****CORUSCANT-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!!****
The Mandalorian Chapter 13, written and directed by series’ co-creator/producer Dave Filoni (“The Clone Wars” “Rebels”) is now available for streaming on DisneyPlus. Titled “The Jedi,” this episode reintroduces another fan favorite from the animated Star Wars into live-action, and Baby Yoda has a name…
On the planet Corvus, the cities of which appear to be modeled on ancient China, we see that a despotic magistrate named Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) and her ex-military henchman for hire Lang (Michael Biehn) are keeping the populace of a walled city captive. With her enforcement droids and other guns for fire, Morgan threatens to kill random citizens of the city she controls if a local Jedi menace doesn’t surrender to her will. After effortlessly defeating a squad of Morgan’s guns-for-hire, the Jedi gives Morgan one day to rethink her position, as she temporarily retreats into the surrounding woods…
That Jedi-shaped dagger to her ribs is, of course, Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), the long-awaited live-action incarnation of the fan favorite from “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels.” Ahsoka is the former padawan pupil of the pre-Darth Vader Jedi named Anakin Skywalker. Ahsoka left the Jedi order, but is still a powerful force-wielder, and master of dual-bladed combat (with a pair of twin white lightsabers).
Meanwhile, the Razor Crest, on a tip from Mandalorian heir to the throne Bo-Katan, is on its way to Corvus, so that Mando (Pedro Pascal) can find a Jedi (ancient enemies of Mandalore) who will train Baby Yoda for a greater destiny than the Force-sensitive toddler could have knocking around the cosmos with bounty hunter Mando. Aboard the ship, Mando struggles to keep Baby Yoda from removing a shiny control knob for which he has a particular fascination. After landing on Corvus and disembarking, Mando takes the control knob from the errant toddler and pockets it for safe-keeping, as they make their way towards the walled city…
At the city gate, Mando is met by Morgan’s cynical hired-gun gatekeeper Lang (Michael Biehn), who asks Mando’s purpose in entering the city. Mando says he’s just looking for a rest stop. Lang allows him to enter, but later sends guards to bring the Mandalorian to the despotic Morgan’s palatial residence…
Note: Actor Michael Biehn, whom I’ve long been a fan of for his roles in multiple James Cameron epics such as “The Terminator, ” “ALIENS,” and “The Abyss,” is almost overqualified for the role of Lang, which sadly doesn’t use but a fraction of the actor’s considerable talents.
Meeting with the self-installed magistrate inside of her garden sanctuary, Mando is made an offer; she will give the Mandalorian her prized beskar spear in exchange for killing the Jedi who is threatening her iron grip on power. Mando, realizing this is his ticket to finding the Jedi and helping Baby Yoda, feigns acceptance to Morgan’s offer.
Note: Beskar, is, of course, the blaster/lightsaber-resistant metal from which Mando has had his own armor forged. While of particular value to Mandalorians, beskar is also highly coveted for both its protective properties and aesthetic value by many other interested parties…
Going off into the surrounding wilderness, Mando hears something. Placing Baby Yoda on a green stump while he investigates, he is confronted by the dual-lightsaber wielding Ahsoka. Their initially heated confrontation is halted when Mando tells her he isn’t taking the bounty on her life. Her grudging trust is aided when she catches sight of Baby Yoda, whom she psychically ‘reads’ as soon as they make eye contact.
With trust established, Ahsoka tells Mando that Baby Yoda’s real name is Grogu, and that he was smuggled out of the Jedi temple on Coruscant after the fall of the Jedi (as chronicled in 2005’s “Revenge of the Sith”). When Ahsoka and Mando call him by his given name, Grogu responds instantly with recognition. As Ahsoka connects with the child, she tells Mando that the 50-year old infant is “lost” and “alone” (perhaps some sort of trauma-induced amnesia). Mando tells Ahsoka that he’s seen the child do “things I can’t explain,” but she says that Grogu’s Force abilities were deliberately recessed in order to avoid detection during the Jedi purge. Ahsoka attempts some rudimentary Force-training with the child, floating a small stone over in its direction, which Grogu grabs, but seems otherwise uninterested in.
Note: Mando’s learning of “the Force” is reminiscent to Luke Skywalker’s learning of it through Obi Wan Kenobi in the first “Star Wars” movie (1977). Ahsoka even repeats Obi Wan’s lines about the force being the source of a Jedi’s power, and that “it is an energy field created by all living things.”
Mando, having formed his own bond with Grogu, pulls out the silver control knob he pocketed earlier, and Grogu perks up. Using the knob instead of a rock, Mando tries once again to engage the toddler in a game of Force-catch. Grogu quickly force-yanks the shiny knob from Mando’s hand into his own. It’s clear to Ahsoka that Grogu has a strong paternal attachment for Mando. The toddler’s attachment to Mando prevents her from training him, as she fears Grogu’s attachments will inevitably lead him down a dark path (attachment and greed are two sides of the same coin in Jedi lore). While she’d like to help further, Ahsoka also has her own deadline with the magistrate to keep. Mando, always up for liberating oppressed townsfolk, offers ally Ahsoka his services, “With a Mandalorian and a Jedi, they’ll never see it coming.”
Note: While we don’t yet learn the name of Grogu’s species (thank goodness–leave some mystery), Ahsoka does mention that he is of the same species as the legendary Jedi master, “Yoda.” This is the first time Yoda’s name is actually mentioned in the series, despite the oft-repeated fan-made moniker of Baby Yoda. Ahsoka all but mentions Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader by name as well, when she warns Mando that she’s seen attachments lure other Jedi to the dark side, even with “the best of us.” As for Baby Yoda’s true name of “Grogu,” I can’t say I’m crazy about it just yet. “Grogu” sounds like he should be slugging it out with Godzilla in a Toho kaiju flick, but I’m sure it’ll grow on me over time. If it does sound vaguely Japanese, that might be fitting. George Lucas first coined the name “Jedi” from jidaigeki–a term used to describe Japanese period-samurai movies. Some of those films, particularly the samurai films of legendary director Akira Kurosawa, inspired some of early Star Wars lore (such as “The Hidden Fortress”).
Their attack begins, as Ahsoka storms the city, quickly picking off sentries and mercenaries with her dual lightsabers, until she makes her way into the main hall to challenge the beskar spear-wielding Morgan. The ruthless despot proves a formidable adversary, as her spear is resistant even to the raw energy in Ahsoka’s lightsabers. Morgan even manages to knock one of Ahsoka’s twin white blades into the garden pond around them. Even with only one saber, Ahsoka is still more than a match for her wily opponent. Elsewhere within the city walls, Mando rocket-packs his way in, picking off other armed droids and guards. Fighting his way through the opposition, Mando is met in a standoff with the amoral mercenary Lang, who offers to drop his weapon when the sole sound of Ahsoka’s lightsaber tells him that his boss might be losing. As Lang pretends to gently lower his gun, the duplicitous creep quickly reaches for a smaller weapon, but not before he’s wasted by Mando–whose well-placed blaster bolt drops Lang like a bad habit.
With Lang dead, things aren’t going so well for Morgan, either as Ahsoka knocks the beskar spear out of her grip. With her glowing blade at her cunning opponent’s neck, the ex-Jedi asks, “Where is Grand Admiral Thrawn?” The battle is over. The city is liberated, its imprisoned leadership freed. We don’t actually see Morgan’s ultimate fate, nor do we learn if Ahsoka ever got her answer.
Note: Grand Admiral Thrawn was first appeared in the original (pre-Disney) Star Wars Expanded Universe as a blue-skinned, art-obsessed Imperial officer who plundered whole races just for their works of art. He was later made official Disney Star Wars canon when he appeared in “Rebels”, boasting of his plundered Mandalorian artwork to a captive Sabine Wren. His decimation of species for their art makes him a prime target for payback from surviving members of those races from whom he plundered. It’ll be very interesting to see if he’s reimagined for live-action in “The Mandalorian” (if I may offer a fan-casting, Benedict Cumberbatch would be my first choice for Thrawn). His connection to Morgan may have something to do with her own plundering and Imperial connections. The Grand Admiral proved so popular in the greater Star Wars universe that even Disney’s reboot of the book canon couldn’t kill off his refined brand of villainy.
Outside the walls of the city, a grateful Ahsoka offers Mando her defeated opponent’s beskar spear. Following his creed, Mando refuses the bounty, since he didn’t earn it the way he was contracted. Ahsoka insists that he take it, as the metal belongs with the Mandalorians. He accepts.
Note: One wonders if Mando will attempt to return the spear to Mandalore’s rightful ‘heiress’ Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) someday, or will be keep it for a more practical use as another valuable weapon in his arsenal? My guess is that the pragmatic Mando will see it as a useful tool, not a future museum piece.
In the forest, Ahsoka prepares to say her goodbyes to her Mandalorian ally and Grogu, but reiterates her refusal to train the toddler for the reason given earlier (one also wonders if it’s because the ex-Jedi no longer possesses to zeal or faith with which to be a teacher). Mando asks her where else he might take his Force-sensitive adoptee, and she mentions the ruins of an ancient temple on the planet Tython, which is rumored to be strong with the Force. With Ahsoka’s tip, and her gratitude, Mando and Grogu depart aboard the Razor Crest, bound for Tython…
PS: “The Empire Strikes Back” established that places can be strong with the Force as well, just as haunted houses are believed to be ‘batteries’ which retain the energy of now deceased persons who once resided within their walls (by those who believe in ghosts–I don’t).
Return of the Ex-Jedi.
Ahsoka Tano was originated and voiced by Ashley Eckstein in the Star Wars animated universe for many years. The character has been reimagined for live-action by Rosario Dawson (“Clerks 2” “Death Proof”), who does the role justice. There was some controversy over replacing Eckstein in live-action, but Dawson really inhabits the character, body and soul. She projects the bad-assery and bitterness of the former Jedi, not to mention her overall face and body are a better match for the character than Eckstein (who is a very talented voice actor, nevertheless). Sometimes a voice actor simply doesn’t work as well for a character’s live-action incarnation. Then again, occasionally you get really lucky, as when Katee Sackhoff reprised her animated role of Bo-Katan in Chapter 11, “The Heiress.”
I’ll admit, I didn’t care for Ahsoka at all when I first saw her in 2008’s animated feature film debut of “The Clone Wars.” Her silly voice and endless attempts at being cute and funny were just irritating (stop trying to make “Sky Guy” happen…it’s never going to happen). Sadly, that lackluster feature length debut turned me off to “The Clone Wars” for most of its run. While I heard impressive critiques of the later seasons of the show, none of it was enough to lure me back. Then a trusted friend of mine recommended another animated Star Wars show called “Rebels” (also produced by Dave Filoni) and I really loved it. “Rebels” captured the feel of the original movie trilogy in a way that the too-prequely “Clone Wars” did not. After falling in love with “Rebels,” and coming to appreciate its more mature Ahsoka Tano, I came back for the final few episodes of “The Clone Wars” and it was amazing. I didn’t feel particularly lost with the story, either, as some of the characters and situations were also referenced in “Rebels” (not to mention its alignment with the movies). So “Rebels” and the final run of “The Clone Wars” made me a bona fide fan of Ahsoka Tano. Now I got why fans gushed over this character that I’d once shortsightedly dismissed an an orange Olsen twin. She has gravitas. When Ahsoka Tano enters a space, it goes quiet.
Then I heard that Rosario Dawson was up for the role, and that was it. I knew the character was going to be in good hands. I first became a fan of Dawson from 2006’s “Clerks II,” and I’d also seen her in Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof” (2007). More recently, I’d listened to her Audibles read through of Andy (“The Martian”) Weir’s novel “Artemis,” and she was just perfect in the role of Lunar colony citizen Jasmine “Jazz” Bashari, a savvy young smuggler of Saudi heritage living by her wits and a ‘particular set of skills.’ I knew she was perfect for Ahsoka Tano. After seeing “The Jedi,” my faith in Dawson feels easily validated.
It must also be mentioned that Michael Biehn (“The Terminator” “ALIENS”) is excellent as the burned out mercenary-for-hire “Lang”, and that Diana Lee Inosanto’s spear-wielding “Morgan Elsbeth” makes for a formidable (and credible) opponent for Ahsoka Tano. While I wasn’t so keen on Baby Yoda getting a name so soon (it takes away some of his mystique), everything else about “The Jedi” works very well. This latest chapter not only brings another beloved animated Star Wars character to life, but it also advances the mythology arc, while reaffirming the adorable parental bond between Mando and Baby Yo–er, Grogu.
“The Mandalorian” Season 2 is available for streaming on DisneyPlus, as are most of the Star Wars movies and animated TV series. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic. The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States are at over 263,000 people as of this writing. Meanwhile, there’s no vaccine or even effective treatment for COVID-19 as of yet. Yes, some businesses are reopening, but the overall situation is far from safe. So for the time being, please continue to practice social safe-distancing as often as you can, wear masks in public, and avoid overly crowded outings as much as possible. There will be many temptations to ease personal restrictions against COVID-19 for the holidays, but please be safe and smart this holiday season.
Wear a mask. It is the way.