The Mandalorian's season 2 premiere used a shift in aspect ratio to make the final battle with the Krayt dragon feel even more epic.
As the dramatic final battle of The Mandalorian's season 2 premiere began, viewers may have noticed something unusual happen: the aspect ratio shifts from the wider cinematic 21:9 that makes up the majority of the episode (noticeable by the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen) to a full-frame 16:9. The change occurs shortly after the 40-minute mark in "Chapter 9: The Marshal," when the terrifying Krayt dragon emerges from its lair.
The Mandalorian's season premiere was directed by showrunner Jon Favreau (Iron Man), and opens with Din Djarin trying to track down another Mandalorian after his own clan was revealed to have been wiped out at the end of season 1. He follows intel back to the familiar landscape of Tatooine and finds that the promised Mandalorian is actually Cobb Vanth, a man who purchased Boba Fett's battered armor from the Jawas that salvaged it and began acting as the Marshal of Mos Peglo, a mining town. Cobb agrees to surrender the armor on the condition that Mando helps him take down a Krayt dragon that has been terrorizing the town.
It ultimately takes the combined effort of Mando, Cobb, the people of Mos Peglo and a band of Tusken Raiders to take down the Krayt dragon, which they do in an epic final confrontation. Whereas the wider aspect ratio is well-suited to the majority of The Mandalorian's scenes - showcasing both vast landscapes and tense confrontations - Favreau chose to shoot the Krayt dragon fight on IMAX cameras. This gives the scene more height, fully embracing the enormous size of the monster and the backdrop of desert mountains. Even viewers who didn't actively notice the black bars disappearing will no doubt have sensed The Mandalorian moving into battle mode.
While the standard aspect ratio for broadcast TV is 16:9, in recent years many shows have embraced wider ratios that leave black bars at the top and bottom of the screen and give them a more cinematic feel. Netflix's House of Cards was an early notable example, and that show's 2:1 ratio quickly became a popular choice. Beyond that, though, TV shows have also used changing aspect ratios as a creative choice. Westworld, for example, changes its aspect ratio to signal to viewers whether what they're seeing is real or a virtual environment; scenes in the real world are 16:9, but scenes in a "dream" are widescreen.
The Mandalorian's aspect ratio change is reminiscent of similar shifts in Christopher Nolan films like Tenet and Interstellar. Nolan has a passion for shooting scenes on IMAX cameras when a truly epic feel is needed, and using standard widescreen ratios for the rest of the film. Filming on IMAX cameras (which are loaded with a massive 70mm film stock) is expensive and comes with many practical challenges, so directors generally only shoot scenes in that aspect ratio when it's really worth it. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, for example, used IMAX for the scene where Rey and Finn flee attacking TIE fighters and make a run for the Millennium Falcon.
While it's unclear whether the Krayt dragon battle was actually filmed on IMAX cameras or whether the aspect ratio was simply designed to mimic the IMAX experience, it's possible that Disney originally intended to screen The Mandalorian's season 2 premiere in IMAX theaters. Marvel's Inhumans got this treatment (though that show wasn't exactly a success story) and The Mandalorian's season 1 premiere was screened in Cineworld cinemas ahead of its release on Disney+ in the UK. The shift in ratio in "The Marshal" indicates that Disney may have had much bigger plans for The Mandalorian season 2's release - before the coronavirus pandemic got in the way.