TV Review: The Mandalorian S2E1 “Chapter 9: The Marshal”
This review contains spoilers for The Mandalorian Season 2, Episode 1 “Chapter 9: The Marshal”
It’s becoming an old adage that television in the 2010s (And now, the 2020s, I guess) has abandoned the art of the single episode and instead wants to be a 10-hour movie. (Or 13 in the case of the Marvel Netflix shows.) However, The Mandalorian bucked that trend and became a kind of Have – Gun Will Travel meets Lone Wolf and Cub wrapped up in a shiny cinematic package with talented guest stars, directors that some would consider to be auteurs, and of course, having a connection to the immersive world of Star Wars without the ol’ Skywalker. Each episode is a Western mini-movie with just enough serialization to get audiences to tune in next week. Or keep subscribing to the streaming service. And “The Marshal” is no exception.
Before getting into the episode’s main plot, writer/director/show creator Jon Favreau crafts a bit of a cold open to remind viewers that Mando (Pedro Pascal) is a laconic badass, a man of honor especially where his beskar armor is concerned, and desperately cares for The Child aka Baby Yoda. (Even though he takes him to some not very child-friendly places, a Gamorrean deathmatch isn’t Chuck E. Cheese.) The sequence also establishes Season 2’s overarching plot, which is that Mando is looking for The Child’s people, and to find them, he needs to find more of his people, the Mandalorians. This is why he’s at the aforementioned deathmatch even though Mando isn’t a gambling man.
However, his contact, the Cyclopean alien Gor Koresh (John Leguizamo) sees more value in his armor than in his paltry excuse for a fighter, and we get to see some of Mando’s new toys he picked up last season in action. Pedro Pascal brings great physicality to this sequence, and Emmy Award winning cinematographer Greig Fraser shoots the fight like a boxing match while adding some levity when The Child slowly closes his cradle when he realizes his daddy is going to cause some carnage. Ludwig Goransson’s score really helps the opening scene build starting with percussion, then guitars, and finally into the show’s iconic theme music as Koresh gets his comeuppance courtesy of some critters hinted at in an earlier dark and gritty tracking shot, and Mando is off to good ol’ Tattooine to find another Mandalorian.
After an adrenaline-filled, almost neo-noir opening sequence, Favreau is back in Western mode as Mando and The Child visit the nearly abandoned Tatooine mining town of Mos Pelgo, which Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris) treats as the neglected sibling of the more famous Mos Eisley and Mos Espa in an adorable guest scene. Sedaris brings a dose of comic relief and acts as Favreau’s commentary on rabid fandom surrounding The Child as she offers to buy him or his future offspring. She’s a bit of sunshine before they arrive in the bleak ghost town of Mos Pelgo, and Favreau introduces a fairly basic theme of working together despite one’s differences as a gun slinger duel between Mando and Marshal Cobb Vanth (An incredibly well-cast Timothy Olyphant) over his Jawa-bought Mandalorian armor turns into a Jaws with sand as a Krayt dragon (Whose call Obi Wan used to scare off the Tusken Raiders in A New Hope) slithers through town. This sets up the main plot of this episode of The Mandalorian, which is that Mando, Cobb, the townspeople of Mos Pelgo, and the local Tusken Raiders must join forces to kill the Krayt dragon once and for all.
Also, there’s a kicker about Cobb’s armor: it belonged to Boba Fett. He’s not a Mandalorian and obviously knows nothing about The Way as he immediately takes off his helmet upon meeting Mando as Olyphant exudes casual contempt. Jon Favreau’s script and direction of “The Marshal” is richly intertextual without being mere fanservice. He uses familiar touchstones to play with audience’s preconceptions, and where George Lucas saw stereotypes or archetypes, he does something a little more nuanced. In a flashback scene, Favreau shows that the destruction of the Second Death Star didn’t have a positive effect on every planet in the galaxy and led to the Mining Collective taking over Mos Pelgo until Marshal Cobb uses some random crystals that he finds to purchase Fett’s armor and shoot and guided homing missile his way back to a semblance of law and order. The scene of Cobb breathlessly crawling through the desert makes him a sympathetic figure that transcends his initial “gunslinger of the week” trappings, which would frankly be a waste of Olyphant’s talents.
Even better is Jon Favreau’s reclamation of the Tusken Raiders, who had been relegated to something to avoid or even slaughter in Lucas’ films. (Notice how Anakin’s actions towards them in Attack of the Clones were justified until he killed women and children.) He uses them as a (Let’s be honest: a bit on the nose) sci-fi metaphor for indigenous people in “The Marshal” with Cobb refusing to drink their “smelly” water in a scene where Mando is trying to set up an alliance and use their knowledge of the Krayt dragon to take it down. Olyphant does a good job playing the uncomfortable colonizer as Mando effortlessly communicates via low tones, hand signals, and the occasional loud utterance while Cobb and later the townspeople feel awkward and even react in anger when a Tusken raider fumbles an explosive charge. The agreement that Mos Pelgo and the Tuskens make also acts as a commentary on Western countries’ preemptive strikes as in exchange for the Krayt dragon’s blood and carcass, the Tuskens won’t attack Mos Pelgo unless they are attacked first. This has happened in the past as evidenced by a one-liner about Cobb not drinking their water even though he and his miners had stolen it in previously.
Along with using Star Wars lore to make sociopolitical commentary, “The Marshal” is also a damn fun monster movie. Favreau parcels out just enough exposition to make Mando, the Tuskens, and Cobb’s plan easy to follow and then shoots it all to hell to keep things interesting. He goes the Steven Spielberg route and saves the big money shot of the monster for the end of the episode using the effects of its actions like the sand shifting and windmills aggressively blowing as well as stories of its exploits (It ate the Sarlacc and is living in its lair!) to build tension. And it lives up to the hype with some wonderful creature design that matches its sandstorm introduction. Also, Mando and Cobb get to fly around on jetpacks to fight it, which is damn cool, and there’s another Boba Fett related Easter Egg that is integral to how they best the creature.
The way that Mando takes down the Krayt dragon also adds to his character as he’s willing to improvise and come up with non-orthodox solutions in stressful situations and is willing to take chances and sacrifice himself for those around him. Even though its the first episode of a season in a show named after him, Pedro Pascal really sells the fact that he might die and makes sure that The Child is well taken care of before he literally goes into the belly of the beast. Although, he doesn’t play an active role in the plot, The Child continues to humanize and soften Mando even in the most high-stress situations.
Some heavy-handedness aside, “The Marshal” is a fun and smart return for The Mandalorian as Jon Favreau and company use the world and mythos of Star Wars to tell a genre-bending story that comments on the role of indigenous people in both science fiction and Western stories. It’s also a hell of a shoot ’em up with cinematic action and a memorable, nuanced guest performance from Timothy Olyphant, who parts as friends with Mando, and I hope makes a return to a series as a gun-slinging lawman that learns to be a little less species-ist. And the final scene is truly a jaw dropper…
Overall Verdict: 8.6