Is this the end of The Mandalorian as we know it? The past two seasons of the Star Wars spin-off have proven that we haven’t seen the last of most any character from the vast (and somehow also very small) galaxy far, far, away. But the season-two finale appears to wrap up Mando and Grogu’s excellent adventure in a mostly satisfactory way, while a post-credits stinger implies that season three may take on a different point of view.
In my previous recap for “The Jedi,” which found Ahsoka Tano making her live-action debut, I wrote that Dave Filloni not only understands the Star Wars universe, but he understands Star Wars fans—perhaps even more so than George Lucas, at least since the ‘90s. Filoni and series creator Jon Favreau, who helped kickstart the First Church Of Marv … sorry, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, have successfully recaptured the tone and style of the original Expanded Universe that kept fans sated in the years between Return Of The Jedi and The Phantom Menace by mining those novels, comic books, video games—and yes, toys—for characters and inspiration.
Part of the thrill of The Mandalorian—at least for that premiere episode—was that it appeared that audiences were going to be treated to a corner of the universe where the Force was still the stuff of hokey religions and there was nary a mention of the dysfunctional Skywalker clan. Wise guys, crooks, bounty hunters, and rogues were going to be the order of the day, and the series would be more inspired by Tales Of Mos Eisley than Heir To The Empire. All of that went out the blast door with the introduction of The Child, a force sensitive “Baby Yoda” who became the focus of the show and a pop culture sensation.
The first two seasons of Mandalorian have found the team seeking inspiration from countless classic films (Lone Wolf & Cub, Yojimbo, The Wild Bunch), so it was only natural that the Star Wars Film School would eventually pay homage to one of the most culturally impactful pictures of all time: Star Wars.
The season-two finale, “The Rescue,” is a deliberate throwback to George Lucas’ 1977 original (at least in the middle section), opening up in the thick of the action with a high-speed outer space pursuit. But instead of Darth Vader chasing down the stolen Death Star plans, it’s Boba Fett and the gang looking to get their hands on Dr. Pershing. After disabling Pershing’s Imperial shuttle, Cara Dune and Mando board Pershing’s Imperial shuttle and dispatch an Imperial true believer who assassinates his co-pilot before recounting the millions of Imperial lives lost on both Death Stars. He incurs the wrath of Dune, gleefully telling her that he saw her home planet of Alderaan destroyed, and, in what may be a first for Star Wars (outside of a gag on an episode of Newsradio), the Imperial pilot refers to the Rebel Alliance as terrorists. It doesn’t end well for him, and you can sense that even Mando is unnerved by Dune’s blood thirst.
From there, Boba Fett and Mando seek to recruit Mandalorian associates Bo-Katan and Koska Reeves to stage a daring rescue of Grogu, who’s being held captive on Moff Gideon’s Imperial cruiser (a daring rescue is apparently a typical Wednesday activity in a galaxy far, far away). There is some tension between Fett and Reeves that elevates into fisticuffs, and while the tussle seems like it would lend itself to a payoff later in the episode, it never does. “The Rescue” is at times too crowded for its own good, and doesn’t deliver enough smaller moments between the characters. So much of the fun of the original film—which this episode is heavily cribbing from—is watching Luke, Han, and Leia become friends over the course of their first adventure. As much as Star Wars has been about family, it’s also been about friendship, and the people in your life that become your surrogate family.
Dr. Pershing lays out to Mando and the team where Grogu is located on Gideon’s ship, but warns them that a garrison of third-generation Dark Troopers is in a storage bay. “The human inside was the final weakness to be solved,” he explains, revealing the Dark Troopers to be completely cybernetic; like an Imperial T-800, “it can’t be reasoned with, it can’t be bargained with.”
The squad infiltrates Gideon’s cruiser via their hijacked Imperial shuttle, feigning that they are under attack by Boba Fett’s Slave I. After a hard landing in the ship’s dock, Dune, Fennec, Bo-Katan, and Reeves run a distraction while Mando goes off on his own to scoop up Grogu. Meanwhile, Moff Gideon orders the activation of the Dark Troopers.
The mission alludes to the original rescue of Princess Leia so many years ago, but it’s nothing audiences haven’t seen in several episodes of The Mandalorian (not to mention the prequels, sequels, and other spin-offs). Unfortunately, the dialogue doesn’t have that screwball snap-and-pop quality that Lucas (or was it Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz?) brought to that original film, or Lawrence Kasdan to the later entries. The lack of crisp one-liners is especially disappointing as Jon Favreau is a noted disciple of the original three films, and turning Fennec into a roguish, wisecracking Han Solo type would have been inspired: the “regular girl” that the audience can relate to. As it is, the team just looks bored as they mow down Stormtroopers (again) in the drab gray hallways of an Imperial ship (again), with no wisecracks to help endear the audience to the characters. Even if they are archetypes, a little personality goes a long way. The lack of humor in this episode is especially surprising, as director Peyton Reed helmed both of the Ant-Man movies, which are two of the sillier entries in the Marvel pantheon.
Meanwhile, Mando is attacked by a singular Dark Trooper after locking the rest of the battalion in the ship’s storage bay. Mando nearly gets his beskar handed to him in an ultra-cool fight sequence with the droid. At times in the show’s run, Mando has come off as indestructible, particularly when countless laser blasts simply ding his armor. Seeing Mando get bested, showing him to be fallible, heightens the stakes of the mission. He does overcome the Dark Trooper, however, and blasts the rest of them out of an airlock. When Mando makes it to Grogu’s cell, Moff Gideon is waiting for him, Darksaber in hand.
This episode springs to life as soon as Moff Gideon faces off against Mando. Moff Gideon is the smoothest, savviest, and most devious villain that live-action Star Wars has delivered. Gideon uses his charms, getting Mando (and the audience) to let his guard down before the two engage in a gangbusters duel of Darksaber vs. beskar spear slicing up the walls of his ship. While short, the duel is nasty and primal, recalling both Obi-Wan and Darth Vader on the Death Star and Luke and his father on Bespin. Mando gets the high ground, but spares the Moff’s life so that he can hand him over to Cara Dune and the New Republic. Gideon then surrenders the Darksaber to Mando.
When the gang reconvenes on the bridge, it’s revealed that Gideon had one more trick up his sleeve: according to “Mand-lore,” Bo-Katan cannot take the Darksaber unless it’s via combat. Bo-Katan was adamant earlier in the episode that Gideon must surrender to her. In trying to tie together books, cartoons, and video games, The Mandalorian has often had these big, long exposition dumps; here, Gideon explaining away Mandalorian mythology just about brings the episode to a halt. Clunky dialogue hinders most of the episode.
A new platoon of Dark Troopers boards the ship and begins to break down the blast doors of the bridge where the rescue squad are holed up. As the episode briefly segues into Assault On Cell Block 1138, Mando and the team ready to make their last stand as Gideon confidently looks on… then an alarm goes off and a lone X-Wing approaches…
I often ask myself, as someone who was born into Star Wars (the closest thing we had to religion in my house was those first three films), if I’m a sucker for how much I dig The Mandalorian. Most times, the show gives me exactly what I want out of Star Wars: pulpy adventure, witty dialogue between otherworldly characters, janky-looking humanoid aliens, a little nostalgia, plenty of swash, but maybe not enough buckle. Am I just falling into the trap of nostalgia quicksand and a major corporation is playing me like a fiddle?
But holy shit… they really did bring back Luke Skywalker.
While director Reed holds off on the big reveal, it’s pretty obvious (and even more satisfying upon a second watch) that it is Luke Skywalker who once again has come to save the day. There were plenty of theories as to who the Jedi that Grogu contacts could be: Ezra Bridger? Mace Windu? A character audiences haven’t met yet? But as I wrote in my write-up of “The Jedi,” Dave Filoni and his team know what fans want and (mostly) how to deliver it, even if it’s obvious. Luke Skywalker was the only satisfactory answer—Skywalkers, always helping to bring balance to the Force). A character like Ezra Bridger would be very cool for fans who take in every bit of Star Wars media that Disney cranks out, but the appearance of Luke Skywalker speaks to not only the 18-25 marketing bracket–I’m sorry, younger fans—but also to those longtime lovers of the series who maybe only pay attention to the movies anymore.
Mando and Grogu watch the action unfold from the ship’s security cameras, Luke mercilessly plowing through a small army of Dark Troopers with his traditional green lightsaber (not unlike Darth Vader decimating Rebel troops in Rogue One), and even using the force choking ability to smash one of the droids. Watching Moff Gideon’s expression go from confidence to fear of Skywalker’s appearance speaks to Luke’s legend and how it’s grown since the events of Return Of The Jedi. It is a thrill for anyone who has dedicated so much time to the Skywalker saga, and perhaps even more so for fans who maybe thought his character got the short end of the gaffi stick in The Last Jedi, to see Luke at the height of his powers as a Jedi Knight. As the Jedi enters the bridge and pulls back his hood, a digitally de-aged Hamill is revealed, not unlike Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher in Rogue One.
In terms of visual effects, one of the admirable qualities of the first six Star Wars movies (and Rogue One) is that they attempt to push the boundaries of what special effects can do in filmmaking and storytelling. Rogue One features two CGI characters, and there are plenty of viewers who are quick to point out that these computer renderings are not perfect recreations of the original actors. But these are the same people who would have exclaimed, “you can see the strings!,” in any classic sci-fi film. Would casting Sebastian Stan have worked better? Maybe. And that could have opened the door to a Luke Skywalker series, but as it stands, that moment when Luke removes his hood is breathtaking.
But the reveal of Skywalker and Artoo is at once satisfying and disappointing. Yes, it is the the biggest and honestly the best answer to which Jedi Grogu reached out and touched, but the CGI Luke lacks that intangible Mark Hamill charm, and his dialogue—like most of this episode—is dry, lacking the quintessential Star Wars charm that the sequel trilogy understood, but the prequels didn’t. Yes, Skywalker is five years older than he was at the end of Jedi and now a Jedi Master, but where’s that joyous smile that he gives to the Force ghosts on Endor? Where’s that passionate young man who risked everything to save his friends? Grogu already resembles Gremlins’ Gizmo, and as the little guy says goodbye to Mando, it would have been a nice button on the episode if Luke explained that perhaps one day they would meet again, as Keye Luke (!) did to Billy.
So what is in store for season three of The Mandalorian? A post-credit stinger finds Boba Fett returning to Jabba The Hutt’s palace, teasing the former boutny hunter and Fennec Shand taking over the Hutt’s criminal Empire in his own show, The Book Of Boba Fett. Moff Gideon is still very much alive. Maybe the next adventure will find Mando fighting alongside Bo-Katan and Koska on a quest to reclaim their home planet of Mandalore, but that Darksaber is sure to cause some strife. The past two episodes have featured little to no Grogu, proving that the show can survive without the lil’ green guy (and is maybe even a little better?), so maybe this wrapped up his arc. Of course, in Star Wars, no one’s ever really gone.
- While it’s obvious that director Peyton Reed is being coy as Mando and the team watches Skywalker tear through Gideon’s ship as to who the “mystery” Jedi actually is, a variation on “Binary Sunset” from the original film should have played as he lays waste to the Dark Troopers. The fan edit is sure to come.
- When Mando and Boba go to recruit Bo-Katan and Koska Reeves, there is a ship visible that is similar to Kylo Ren’s shuttle in The Force Awakens and beyond.
- “Some of the in-universe “cursing” is painful (“Well if that isn’t the Qucta calling the Stifling slimy,” “son of a mudscuffer.”) Some of the best bits of Star Wars dialogue is when they sound like they come from our world: “Well then he’ll see you in hell,” Poe Dameron referring to a “big ass door” and cracking wise about Hux’s mother. That isn’t to say we need Star Wars characters say “fuck,” but this kind of dialogue could be improved. This is surprising as the episode is written by Favreau, who normally has such a reverence for that classic Star Wars style, and is trying to recapture those moments where pulling the ears off of a gundark or bulls-eyeing womprats come up.
- The series could use a little less action and a little more adventure. The constant firefights with Stormtroopers can just wash over the audience sometimes.
- The announcement of several new Star Wars properties for Disney+ is exciting, but could they be making the same mistake they made by attempting to release a film every sixth months? I’d hate to see a top-notch show get lost in the Sabbac shuffle the way Solo: A Star Wars Story did (which is the best film of the Disney era).
- Some of the funniest moments in the series come from turning geek speak into in-galaxy jokes. Lack of railings on Imperial outposts. When the Imperial shuttle pilot mentions the lives lost on the Death Star, Cara Dune smugly quips back “which one?”
- Gideon mentions Grogu’s blood as being the key to “bring order to the galaxy.” Was this the secret ingredient for Emperor Palpatine’s return?
- I still want to see Michael Biehn take on a Dark Trooper.