When The Mandalorian first started, it felt like we were going to see a world where most of what we had learned via the Star Wars films, would take a backseat. Series creator Jon Favreau, looked to be shifting his focus to the grittier side of the galaxy we had glimpsed just briefly in George Lucas’ films.
With The Child showing a resemblance to Yoda and possessing Force-based powers, there was a hint that the Jedi might be showing up in the series…and now, it looks like that time has come.
Going on information given to him by fellow Mandalorian Bo-Katan, Mando takes The Child to Corvus, where he hopes to find a Jedi that will accept his young charge.
It is here that he encounters the walled city of Calodan, presided over by the cruel Magistrate Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), and her lieutenant Lang (Michael Biehn).
Elsbeth requests Mando’s help to take down a Jedi named Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), who has been attempting to breach the walls of her city.
It just so happens, that Ahsoka is also the Jedi that Mando is looking for.
While the series has shown us a galaxy following the aftermath of the events of Return of the Jedi, this season has also shown us that the series is not afraid to reference things from the prequel films, let alone The Clone Wars animated series.
With The Jedi, writer/director Dave Feloni gets to bring one of the characters he created to life, showing us Ahsoka Tano far removed from what has been seen. Rosario Dawson disappears into her character, showing us someone who seems to have chosen her own path, but still remembers much of her days before the Jedi Purge. The way she is portrayed here, it’s a good bet that current fans of hers will be pleased, and a number of new fans for Ahsoka will be joining them soon.
The episode also gives us some of the most intimate moments with Mando and The Child we’ve seen yet. It feels like it has been awhile since we saw them connect like this, and Ahsoka acts as an intermediary to help Mando better understand the little one (even revealing it’s name!). Though much like his seeking out Mandalorians in the episode The Mistress, Mando’s search for a Jedi does not quite provide him with all the answers he seeks.
In terms of antagonists, Morgan Elsbeth is more of a low-key villain this time around, a figure who stands calm-and-collected in many situations, but is willing to fight if the need arises. A surprising guest appearance was seeing actor Michael Biehn as her lieutenant. Much like Timothy Olyphant earlier in the season, he just blends in surprisingly well for his brief appearance.
For the theming of this episode, the stylings of samurai films are on full display. From the high walls surrounding Caloden, to the barren stalks of trees silhouetted against the moonlit sky, Feloni is tapping into some familiar theming. Even the opening that introduces Ahsoka feels like it has Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s fingerprints on it. The episode overall feels more like an exercise in quietness and contemplation, than the pulse-pounding action we’ve seen in recent episodes.
This is definitely an episode that requires multiple viewings. Much like how George Lucas would layer in details for the prequels, Filoni does the same here, making me think even a few viewings may not be enough to catch a number of the details included here.
The Jedi will surely provide those with fond memories of Ahsoka Tano, an enjoyable trip down memory lane. Its story swings more towards a samurai tale than a western, but it helps act as a nice change of scenery, where we get to slow down and learn more about our lead characters, without having a major threat to contend with. This may also be one of the most emotional episodes we’ve had in the series so far, but we should be wary as dark clouds still loom on the horizon, and the journey for Mando and The Child, may be a ways off from coming to its conclusion.
Final Grade: B+
The Mandalorian’s quest continues ever onward, but just when it seems his path is clear, we can always count on something popping up to divert his attention.
With his ship needing additional repairs, Mando returns to Nevarro (where he first got the assignment that led him to The Child). Since the events of last season, the once lawless town has been cleaned up by cohorts Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), and Cara Dune (Gina Carano).
While things appear to be going okay, the two request Mando’s help to take out an operational Imperial base nearby, that could threaten their attempts to keep order.
After what we learned in the previous episode, I was really looking forward to The Siege…only to find my excitement tempered, when it was revealed that this was another “back to a familiar locale” episode (at this rate, it makes me wonder if the showrunners are going to send us back to the greenery of Sorgan before the season is up).
Unlike other season 1 locations, we return to a destination that has been transformed. With Greef and Cara having taken control, the streets are now thriving with newcomers and more colorful decorations…while still proving that evil is never fully eradicated in some small, action-packed scenes.
Speaking of “never fully eradicated,” a surprise guest is the aquatic-based Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) from the season 1 premiere episode, who ends up getting dragged along on the mission thanks to Greef. Mythrol almost becomes the C-3PO of the episode, though a tad less whiny in a few situations.
As this is largely a “mission” episode, The Child is put on the sidelines for much of the action. He has a small-but-entertaining scene in the beginning, but the story’s attempts to give him some humor in several other scenes, felt more like the attempts at humor from the earlier episode, The Passenger.
This episode also marks the first directed by a cast member, as Carl Weathers takes on the task. At times, the action-based pacing and setup feels oddly reminiscent of the last episode (The Mistress), but a little more “old-school.” There are even some scenes that made me imagine the excited reactions of a theater audience, given what is put on display here.
The Imperial Base and what goes on within it feels almost like a video game, and the ensuing fight between our heroes and the soldiers that occupy it, feels like some kids playing with their toys in the backyard. There also is the added information that the actions of the shadowy Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), are not as generalized as we may have thought. One scene caught me completely off-guard, let alone the use of an often-maligned word that had me chuckling at the internet reaction.
The Siege was not what I expected, but it was still surprising once I realized the episode had secrets of its own to reveal. Mando ends up on a mission that reveals things that could send shockwaves through the rest of the galaxy, but it’s too soon to know just what has been uncovered.
It’s a nice little episode to catch up with old friends and reminisce about the past, though it does make me wonder how many additional subplots will be revealed before the season ends, and if the show can find balance once they’ve been revealed.
Final Grade: B
Rated PG for some thematic elements and mild action
In the last few years, Netflix has expanded its reach into the world of animation, offering an unexpected challenge to some of the big-name studios in Hollywood. Along with animated TV shows like Hilda and Bojack Horseman, they have also entered the arena of animated features, recently producing last year’s Oscar-nominated film, Klaus.
This fall sees the company’s release of the Pearl Studios feature film Over The Moon, directed by two men who once worked for Walt Disney Feature Animation. Glen Keane was part of the company’s character animation division (developing characters such as Ariel and The Beast), while John Kahrs is known for directing the studio’s Oscar-winning short Paperman.
With Over The Moon, they tell the story of a Chinese girl named Fei Fei (Cathy Ang). Uncomfortable at the prospect of her widowed Father (John Cho) remarrying, the studious girl holds onto the story of Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) the immortal Moon Goddess who never forgot her one true love.
Using her ingenuity, Fei Fei builds a rocket, hoping that if she meets Chang’e, she may provide her with the means to change her Father’s mind.
Glen Keane has often focused on characters that seem to be stuck between two worlds, and Fei Fei fits the bill. On one hand she inherits her father’s tendencies towards math and science, while embracing the Chinese legends her mother taught her. That mixture of combining logic with legends is intriguing, but it unfortunately feels like it gets lost as the film progresses.
On any serious journey like this, one needs all manner of sidekicks to help and/or irritate the lead. In Fei Fei’s case, we get a big-eyed bun-bun named Bungee, and on the moon we have a glowing green dog-creature named Gobi (Ken Jeong). There also is Chin (Robert G Chiu), Fei Fei’s overly-energetic stepbrother-to-be who never seems to run out of energy. While they prove helpful in some situations, most of the time they feel like they exist to distract the younger audiences.
In terms of secondary characters, Chang’e is one whom it feels like we could have gone deeper into regarding her emotions. We see her characterization being almost like a superstar with a diva-like persona, but also see that despite seeming to be loud-and-proud, there is something lurking beneath the surface that she may be trying to hide. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t seem willing to explore much in this regard, let alone her relationship with her pet rabbit named Jade. Even Jade himself feels shuffled into a corner, when he could have played a much larger role in us understanding how Chang’e has weathered the centuries being alone.
It’s also never explained how the “kingdom” of Luminaria Chang’e rules over came to be. Looking like a luminescent space Oz, we’re told nothing of its development, let alone more information on the luminescent beings whom inhabit it and the moon. It probably could have added an extra 10-15 minutes to the plot, but it mostly feels like what we see is just meant to enthrall us visually in the hopes that we’ll just end up totally enamored with the on-screen journey.
I was also surprised when the film led off with a song, and then piled on another one right after it. The songs in the film are okay, jumping into a number of different styles, but none of them really stuck with me once it was all over. One near the end had potential, but the structure and lyrics just don’t have the kind of memorable feel of songs from such popular fare like The Little Mermaid, or Frozen.
At times, Over The Moon’s story structure reminded me of Meet the Robinsons and Up, and while those films had flimsy subplots and sometimes annoying supporting characters, they were supported by decent storytelling to lift up the visuals, and support the lead character’s journey of self-discovery.
In the case of Moon, the film surprised me with its hope that Fei Fei’s emotional journey and the flashy visuals will distract viewers from the fact that the foundations of the story are incredibly flimsy. It feels like Keane and Kahrs try to over-compensate too much in the areas of emotion and visuals, throwing the balance of the film out-of-whack in a most unexpected way (I’m used to the opposite in animated films, where mindless slapstick and pop-culture references hope to chase off pesky emotional stuff). Most films would have a solid story foundation, but I found that to be severely lacking once the film picked up momentum and got us to the moon.
The film was also one of the final projects for screenwriter Audrey Wells, who is said to have written the story as a gift to her husband and daughter as she lost her battle with cancer. Knowing full-well that same feeling of loss, it does feel sad that such a heartfelt gift sadly does not hold up to being something as powerful as it could be. The story gives us little pockets of emotional moments, but when strung together into the final product, the unevenness of the story really stands out.
Over The Moon will surely entrance and entertain some, but to me, it is sadly a misfire from two filmmakers who were instrumental in making me realize the power of emotional storytelling in animation, and a mother who wanted to leave something emotionally beautiful for her family. Both Keane and Kahrs have shown their talents for doing emotional directorial projects in animated short format, but it feels like they attempted to translate those skills into a feature, and came up short. In conclusion, there are small bits here-and-there where things click for the film, but in judging it as a whole, it shoots for the moon and misses.
Final Grade: B-
As the second season of The Mandalorian hits its third episode, its strong season premiere and decent second episode have brought us back into the series in a big way. Can the third episode improve on what has come before?
After managing to ferry his passenger from the last episode to her husband, Mando is informed that there are Mandalorians near the spaceport where his ship is. What he finds is quite a revelation, but is a key to him hopefully being able to reunite the child in his care, with the Jedi.
If you thought the previous episode was short, The Mistress has it beat by clocking in at just 35 minutes. The length of these most recent episodes makes me wonder if episodes 2 and 3 were meant to be one story, but were split in two due to how much was going on.
Bryce Dallas Howard returns to the director’s chair, showing us once again that she knows how to pull at our emotions, and get us pulled into the action. This episode has much more action than her last episode in season 1, and makes me eager to know what more she could do for the series.
The environment of this episode is probably the wettest we’ve encountered yet, and makes for a nice change-of-pace. We see a population largely made up of sea creatures such as Mon Calamari and Squid Heads, let alone how this area has fared after the fall of the Empire.
The Mandalorians our lead encounters manage to be quite surprising in their depiction. Led by Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), they reveal some additional information in regards to Mandalorian codes, and the history of the warriors. One can definitely sense some apprehension when they do things that seem outside of the code that Mando has lived by for much of his life, but it is notable that this does not stop them from offering help when Mando needs it in several instances.
This episode also continues the “you have to do us a favor” theme from the previous episodes, as Mando is recruited to help deal with some post-Empire loyalists. Howard’s directing of the event is incredibly exciting, and blends drama, action, and a little humor into the mission.
The Mistress manages to bring us some new revelations amidst an action-oriented episode, making it feel like a short-but-sweet storyline. I like episodes where we learn more about the galaxy, and this one where we learn a bit more about Mandalorian codes and post-Empire actions, delivered very well. The introduction of some new characters here leaves the door open to not only the possibility of us seeing them again, but knowing there is even more about The Mandalorians that has yet to be revealed.
Final Grade: B
After a strong season 2 opener, The Mandalorian has gotten us excited to follow the series’ helmeted lead and his young companion, as they set off on a personal mission, and encounter harrowing adventures along the way.
With the second episode, the Star Wars galaxy opens up a bit wider, but just in smaller increments.
The Mandalorian continues his quest to find more of his kind, to help return The Child where it belongs. When an expectant mother needs passage to reach her husband, Mando begrudgingly accepts in exchange for information that might help him.
However, the journey comes with extra stipulations, and leads the group into more than they bargained for.
While starting off in a familiar locale, this episode takes us to some (supposedly) new territory, while keeping much of the nostalgia to a bare minimum. We also get to encounter some new surroundings and creatures, that might put some viewers on edge.
Speaking of creatures, for those who didn’t feel there was enough of The Child in the last episode, this one should be greatly entertaining. We get to see it go through quite a range of emotions, and get in a few, humorous moments of troublemaking that almost make him seem “gremlin-like.”
The mother of the piece is probably not going to win a lot of people over (amphibious creatures in Star Wars seem to grate on most peoples’ nerves), but we do see that she can be resourceful when necessary, while also concerned in regards to herself and her unborn young. What could have become a stereotypical “annoying passenger” with an urgent issue, is nicely kept in check for most of the episode (even if she speaks “frog” most of the time).
One highlight is an aerial sequence in which Mando encounters some X-Wing fighters. While we saw them briefly in the first season, this one showcases Industrial Light & Magic’s technological advances in recent years. Somehow, they’ve managed to find a nice balance between the visuals of the starships we saw decades go, while placing them into some picturesque scenery with real-world detailing.
This episode also brings a new director into the fold, with Peyton Reed (director of Ant-Man) at the helm. Reed brings what feels like a nice, old-school simplicity to the story. There aren’t a lot of wide-open vistas once the main part of the story begins, and the camerawork feels both intimate and claustrophobic for much of the episode (with one scene even feeling like Reed is borrowing from the Spielberg book of framing).
On the whole, the story does prove to show us more of how Mando operates, but just feels average. A much shorter side-adventure (clocking in at only 41 minutes!), The Passenger takes its time a bit more than most episodes, stretching out its storyline in a way which might bore some of the younger viewers, but felt like a nice breather compared to last week’s episode. At this point, the episode could just be allowing us to catch our breaths, before next weeks episode ramps back up to speeds and excitement we’re well used to.
Final Grade: B–
When The Mandalorian premiered last fall, it felt like a return to what Star Wars creator George Lucas enfolded into his early trilogy.
The Disney+ show chronicled the journey of a lone warrior in a sci-fi mixture of westerns and samurai tales, while adding some humor and heart to the mix. It was a story idea that managed to make me excited for a bucket-headed bounty hunter that wasn’t named “Fett,” and revealed a new spin on a familiar species, that soon ended up becoming a hit that caught The Walt Disney Company by surprise.
Now, almost a year and thousands of “Baby Yoda” products later, we return to following a new season of adventures with Mando and The Child.
Following the events of last season, Mando is continuing his quest to find other Mandalorian warriors who can help him return The Child to where it belongs.
His journey leads him back to Tatooine, and to the small town of Mos Pelgo, presided over by a man named Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant). The visit is interrupted when a massive Krayt Dragon threatens the town, leading to Mando providing his help, in exchange for some special items Cobb has obtained.
As soon as I heard of the familiar outer-rim planet, I had flashbacks to the rather average first-season episode, The Gunslinger. I was underwhelmed by that episode’s storyline, and what felt like an attempt to give us a pretty heavy dose of “nostalgic anesthetic” related to some familiar locales.
In the case of The Marshal, writer/director Jon Favreau fortunately has a much more entertaining and interesting narrative to work with, allowing most of the nostalgic bits intertwined within the episode to work in the service of the storyline…though I will say there were a few areas where my eyes opened real wide upon recognizing some unexpected surprises.
The story goes all-in with the Western aesthetic, with Mos Pelgo being the small town at the mercy of the elements and marauders (let alone local creatures), and Cobb is the man who attempts to keep the peace.
As the town’s savior, Cobb’s characterization came across as surprising, and very involving. While a little rough around the edges, he is a person who manages to seem pretty cool and collected when dealing with Mando, but also has some trepidation when dealing with unexpected surprises. We also learn a little about his backstory, let alone how the fall of the Empire affected the small community he is a part of.
The Child takes a backseat for most of the episode, which becomes more of a “creature-feature,” with quite a number of Tusken Raiders (aka “Sand People”) being utilized. The Gunslinger showed us that Mando could communicate with them, and we get to see a bit more of their culture, often against some rather picturesque vistas.
The big baddie this time around is a Krayt dragon, a creature that has been a part of Star Wars lore for years, and is depicted here as a massive threat that may seem familiar to some creatures in the films Dune and Tremors, with maybe a bit of Moby Dick in how the plan is hatched to bring down this sand-swimming monstrosity. Plus, if you have an “ear” for nostalgia, you may pick up on a familiar sound emanating from its maw.
The Marshal is an entertaining action-adventure tale, that manages to tell a good story, while also not letting too much of its nostalgia get the better of it. The addition of more information about Tatooine and its creatures helped draw me in, and Olyphant as Cobb Vanth was an entertaining character to meet for the first time. Series creator Jon Favreau brings us back with a solid first episode, leaving us hungry for what is to come in the next episode.
Final Grade: B+