Photo taken from StarWars.com

Can Fan Service Really Work? A Reflection on The Mandalorian Season 2

Star Wars, TV Reviews, Uncategorized, Writing Advice

A little over a year ago a small green creature took the entire world by storm as millions of memes flooded our social media feeds. His name was Baby Yoda.

Or at least that’s what we called him, those at Lucasfilm and others working on The Mandalorian called him “The Child.” He was this mysterious green creature who is clearly of the same species as Jedi Master Yoda, one of the most recognizable characters in all of Star Wars. And in a day, “The Child” somehow became just as popular.

Season 1 of The Mandalorian followed a mysterious bounty hunter who obeyed a specific set of rules while trying to keep a valuable child out the hands of many greedy and nefarious foes. Throughout the first season he becomes attached to the child, learning that there more in life than making a quick paycheck, and quite possibly, that there’s more to being a Mandalorian than he originally thought. The end of the season tasks the Mandalorian, whose name is revealed to be Din Djarin, to return this child to a group of enemy sorcerers known as “The Jedi.”

There was also one other reveal at the end of the season, a fan favorite lightsaber pulled straight from The Clone Wars. This saber is called the dark saber.

In eight short episodes The Mandalorian was able to reveal quite a few surprises that kept the fans wanting more and felt true to the story they were trying to tell. And now that the second season has concluded. The question is, did the latest season do likewise?

I believe the answer is yes. Somehow, season two managed to have triple the amount of surprises without changing the core of its story. As a Star Wars fan, and as a writer, I would like to take a look at why this approach seemed to work.

MAJOR SPOILERS INBOUND!

The Marshall and The Heiress

Season Two’s quest was rather simple: Din was sent to find more of his people in hopes that they would know where to find a Jedi. His task was to give The Child to someone who could train him. This mission would put him in all sorts of trouble.

We meet our first piece of fan service on Tatooine, one of the most recognizable planets in all of Star Wars, there he meets a man wearing Boba Fett’s armor. He is a marshall determined to protect his town, and his name is Cobb Vanth.

To many, Cobb Vanth was neither fan service nor a surprise, instead he was a new and interesting character wearing Boba Fett’s armor. But those who read the Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy, written by Chuck Wendig, may think otherwise, as he previously appeared in 3 short interludes within those stories. For many, bringing such a minor character from the books to live action was a big and welcomed step for Star Wars.

But like most characters on this list, this was not a slot wasted. Instead Cobb ended up adding valuable character moments to the story that moved the plot and theme along. Unlike Din, Cobb was not a Mandalorian but merely a man in Mandalorian armor. Throughout the story, despite taking back the armor, Din would learn to respect the person who once offended his code.

But Mando’s beliefs would be challenged further two episodes later when he comes up against another fan favorite character ripped straight from Dave Filoni’s animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels. Din manages to find his Mandalorian allies on a water planet populated by the fish like Mon Calamari and the tentacle faced Quarren. There he is met by ‘the Heiress,’ Bo Katan, played by her original voice Katee Sackoff and forced to help her infiltrate an imperial cruiser. Mando initially refuses her offer, because she takes her helmet off, which according to Mando is not the way of the Mandalorians. But Bo reveals that he is wrong, insisting he is following a Mandalorian cult.

There is a general distaste for fan service in movies and shows. Usually they feel cheap, almost like a string dangling before a Loth Cat only to be pulled away at the last moment. Yet both of these character reveals didn’t do that. Both Cobb Vanth and Bo Katan added something valuable to the story. It caused Mando to question and reassess his beliefs and what made one a Mandalorian. Even when Boba Fett comes into play you see more of this theme being expounded, though to a lesser extent.

But these were not the only two characters.

The Jedi, and Another

Those who have read my posts reviewing the final three Clone Wars arc should already know that I totally nerded out over the next reveal. The Jedi has always been my favorite part of Star Wars. I find lightsabers, The Force, and the conflict between good and evil to be at the core of my fandom. As some of you know, I grew up watching The Clone Wars weekly; I’ve now seen every episodes at last 3 times! So when “The Jedi” aired, I was absolutely giddy.

As we know, Mando finally brings the child to a Jedi. And can I just say, those silver lightsabers… oh my goodness, I think they are my favorite sabers in all of Star Wars. That is right, Ahsoka Tano finally made her live action debut. Truely this is a dream come true. Though unlike Bo Katan, her original voice actress does not play her (We miss you Ashley Eckstein), instead she is played by Rosario Dawson who does an amazing job adapting her into life action.

Instead of being needless fan-service seeing Ahsoka was actually a logical step from Bo Katan, who already knew Ahsoka, and allowed the viewers and Din to understand more about this Child. The Child, or… Grogu, as Ahsoka calls him, was rescued from the Jedi Temple at the end of The Clone Wars, he had sealed away his powers, powers which were only starting to reveal themselves once again through the relationship Grogu had with Mando. We also begin to see Mando struggle with the thought of giving Grogu away.

In the end, Ahsoka won’t train him. She has another mission in mind. So she sends him to to the planet Tython where Grogu must reach out in the force to any remaining Jedi. He does this, but Grogu ends up being captured by the empire once again. Although there are a few more character building moments in the following episode, including Din, we shall direct our attention to the final moments of the 8th episode, “The Rescue.”

Return of the Jedi

Luke Skywalker stands at the door, looking for the child.
“I’m Luke Skywalker. I’m here to rescue you.”

Mando, Bo, and his team of friends infiltrate Moff Gideon’s ship and take on some Dark Troopers, which is another reference to the books and video games, but despite rescuing the child (and setting up some serious tension between Bo Katan and Din), they end up trapped in a situation with no possible means of escape. The situation is dire.

That’s when we see a lone X-Wing flying in. Immediately I guessed what was happening! We then see a dark cloak and the green saber of a Jedi marching through the hallway slashing the Dark Trooper droids. Grogu puts his hand on the monitor, connecting through the force with the Jedi. Finally we see as Din’s mission was successful. They open the door and who is standing there? It’s none other than Luke Skywalker!

Sure, it’s a weird looking CGI Luke, but it’s still Mark Hamill and it’s AWESOME.

This also seems like fan service, and it is, but it’s also logical. There are currently no other Jedi available at this time and Luke is also seeking to rebuild the Jedi. This brings another chapter of the Mandalorian to a close, but not before contributing to one more major character moment. Having to say goodbye to his beloved Grogu, Din takes off his helmet, he takes it off not only in front of Luke, but in front of everyone, and the child is able to see his father’s face for the first time.

It’s such a moving moment. But it also culminates everything this and the past season was about. What makes someone a Mandalorian? Is it the armor, is it following a strict set of rules, or is it something else? It also plays with season one’s theme of important connections changing you into a better and more whole person. Din might not fully have let go of his bounty hunting past or his cult-like following of “the way,” but he has taken a step in the right direction.

And he has also said goodbye to Grogu. Where might this be headed next? I have no idea, but I hope we see him and the child reunited.

THIS IS THE WAY… to use fan-service well.

Let’s be honest. A lot of this fan service was done to set up future Star Wars shows, and while I can’t say that its the best use of fan service, I do think it worked well. If you stayed after the credits on the final episode, you Boba Fett now has a series inbound and recently we learned that Ahsoka has one as well. Perhaps that was why she name dropped “Grand Admiral Thrawn.”

But aside from that, all of this fan service was intentional and meaningful. Cobb Vanth made a Mando question who exactly could be a Mandalorian; Bo Katan even brings up that question again later, mentioning that Boba Fett is a clone. Bo also causes Din to question “the way;” aside from IG-11 in season one, she is the first domino in a long line to get him to completely remove his helmet.

Ahsoka’s presence is also meaningful to the story. She is present to guide Mando on his way to returning Grogu to the Jedi. She was the logical step towards Luke and also served as as a way to bring context to The Child in a authentic and believable way. We also get to see the deeper connection between “father” and “son.” When we finally get to Luke, that connection is shown to be even deeper as Mando takes his helmet off to show Grogu his face for the first time. Each of these characters added something to the theme and story, they were not throw away aimlessly but they were intentionally meaningful. That, I believe, is the core of good fan service.

Season two of The Mandalorian used meaningful fan service. It could have been used lazily, created sloppy storytelling, and been there just for the sake of being there and setting up new series, but it wasn’t. Each character had a purpose in the story and moved the plot and theme along until it reached its natural conclusion.

If you’re a creative person like me, this is a challenge for you! When we craft our stories, poems, books, or anything else that is remotely creative, let’s make sure we do so intentionally. Everything in it should matter, we should make sure our characters matter to the story and the plot. Each should contribute something. Every word should be intentionally written to move the reader to its conclusion. Every shot of film should be pushing the viewer to the main idea at the end… while preserving the fun of “the now” as well. And, if providence shines bright on us, if an we have fans seeking more of a character, let us aim to please in a meaningful way.

Somehow, despite having three times as many surprises as season one, I believe season two of The Mandalorian managed to tell it’s story in an intentional and endearing way. What were your thoughts on the Mandalorian Season 2? What were you most surprised with?

Also! If you want to support my writing, check out the two books I’ve published: you can purchase Mud & Daisies HERE, as well as my latest book “Poems for the Redeemed Heart” HERE!

May the Force be with you!