was actually him under all the latex though. It's possible— Leguizamo donned pounds of prosthetic makeup when he played the Clown in the Spawn movie.

• Manny tells Koresh, "I’ve been quested to bring him (Baby Yoda) to his kind. If I can locate other Mandalorians, they can help guide me. I’m told you know where to find them.

Wait, what? Why would some low-level gangster on a backwater planet know where to find hidden Mandalorians? They're Manny's people. He was raised by them and grew up in one of their secret Coverts. Why the hell doesn't HE know where to find his own kind?
• Koresh watches a match between two Gammorean opponents. Man, those were some pretty buff-looking pig men! The Gammoreans seen in Jabba's palace in Return Of The Jedi were much... stouter, complete with full, sagging bellies. I guess it makes sense that every member of a race wouldn't have the exact same build.
• Koresh spots Baby Yoda and says the fights are no place for a child. Manny replies, "Wherever I go, he goes."

I had to laugh at that line. Back in 1985, Hasbro released "My Buddy," which was their attempt at normalizing dolls for young boys. The commercial featured a jingle that went, "My Buddy, My Buddy! Wherever I go, he goes!" Ha!

I don't know if Jon Favreau had a My Buddy doll and Manny's line was an homage to the ad, or if it was just a coincidence.

 • During the fights we're treated to several shots of the crowd, which feature humans and aliens alike. One of the aliens wears a distinctive red & green hubcap on top of its masked head.

This was a not-so-subtle shoutout to Constable Zuvio, who first appeared in The Force Awakens. What's that? You don't recognize Constable Zuvio? The most celebrated character of the entire Sequel Trilogy? What kind of Star Wars fan are you?

Zuvio was an alien character who looked not unlike one of those hairless Sphinx cats. He (or she?) must have originally had a relatively important role in the film, as Hasbro designed an action figure based on the character. 

Then at the last minute JJ Abrams decided to completely cut all traces of Zuvio from the film. Because there's a long lead time (a year or two) involved in producing toys, the Zuvio action figure had already been produced in mass quantities and shipped to stores.

As a result of his absence in the final film, no one knew who the hell this weird cat alien was supposed to be, and the Constable Zuvio action figure became a notorious peg warmer. In fact you can STILL find them collecting dust in the toy aisles of certain stores, a full FIVE YEARS after The Force Awakens premiered!

Jesus The Christ, how many fraking times are characters in the Star Wars Universe going to visit the planet of Tatooine? I audibly groaned when I saw the Razor Crest heading back there in this episode. Why do we keep having to go back to this place over and over and over? 

For a planet that's described as the farthest from the bright center of the universe, there sure does seem to be a lot going on there.

• After landing on Tatooine, Manny visits his old fried Peli Motto (played once again by Amy Sedaris of Strangers With Candy fame).
Does Sedaris willingly shave off her eyebrows every time the producers give her a call? Or does she just normally look like that? Either way, it's an odd and somewhat disturbing look.

• This is some hard core nitpicking, but whatever. When Peli's showing Manny the map of Tatooine, she points at it and says, "You got Mos Eisley, Mos Espa, and up around this region, Mos Pelgo." Note that when she says "UP around this region," she actually does swipe toward the top of the map. Unfortunately that causes the map to scroll DOWN.

Looks like the FX guys weren't paying attention here! Either that or Sedaris messed up and scrolled in the wrong direction.
• Mos Pelgo was first mentioned in the 2011 Star Wars videogame The Old Republic. This is the first time it's been seen on screen though. Based on all these videogame references, I'm assuming Jon Favreau must be an avid gamer!

• Speaking of Favreau, man, he must really have a thing for womp rats. They're mentioned a "womping" three times in this episode!

By the way, when when these creatures popped up in the episode, I naturally assumed they were the fabled womp rats we've been hearing about since A New Hope. Nope! I've been informed that these are actually "scurriers." I was gonna post a pic of an actual womp rat, but a quick look through Google Images revealed that apparently no one can agree on just what they look like, as I scrolled through dozens of radically different interpretations.

• Manny borrows a speeder bike from Peli for reasons, and rides it to Mos Pelgo. I loved how his bike sounded exactly like an Earthly motorcycle as it puttered into the settlement. 
I guess four stroke engines are universal!
• Once again, did the Marshal have to be wearing Boba Fett's armor? Couldn't it have just belonged to a random Mandalorian we'd never heard of before?

• The Marshal is played by actor Timothy Olyphant, which is near perfect casting. Olyphant previously played law enforcement officers in Deadwood and Justified. I enjoyed him a lot in this episode and wouldn't mind seeing him return. But then the show'd have to return to Tatooine yet again, so screw that.

• The Marshal swaggers into Mos Pelgo's only bar, and says, "Weequay, two snorts of spotchka." A couple things here:

First of all, the bartender's a member of the Weequay race— it's not his name! It'd be like going to a Chinese restaurant and saying. "Hey, Asian!" to the owner.

Secondly, once again characters on this show drink spotchka, the glowing blue liquid that's apparently the only alcoholic beverage in the Star Wars Universe. We first saw it back in Sanctuary, and it's popped up two other times as well.

• Manny and Vanth put their shootout on hold when the ground begins quaking. We're then treated to an overhead shot of the krayt dragon approaching Mos Pelgo.

Even taking perspective into account, the creature's sandy wake looks several times wider than the entire settlement! Yet somehow it managed to squeeze between the buildings as it traveled under Main Street. Maybe it sucked it its gut as it went through?

• Let's hope that spittoon that Baby Yoda hides in was empty!

• After seeing the size of the krayt dragon, Manny tells Vanth he could easily destroy it with the Razor Crest's weapons. Vanth tells him that wouldn't work, as the dragon would sense the vibrations from a ship and hide deep underground.

Well THAT was certainly convenient to the plot! If Manny'd used his ship the episode would have wrapped up in five minutes. Favreau couldn't have that though, so he came up with the flimsiest bullsh*t excuse possible to force Manny & Co. to take on the dragon up close and personal.

• As they ride out to the dragon's cave, Vanth tells his origin story to Manny. He says after the Empire was defeated, the Mining Collective moved in and took control of Mos Pelgo, turning it into a slave camp. We then see a flashback of Mining Collective grunts slaughtering everyone in the tiny settlement.

Wait, what? If the Collective needs slaves to mine its ore or whatever, then why the hell were they killing everyone in sight? Seems like it'd be hard to get much work out of a dead slave.

• During Vanth's flashback, we see him fire a missile at a speeder full of Mining Collective thugs. While it was great to finally see Boba Fett's rocket launcher in action, Sweet Christ could they have made it look any more ridiculous? 

In order to fire the damned thing, Vanth has to awkwardly bend over like he's bowing to a foreign dignitary. Wouldn't it have looked infinitely better for him to stand normally and have the missile launch vertically, then change direction in flight?

• When Manny & Vanth approach the Tusken camp, they're met by a pack of dog-like massiffs. Luckily Mann knows how to handle them and gains their trust.

Massiffs were first seen in Attack Of The Clones.

• In the Tusken camp, we see one of the Sandpeople using his gaderffii stick to perform some quick dental hygiene on a bantha. Wait, was... was that a joke?

Ever since I first saw the Sandpeople back in A New Hope, I thought their gaderffi sticks looked like oversized dental stimulators— the kind your dentist uses to pick away at your gums. Apparently Favreau thought the same thing, and showed us the sticks can be used as dental implements as well as weapons!

• "Sandpeople always ride single file, to hide their numbers."

I could practically feel all of fandom staring intently at this scene, looking for this particular detail and ready to take to the internet if it didn't happen.

By the way, back in A New Hope, the banthas were played by elephants in furry costumes, who'd been trained to hold the end of their trunks in their mouths.

I wonder... are they using elephants in this episode as well, or are these banthas CGI? If they are digital, then goddamn they look amazing! They're one hundred percent believable, as there's nothing the least bit fake about them.

• At one point Manny, Vanth and a handful of Sandpeople take a cautious look at the krayt dragon's cave. 

Something about this scene seemed awfully familiar, but I can't quite figure out where I've seen it before...

Ah, there it is! It's a dead ringer for the scene in which Arthur and his crew approach the Cave Of Caerbannog, which is guarded by a vicious and deadly rabbit.

• At the risk of being even more pedantic than normal, the Sandpeople say the krayt dragon lives in an abandoned sarlaac pit. Funny, it looks less like a pit and a lot more like a cave to me.

• Did Boba Fett always have those "chase light" LEDs on his chest armor? I sure don't ever remember seeing them before. If he did always have 'em, then I guess I just never noticed. Personally I think it's a new addition.

• This episode marks the first time we've ever seen a live krayt dragon in Star Wars. We saw the skeleton of one in A New Hope, and they've popped up numerous times in the books and comics.

In all these previous appearances, they've always looked like, well, dragons, and have been relatively small and dinosaur-like.

Oddly enough the krayt dragon seen here looks absolutely nothing like any prior renditions. It's basically a sandworm from Dune, and is the size of the average ocean liner. 

I guess since we've never actually seen a living one before the producers felt they had free reign to change it up.

• During the battle with the dragon, the massive creature reveals it has a surprise up its metaphorical sleeve— it can spew highly corrosive digestive acid from its mighty maw, which dissolves the Sandpeople and townsfolk alike.

In the final minutes of the episode, Manny grabs an explosive-laden bantha and allows himself to be eaten by the dragon. He then flies out of its mouth as he detotates the explosives, blowing up the creature from within.

As Manny touches down on the sand, we see his armor's seemingly covered with acidic green goo.

OK, so I can buy the fact that the acid wouldn't corrode beskar armor. But what about the rest of Manny's outfit? His shirt, pants and cape are all made of cloth. Shouldn't they have been dissolved as well? And what about his skin? That helmet ain't airtight! The acid could easily have flowed under the mask and eaten away at his head.

I suppose it's possible that the green slime on his armor is mucous or bile or something different from the digestive acid, and therefore harmless. I suppose I could say that, but I don't see why I should.
• Note that in the wrap-up, we see Manny taking home a hunk of delicious krayt dragon meat. Eh, why not? He's got an extra mouth to feed these days!

• The Tuskens discover a massive pearl inside the krayt dragon's innards. From what I've read on the interwebs, such pearls are supposedly a priceless commodity in the Star Wars Universe.

• Manny heads back to the Razor Crest under the twin suns of Tatooine, unaware he's being watched by a mysterious figure. Of course that figure turns out to be Boba Fett.

I'm sure Favreau meant for this scene to elicit gasps from me, but the only sound I made was a loud and prolonged groan.

I've been a huge fan of Boba Fett since he first appeared way back in 1980 in The Empire Strikes Back (no, I'm not counting The Star Wars Holiday Special). Something about his look and his mysterious background just spoke to me somehow.

That said, you'd think I'd be elated to see the character pop up in The Mandalorian, right? Wrong! For far too long now, the Star Wars Universe has been in a creative slump. It's clear the producers have absolutely no idea what to do with the property, so they keep dredging up the same elements over and over.

That's why I enjoyed Season 1 of The Mandalorian so much. For once we had a series that veered away from the usual Star Wars fare. There wasn't a Skywalker or a Palpatine anywhere to be found in the show. Heck, at one point we found out that Manny had never even heard of the Jedi before!

This was a breath of fresh air, as the series was blazing its own unique and unexplored trail.

Annnnnd now they're throwing all that away and bringing in old characters again. The Mandalorian doesn't need Boba Fett, as it was doing just fine without him. I'm afraind his presence is going to be a huge distraction and will overshadow Manny, causing him to become a supporting character in his own series. 

It figures that Disney wouldn't be able to help themselves and would ruin the one good thing they have going for them right now. Feh.

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