Note: The following discussion of The Mandalorian premiere is spoiler-free!
Disney+’s The Mandalorian, a.k.a. “Hot Space Daddy and His Tiny Puppet Son,” a.k.a. “The Baby Yoda Show” is back. And like its first season, it wastes no time jumping right in. One of The Mandalorian’s many successes is how it manages its time—an overlooked and under-appreciated facet of storytelling in the streaming era. The Season 2 premiere, “Chapter 9: The Marshal” (written and directed by Jon Favreau) also again embraces the art of the episode, another talent being diluted in a sea of binge.
More than anything, perhaps, there is a genuine sense of excitement with each new Mandalorian episode, and not just in anticipation of what The Child will do next (although that is, admittedly, a huge part of it). “Chapter 9” doesn’t overplay its hand in that regard. The Child / Baby Yoda is a constant presence, and ultimately he is driving the story (with Mando being “quested” to return him to his people), but the opening hour of the new season wisely keeps him on the periphery, bestowing us with adorable reaction shots and true joy at seeing his tiny face and massive eyes taking in, say, a back alley fight, or perhaps hopping into a pot.
And because of that, we’re able to focus fully on the Adventure of the Week, as well as our latest excellent guest star (something the show also excels in). This time around, we are re-introduced to past characters and make some new friends before Mando stuffs The Child in a sack and sets off again—having procured a very familiar set of armor. “Chapter 9” includes everything that makes the show so enjoyable: it’s unique, tactile, funny, exciting, cute, and full of adventure. It’s referential to Star Wars without being overly reverential to it. It’s accessible for casual fans or even those who haven’t seen a Star War (sure, there’s shorthand used that helps if you have context for it, but somewhat brilliantly it isn’t necessary). Adults can enjoy it, kids can enjoy it. It’s exciting and silly. In short, it embodies the true spirit of Star Wars.
That connection, though, is both a boon and an albatross to the show. It comes loaded with baggage, destined to be picked apart not for an enjoyment of its merits, but for a dissection of its perceived mistakes. Its movement within this much larger, expansively vast IP universe leaves it open to scrutiny and “but did you get that?” nudges, along with a snobbish suggestion that the show can’t fully be experienced or appreciated without the explanation of every nod and inclusion (and judged constantly against every other piece of IP that has come before it).
To that I say: This is not the way. If one’s enjoyment of the show hinges entirely on the motorized expressions of a puppet, or the fact that it’s the only western on TV right now, by God let it be so. If there is one thing that The Mandalorian expresses beyond all else, it is joy. It is a show that wants to be fun. And it is! It’s hugely enjoyable. It’s also a reminder that something that is light, satisfying, and built to appeal to a large audience is not inherently somehow lesser than a dour primetime show that yearns for awards. The Mandalorian is exceptional in many ways. Its deft handling of canonical lore alongside new storylines set to a familiar Wild West framework is nigh astonishing, and its commitment to grounded, handcrafted creature work that is augmented by CG, rather than led by it, is inspiring.
I did not start out writing this reaction to “Chapter 9” as a defense of The Mandalorian, because I really don’t think it needs it. The show is like any other in that critical takes and considerations should not be dissuaded. It is good enough to be taken seriously. And yes it can be fun to point out all of the references. Find your joy! But in this absolutely awful year, let this show be a reminder that it’s ok to just enjoy something without qualification. Lean in to the sense of anticipation each week, and its important marking of time. We’re all experiencing something fun together—an increasingly rare feat in television these days—and it is good.
New episodes of The Mandalorian are available Fridays on Disney+
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.