Ludwig Göransson’s score for The Mandalorian season two so far is a marked improvement on the first, with several enjoyable new themes and a couple of great action cues making for a genuinely enjoyable listening experience.
Disney Records have opted for a slightly different release schedule for The Mandalorian‘s score this year. With season one, we had weekly EP-like releases for each episode, with each album including around 8-10 tracks. For season two however we’re only getting two albums; one for episodes 1-4 and another for episodes 5-8 coming (presumably) in a few weeks time. Much like with my review for last season’s score, this will be a review split into two parts – the first will tackle the new album for episodes 1-4, and in a couple of weeks when the second album arrives I’ll then update the review and score accordingly. So, with admin aside and without further ado, let’s dive straight into album number one.
The score kicks off with Mando Is Back, the first of only thirteen tracks on the just over fifty-minute-long album. Quiet, ominous electronics open the piece, with some rather distorted-sounding beats then occupying the background, and this unnerving ambience then continues through the first minute or so before a loud, dramatic electric guitar then joins the mix, playing the opening notes of the now rather infamous Mandalorian theme. Now, credit where credit is due for the composer here; he did compose a damned good theme for Mando. It’s epic, memorable and genuinely unique, not to mention being just as musically interesting here as it was in its various debut albums for season one this time last year. After a few seconds of electric guitar introduction, the theme then begins proper – with the orchestra then kicking in to play the loudly heroic back half of the motif which then closes out the cue. It’s one hell of an album opener, I’ll give Göransson that.
Loud, in-your-face electronics accompanied by some rather musically intriguing woodwinds and vocals then start off Enjoy The Fights, with added percussion in the background that sounds interestingly similar to that used in Göransson’s Black Panther score back in 2018. The score then quietens down a bit in the cue’s back half, reducing the orchestration down to moody, ambient territory with the electronics now quietly lurking in the background. Major Western vibes then arrive in The Marshal’s Tale, where a rather enjoyable new motif for season two character Cobb Vanth is introduced alongside some familiar woodwindy notes from the main Mandalorian theme. Orchestra mostly takes the forefront in this track, with some very Morricone-esque guitars featuring quite prominently (particularly for Vanth’s theme) as well as some swirling strings and gently whistling woodwinds. This orchestral style then continues somewhat into Tusken Raiders, though things get a great deal colder and more menacing as a motif for the famous and rather dangerous Star Wars creatures is introduced. Like with Vanth’s, it too is recognisable and actually quite memorable, which does mark a major step up from last season’s somewhat…lackluster thematic approach (bar the main theme of course).
While we’re on the subject, I should probably say that I did not enjoy the score for the first season. You can read my full review to learn more, but essentially I didn’t like that it abandoned the traditional Star Wars sound in favour of loud electronics and distorted synth, and neglected to include any of John Williams’ epic themes from the franchise despite many opportunities in the show’s narrative to do so. So far though, this album does seem to be an improvement on the first of those issues, as the style seems more refined and there haven’t been any utterly unlistenable distorted electronics or synth (…yet). Let’s hope that continues.
Get The Child remains in the same stylistically optimistic (no eardrum-wrenching electronics, for example) vein as the previous few cues, with the Black Panther-esque percussion also returning, and setting a somewhat frantic action tone to start off with before a few notes from the main Mandalorian theme then play to calm things back down. An electric guitar then appears in the back half, bringing us some enjoyably Western-esque orchestration before the music then quietly fades out. Beneath The Ice is a primarily atmospheric piece, consisting of quiet electronics and low-pitched strings that set a gently wondrous tone for the track’s rather lengthy five minute runtime. This ambience then turns rather playful in Snacks, with some child-like electronics (presumably for The Child) entering the fray and establishing a happy and rather hopeful mood…at least in the first half. Things then turn rapidly horror-like after this, with some particularly creepy strings and distorted electronics cutting through the musical happiness like a knife through butter, before then closing out just as quickly as they arrived.
Happily the orchestra then returns in Reunited, with some upbeat strings occupying most of the cue’s sadly short ninety second runtime along with some very Western-sounding background percussion. We then get a rather lengthy action setpiece in the standout Ship O Hoj, Mandalorians! which, within its first minute, introduces yet another bold, new and musically intriguing theme, this time for Bo Katan and her crew. It utilises some particularly in-your-face, nigh screechy electronics to get its point across, and it’s loud and rather imposing, but surprisingly it ends up being geuinely rather epic – stylistically it makes for a highly entertaining motif, and each of its appearances at several intervals interspersed through this enjoyably lengthy action cue are absolutely badass (from a musical point of view, anyhow). Long Live The Empire then however throws the action into disarray, replacing badassery with nail-biting orchestral tension accompanied by a few short, infrequent notes from both the Mandalorian and Bo Katan motifs.
The orchestral style of the Mandalorian theme then features fairly prominently in the annoyingly short Back Together, with a few notes from the motif itself then playing on a quietly dramatic electric guitar. The musical tone then shifts dramatically to near horror at the start of Experiment, with some very low-pitched vocals and particularly ominous strings opening the piece before the main Mandalorian theme then comes charging through on frantic electronics. From here on the music switches back into frantic action, with some particularly tense (though annoyingly distorted-sounding) electronics then taking over for the remainder of the cue. It is though with Quite A Soldier, the final cue on the album, that things get really, really interesting here. The piece opens gently with strings, establishing a somewhat pensive tone before some notes then begin playing – and they’re not just any notes. Göransson plays a few (and only a few, but a clearly recognisable few) notes from John Williams’ March Of The Resistance theme. It’s the first direct thematic quote from Star Wars so far in The Mandalorian‘s score, and I must admit I was absolutely floored when I first heard it in the episode. The lack of thematic continuity was my biggest criticism of the first season’s score, and you don’t know how happy it makes me to hear that rectified here.
Overall, Ludwig Göransson’s score for the first half of season two of The Mandalorian is a marked improvement on the first. There are new themes galore, and all are not only enjoyable and recognisable but also rather musically intriguing, with Cobb Vanth and Bo Katan’s motifs being of particular highlight. The main Mandalorian theme is also back in full dramatic force, which is great to hear as it always was an excellently-crafted piece of thematic score. The distorted, in-your-face electronics have thankfully been toned down majorly – they’re still there (annoyingly) but much less aggressively than before – and that combined with Göransson’s continual refinement of the overall musical tone of The Mandalorian (more Western, less EDM!) makes it too a serious improvement on last season. Finally of course we have the album’s coup de grâce; a proud appearance from John Williams’ March Of The Resistance theme, marking a direct rectification of missing Star Wars thematic continuity that really is the cherry on top of this genuinely good score. There’s still some room for improvement of course, but so far so great.
I’ll be back with the album for episodes 5-8 once it appears, so be sure to watch this space!
A Few Weeks Later…
Well if one thing’s for sure, I’m upping the score counter for this review. Originally at a mid-seven, it now stands at a very high eight. With the second album (featuring music from episodes 5-8) now out and the score for season two of The Mandalorian now complete, I can safely say that Ludwig Göransson has pretty much knocked it out of the park.
The second album starts out rather strong, with creepy electronics opening first cue The Sorcerer before things then get really interesting as the composer quotes Kevin Kiner’s beautifully melancholic theme for Ahsoka Tano from his score for Star Wars: The Clone Wars. After the Resistance motif appearance in the first album I was hoping that Göransson might continue along similar thematic veins, and I’m happy to say he definitely doesn’t disappoint here. Ahsoka’s theme features sporadically in this cue before then playing in full dramatic form in Ahsoka Lives – and the album is only just getting started.
Next up we have the return of Bo Katan’s theme (from Ship O Hoj, Mandalorians!) in Activated, a six minute tense action setpiece that focuses heavily on rapid strings and ominous electronics. Incidentally, the electronics also introduce another new theme for the season – an eerie, almost ear-piercing motif for the rather menacing Dark Troopers. This theme then gets a thorough fleshing out in the subsequent action-centric Troopers. It’s at this point in the score however that things get really, really interesting. A Friend starts off quietly, almost mysteriously, with vocals fading in slowly and strings stirring in the background, until dramatic percussion then enters the fray and loud, heroic brass practically bursts into view. It’s another new theme, and a very special one indeed – for Luke Skywalker himself. It’s a very different musical direction to that which John Williams took for the character, but it just works. The motif is bold and heroic, not to mention actually rather memorable, and it fits the character’s special appearance in The Mandalorian very well indeed.
The composer however has one final treat in store for us as the album starts to draw to a close – with Open The Door. Luke’s new theme plays mysteriously in the background to start things off before low brass then fades in and quietly plays a beautifully hopeful rendition of John Williams’ now legendary Force theme. An appearance by this particular motif has been a long time coming given all the Force-related things happening in the show, and the fact that they saved it for a certain very special character moment just made it all the more powerful. I practically jumped for joy when I heard it in the show, and I’m very happy that Göransson chose to include it here too. To close the album proper, the composer then gives us a new and rather melancholic rendition of the main Mandalorian theme on strings, ending the album on an emotional high. Overall, not only does the second album maintain the excellent quality of the first, it expands on it with several breathtaking tracks and excellent uses of iconic Star Wars themes, all-together making it the best Mandalorian album yet.
Standout Cues: 9. Ship O Hoj, Mandalorians!/14. A Friend