The term “Plot armor” is often used by readers and viewers to describe the myriad of ways writers keep their heroes away from any real danger no matter what choices or actions they make in the narrative. It’s typically a derisive phrase for the way a writer’s hero seems to escape death no matter what is thrown at him for the sole purpose of moving the plot forward.
In Disney+’s “The Mandalorian” this term takes a far more literal description in the form of our main anti-hero, played by Pedro Pascal, in his beskar armor which seems to be, by all accounts the most indestructible material in the galaxy far, far away.
The result of this narrative decision in this series is that action scenes often don’t have real tension to them. In another series you might be able to reasonably believe the hero might be in danger with blaster fire shooting all around them but with beskar it’s almost comically not the case at all. Stormtroopers fire laser blast after laser blast at The Mando and each time they bounce harmlessly off him as if he were fucking Superman. It makes scenes feel devoid of stakes and danger no matter what situation they are in.
The show thus becomes a power fantasy, as action scenes serve as extended highlight reels for the Mando. Where season 1 of the show mitigated the power of the Mando’s plot armor by putting him more often in situations where his beskar alone wasn’t enough to save the day, season 2 goes mostly full power fantasy as The Mando rarely runs into a situation he can’t just quite literally walk through.
This isn’t to say the season wasn’t without its high moments or even that it wasn’t enjoyable plenty of times but the series’ devotion to fan servicey action and callbacks to “Hey remember ____” makes it a fairly shallow story. At least for myself.
Season 2 of “The Mandalorian” continues the story of Din and his small Yoda-like companion, The Child (later known officially as Grogu), as he looks to complete a quest to return the burgeoning Force wielder to the Jedi. As he seeks to reunite The Child with the ancient Order, he encounters other Mandalorians who are on a quest to retake Mandalore and right on their tail is the nefarious Grand Moff Gideon who is still bent on capturing Grogu for whatever it is he has planned for the Empire.
Let me start this review by saying power fantasies aren’t inherently bad to watch or read. They can be good, cathartic junk food for the soul and can also be compelling, artistic, or even deeply metaphorical in their own way. A movie series like “John Wick” for instance is a power fantasy that aims to reinvent the wheel in action film-making with Keanu Reeves performing perhaps the best gun kata of all-time onscreen. Another film like Paul Verhoueven’s “Total Recall” can satirize the power fantasy to show how ridiculous it is in concept.
So, making your hero an unstoppable killing machine isn’t necessarily always a bad thing if used properly.
Seriously, this is one of the smartest action films ever made. Don’t @ me.
Now that that’s established, however, “The Mandalorian” season 2, despite some strong moments here and there, is a power fantasy that lacks these elements for a more interesting narrative. If you believe killing dozens of stormtroopers onscreen while never suffering so much as a scratch for eight episodes equals compelling storytelling then boy does Disney have a series for you.
Through the first four-ish episodes, the new season is mostly just fine and even quite enjoyable. We have the Mando getting a fun side quest with Timothy Olyphant on Tatooine where they get to wrangle a sand worm in a callback to the Westerns that inspired much of the franchise’s aesthetic. The Mando gets to escort a frog lady to her home planet to give birth to some tadpoles and they run into some actual danger in this episode in the form of kyrnknas/space spiders. And we get the return of Bo Katan from Dave Filoni’s “Clone Wars” and “Rebels” cartoon series, with Katee Sackhoff herself reprising the role in a fun Mandalorian team-up episode.
But the wheels started officially falling off for me in the next episode.
Episode 5 marked the live-action debut of fan favorite Ahsoka Tano, played by Rosario Dawson, and she meets the Mando by getting the jump on him with her lightsabers. In virtually any other situation we have been told lightsabers can cut through virtually anything. Now, beskar has been shown to be plenty durable throughout the series so far but lightsabers? Surely not.
It is an overall good episode despite this but it marked the point for me where I badly wanted The Mando to just go the rest of the series without it. Obviously, the writers aren’t going to actually kill our hero, afterall The Mouse needs more money and he can’t have it unless we get 50 more Mandalorian episodes and spin-offs, but at some point I gotta feel like there’s a possibility at least that our hero might actually die or at least is in danger. It is actually super funny to me each time The Mando ducks or seeks cover in a shootout when I know, and the viewer damn well knows, he can literally walk right into the middle of it and shoot all these motherfuckers at his own leisure cause his actual plot armor is the stuff of adamantium and vibranium combined.
Episode 5 is mostly good though, it’s a nice callback to old school samurai flicks and for an old fan like myself it was enough to ignore beskar again saving the Mando’s ass.
If episode 5 marked the point in which the wheels began to come off though, episode 6 is where the show really spun out into the ditch for me. Perhaps, this series worst episode, personally, episode 6 reintroduces fan favorite and series inspiration Boba Fett back officially into the fold and the result was perhaps the most self-indulgent entry of the series.
Boba arrives to demand his beskar from The Mando who promptly tells him “no” before they are ambushed by a platoon of stormtroopers. Alongside Ming-Na Wen’s Fennec Shand, the three do battle with the stormtroopers with ridiculous ease. I’m aware that stormtroopers exist to be on the highlight reel of our heroes in this franchise and have a long history of not being able to hit the broad side of a bantha but again, I can only watch these guys die by the dozens onscreen over and over again while our heroes get away without suffering even a bruise before it starts feeling boring and repetitive.
It only gets worse once Boba actually puts on his armor. In a sequence that I would describe as “gratuitously” fan servicey, Boba wastes just about every last stormtrooper in this scene culminating with him destroying their two get-away vehicles in a single shot with a rocket. Considering he was killing them with ease just moments before with nothing more than a battle club and a bathrobe, it seemed almost hilariously needless that he donned his iconic armor.
I get that Boba is really important to a lot of fans, based on their perceptions of him in the original trilogy and subsequent books and graphic novels that came out in the following years, but here’s a hot take; this series didn’t need him in it. Maybe they didn’t need to keep him rotting in the Sarlacc Pit but this episode, alongside Ahsoka Tano’s feels more like marketing choices for the story rather than narrative ones. I’ll concede that there is a bit more substance to having Ahsoka there to commune with Grogu but their additions to the plot don’t actually show much of anything about the Mando outside physically helping him in a fight.
The way they tease, in both cases, stories that exist outside the internal narrative between Ahsoka’s search for Admiral Thrawn and Boba taking over Jabba’s palace at the end of the final episode, it feels like Disney threw in mini trailers for fans to nibble on at the expense of telling the Mando’s own story and letting it stand on its own like the first season.
The choice to have these characters shoved into this season again appears to be market driven not narrative. Once more, I get that these characters are important personally to many fans, but the appearance of these characters alone DO NOT equal good storytelling.
Me when a fan tells me “But Boba was such a badass in obscurely titled EU book that a handful of general audiences have read! He deserves this moment!”
The final episode of the season is truly encapsulating of all these issues “The Mandalorian” has, however. Moff Gideon, played by the always sharp Giancarlo Esposito, has Grogu imprisoned aboard his ship. The Mando and his friends plan a rescue mission to save him and, just like nearly every episode before, it is stupidly easy for our protagonists.
The crew of five, again, walk through every Imperial on the ship. I don’t mean this metaphorically by the way, I mean this literally as Cara, Fennec, Bo Katan and Koshka Reeves (played by WWE’s Sasha Banks) without a single moment of real adversity just blast through every stormtrooper on the ship and never get hit once in the process.
A good action scene needs an element of danger, a sense that our hero might actually not come out of this alive even though we all know they will. An action scene without this has no tension and without tension it becomes booooooooring.
The finale had a chance, however, to add real stakes and danger to the scene in the form of this season’s new enemy; The Dark Troopers. These Imperial battle droids were foreshadowed as these super soldiers at the end of episode 4 and seemed to be billed as a real dangerous match for our heroes to faceup against. When the Mando finally gets himself face to face with one he finds they are not as easy to kill as the nameless stormtroopers from before. To see The Mando briefly face real adversity for a change snapped me out of my cynical mood so sharply for a moment I thought I had turned on another series by accident.
But of course, danger never lasts long in this series as The Mando’s armor again saves him first from getting pummeled to death by the droid’s super fists then he uses his plot spear, cause of course he has one of those too, to finish the job.
Moff Gideon doesn’t fair much better in this episode. This villain who had been built up for two seasons as this calculative monster gets stopped rather easily with Mando and his friends barely breaking a sweat. This character feels wasted because of this, even though I’m sure Giancarlo Esposito will return in the next season. He just feels about as much like a pushover as the nameless stormtroopers in this series.
The episode had one more chance though to show these Dark Troopers meant business toward the end as we found the heroes cornered on the command deck with nowhere to run and a dozen of these droids ready to blast and pound them into the floorboards. But help arrives in the form of a Deus X-Wing Machina.
Without having to face even one Dark Trooper, Luke fucking Skywalker arrives on the ship and kills every droid without breaking a sweat. It plays as inspiring in the moment but again I just found myself bored and irritated. A chance to see the series heroes actually use their wits and show their creativity in a moment of true danger thwarted to please fan boys.
I get that Grogu called out to him in episode 6 but creatively this felt like an extremley lazy way to solve the heroes’ dilemna.
This season wasn’t all bad. It certainly had nice production value that made each alien world pop and beautiful to look at. Every actor and actress played their parts expertly well, with what they were given, and made for interesting characters at times. There are also nice homages to both Western and Samurai cinema throughout the season that fans of both will appreciate. And Pedro Pascal is just so good on his own, especially in tender moments with Grogu, that you forget that his character is kind of a Gary Stu.
But the main crux of the issue here that I’m trying to get across is the reason you need to remove the plot armor of your heroes is not just because action scenes need tension and stakes, it’s that when faced with danger these scenes reveal who these characters are. I used to believe that the reason Mandalorians and Jedi had such a fierce rivalry in the lore despite the obvious advantages of wielding the Force was because these famed bounty hunters were just that fucking good at killing. That despite being, on paper, normal people they had great martial prowess, athletic skill, and the tactical wit to outsmart people who can literally sense their feelings. But now with beskar and the way this series is written, it appears the Mandalorians were challenging warriors just because they happened to harness the most OP armor building material in the galaxy.
It makes you wonder how the fuck they were conquered to begin with…
This takes away from the mysticism of the Mandalorians for me. It makes The Mando less interesting to me in the way he fights. Yea he can shoot really good too but really it’s the armor that makes him the fighter that he is and I find that kind of boring. We occasionally get this character to remove the armor during the series, including a whole episode that was easily one of the best of the season, and in every case he’s more interesting once the helmet comes off. I get that fans hold a lot of reverence for that armor, yea it still looks really cool, but making it this impenetrable super material doesn’t add anything to the story.
If anything, it takes away from it.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say I hate season 2, even though I spent 2000 plus words just now lambasting it but I guess I just want to say I am unimpressed more than anything. I feel like I’ve seen better Star Wars be it in the movies, cartoons, books, video games, etc and I’ve certainly seen better action in the franchise as well.
Considering fan reaction so far appears to be overwhelmingly positive, I am definitely in the minority here and you are welcome to enjoy this series as much as you want in spite of how unimpressed I am with the season. But considering all I have seen of this fandom the last few years, regarding complaints about fan service (“Rogue One”), easily defeated/underdeveloped bad guys (“The Last Jedi”), and Mary Sues (The sequel trilogy in general), I have to ask again what is it actually that fans like or don’t like about new entries in the franchise? It’s not that there isn’t valid criticisms there and “The Mandalorian” is enjoyable in sincere ways too but it has many of the issues I hear commonly said of more divisive entries in the Disneyverse. So why does it get a pass?
I’ve been told it’s not worth my energy to talk too derisively about the fans in one of my earlier write-ups, so I’ll leave it at that but it does make me wonder.
“Rogue One” admittedly has a simarily self-indulgent action sequence though haha…
Season 2 of “The Mandalorian” isn’t the worst piece of Star Wars media ever created, far from it, and for most part its solid enjoyable Saturday morning cartoon theater but if the series wants to really take steps to become more compelling in the future it might be good to stop bubble wrapping their heroes in plot armor. Literally.
Until then this is the way…I guess…