The Mandalorian, Chapter 14: “The Tragedy” really shakes things up…

****BANTHA-SIZED SPOILERS!!!****

The latest chapter of DisneyPlus’ The Mandalorian is now available for streaming on DisneyPlus, and this brief, 32 minute installment packs a lot of power into its short running time. Written by Jon Favreau and directed by Robert Rodriguez (“Spy Kids” “From Dusk Till Dawn”), “The Tragedy” is the very definition of edge-of-your-seat viewing.

“The Tragedy.”

Father and son, playing force-catch…

This brief episode starts with what has become a routine sight in this series; Mando (Pedro Pascal) in the cockpit of his trusty starship, the Razor Crest, playing a friendly game of “Force-catch” with his adopted child, Grogu (though I still prefer to call him Baby Yoda). Mando is testing the child’s ability to pull a control knob from his hand, as the Force-sensitive tot sharpens his latent (but atrophied) telekinetic gifts. Grogu has an affinity for that particular control knob, which makes it a nice ‘prize’ in their little game. We actually hear Mando laugh aloud with irrepressible pride and joy at the child’s progress!

Note: I know I’ve said this a million times, so a million and one won’t hurt; the amount of emotion conveyed through full face/body armor with mere voice and body language by actor Pedro Pascal is nothing short of amazing. As pantomimic performances go, it is a perfect balance. To those who think it might be easy? Imagine if a younger Clint Eastwood were never allowed to show his face in his Man With No Name western trilogy.

Ancient Jedi ruins didn’t allow for helicopter pads.

However, the mission of delivering the 50-year old infant to the Jedi takes precedence, as the Razor Crest prepares to land at the ruins of a Force-powerful Jedi Temple on the planet Tython. Unfortunately, the ancient hilltop’s Jedi ruins make no accommodation for landing a starship, so Mando lands at the base of the hill.

“People, let me tell ya about my be-e-e-est friend…”

With Grogu tucked safely in his arm, Mando flies the kid up the hill to the temple with his handy-dandy rocket pack. One last little father-son romp before the Jedi come to claim the kid. Because what father or parent hasn’t wanted to scoop their little kid up and pretend to make them fly, right? In this case, foster-dad Mando can make that little game a reality.

Note: I’m guessing Rey wishes she had a rocket pack when she had to climb the seemingly endless steps of the Jedi ruins at Ahch-To in “The Force Awakens,” only to find out Luke Skywalker was a dead end. What is with Jedi placing their temples on hilltops, anyway? Part of their endurance training, perhaps? Seeing Mando fly up with Baby Yoda in tow just seems so much smarter.

Alright kid…let’s rock

Per Ahsoka Tano’s instructions at the end of “The Jedi”, Mando places Grogu on the ‘Seeing Stone’ at the center of the open air temple’s dilapidated columns. Mando expects that the Force-sensitive Grogu will instantly reach out and summon any remaining Jedi, but nothing happens. Grogu just sits on the rock…waiting. As Mando scans the surrounding terrain for a transmitter control of some kind, he hears an approaching ship–it’s Slave One, the small but deadly vessel that once belonged to legendary bounty hunter Boba Fett (Tamuera Morrison).

Slave One flies again!

Note: Fett’s eventual appearance in The Mandalorian was an eventual certainty, given his cameo at the end of Chapter 9: “The Marshall”, but it was still quite a thrill to see Fett’s ship, Slave One, in live-action again for the first time since 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back” and 2002’s “Attack of the Clones” (in the latter, it was still under the ownership of Fett’s father Jango Fett, from whom Boba was a clone). I still remember seeing the ship for the first time in “The Empire Strikes Back,” and while its odd-duck design took a while to grow on me, it’s quite iconic now.

Grogu reaches out and touches someone…

As an impatient Mando waits for something to happen with Grogu, the child closes his eyes and suddenly a massive column of energy surrounds him–a protective forcefield. The energy seems to emanate from both the Seeking Stone and the child himself. Mando, still acting on his instinct to protect Grogu at all costs, steps forward, but is instantly repelled by the forcefield’s energy (the column is literally a ‘Force-field’). A bald, robed figure begins firing at Mando, and the two eventually square off. The robed man is, of course, Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), and he demands that Mando return the armor he received as payment for liberating a mining town from a Krayt dragon in “The Marshall.” With their guns trained on each other, Mando explains that it’d be against the code of the Mandalorians for him to just hand it over. Fett explains that it belonged to his father, Jango, hence it belongs to him. At an impasse, Fett also warns Mando that if he doesn’t hand over the armor, his sharpshooter Fennec (a returning Ming-Na Wen) will kill the child on the hilltop. Mando believed Fennec to be dead after the events of Chapter 5: “The Gunslinger” , but she was rescued by Fett, who was living on Tatooine following his (presumed) escape from the Pit of Sarlaac in “Return of the Jedi”.

Note: For a long while, the character of Boba Fett felt like a big nothing burger to me. Personally, I never understood why my fellow Star Wars geeks got so hot and bothered for a character who went out like a Star Trek redshirt. I still remember my own anticipation for Fett building when I saw the character appear (a paid cosplayer) at a local shopping mall for a Lucasfilm promotional tour back in 1979. I even sent away for the Kenner action figure using Kenner proofs-of-purchase, so yeah, I was very disappointed in what we ultimately saw of Boba Fett in the original trilogy. Sure, there was a lot of fan-based conjecture about the character’s eventual escape from the Sarlaac Pit, but nothing onscreen. So as far as I was concerned, the overly-hyped character was a dead end. “The Tragedy” finally sees Boba Fett in full badass-mode, redeeming the potential of the character which has only been hinted at in live-action for the past 37 years. Now I can’t wait for his next appearance in Chapter 15.

Stormtroopers: can’t shoot, can’t blend in…even their armor doesn’t do squat.

The three characters soon reach a quick alliance with the arrival of an Imperial troop transport. As Mando tries again to grab Grogu and leave, he is repeatedly blocked by the forcefield. As the transport’s stormtroopers exit, they are quickly picked off by sharpshooter Fennec, and mercilessly taken out by Fett, who uses a sharpened “gaffi stick” (the hand weapon of a Tatooine sand person) to bludgeon the troopers to death with incredible power–Fett doesn’t merely kill the troopers–he murders them. Fennec also proves quite resourceful when she is pinned down behind a hilltop boulder, and uses all of her might to kick the boulder downhill, crushing several of her attackers in the process. During the fight, Fett sees the Razor Crest and makes a run for the ship. As a second Imperial troop transport arrives, Mando and Fennec are holding their own against the remaining troops, with Fett conspicuously absent. Is he leaving? Is he stealing the Razor Crest? Not exactly…

That sound you hear is the sound of millions of Star Wars fans fangasming at once.

As the second wave of troops prove problematic for Fennec and Mando, we see Boba Fett reemerge, wearing his old body armor which he ran back to retrieve from the Razor Crest! Back inside his body armor, with its dazzling array of rockets and weaponry, Fett makes short work of the remaining stormtroopers. Even his armored knees release dart-like rockets which kill the remaining troops without effort. “The Tragedy” reaffirms the long-held notion that stormtroopers are about as useless against a well-trained adversary as a freshly-baked baguette.

Fennec (Ming-Na Wen) is back, along with her savior, Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison).

Using a single rocket fired from his backpack, Fett manages to blow up the two retreating Imperial transports as the lone rocket sends one of the ships colliding into the other. Mando is impressed. Fett deadpans, “I meant to hit the other one.” During the brief lull, Fett uses a hologram projected from his armor to prove he is its rightful owner. As the trio formalize their alliance, their victory is very short-lived–a massive Imperial vessel drops from the sky and DESTROYS THE RAZOR CREST with a volley of energy from its laser weapons! Mando’s trusty spaceship is utterly obliterated as a gloating Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) releases a robotic squad of “Dark Troopers” (seen at the end of Chapter 12: “The Siege” ) to snatch an exhausted, now-defenseless Grogu from the Seeing Stone. With his Force-energy momentarily drained, the flying black-armored droids snatch Grogu without any resistance and take him into the underbelly of the hovering overhead Imperial vessel!

Note: This was the single most jaw-dropping double climax moment of the entire series to date; in the span of seconds, Mando loses both his beloved starship and the fan adored-Baby Yoda! If The Mandalorian was not a Disney production, it could’ve very well have been the end of the series…

Back in the saddle: Boba Fett, at the controls of Slave One again.

With no love for the Empire (as we saw when he savagely slaughtered its troops), Fett agrees to help Mando by using Slave One to follow the Imperial ship as closely as he can without being spotted. Hit by the sight of a larger orbital mothership, Fett reports, “They’re back, the Empire.” Returning to Tython, Fett sees a despondent Mando sifting through the wreckage of his beloved Razor Crest; he finds the control knob with which he and Grogu played ‘Force-catch’, as well as the beskar spear given to him by Ahsoka Tano. Fett instantly recognizes the metal in the weapon, and pledges to help Mando retrieve the child at all costs. Fennec, owing Fett a life-debt, is also committed to helping her onetime foe Mando as well.

Note: Dating back to Han Solo’s rescue of Luke in “A New Hope” and Lando Calrissian’s turning good guy in “The Empire Strikes Back”, the Star Wars universe is one of rapidly-shifting loyalties and alliances. “The Tragedy” reaffirms this point as Mando now has a solid ally in Fennec, who made for a formidable opponent in “The Gunslinger.”

Mando seeks the help of Marshall Dune.

With temporary transport via Slave One, Mando calls in a favor. He goes to see local Marshall Cara Dune (Gina Carano) for her help in freeing an ex-Imperial sharpshooter named Mayfeld (comedian Bill Burr) from a New Republic prison. Mando was forced to double-cross the treacherous Mayfeld and his criminal cohorts in Chapter 6: “The Prisoner”, but he hopes springing Mayfeld from prison will in-debt the convict to Mando’s cause. Former Rebel shock trooper Cara is reluctant to spring the former Imperial assassin until she learns that the Empire has captured “the child” (Grogu, but Cara never knew the tyke’s name). She agrees to help.

Baby Yoda gets a little cranky before nap time…

Back aboard the formidable Imperial starship as it careens through hyperspace, Moff Gideon wishes to check up on the captured Grogu. As he enters the tyke’s cell, the Force-attuned toddler is tossing and force-choking stormtroopers like so many toys in a playpen, nearly killing them with a child’s whim. A malevolently smiling Gideon approves of the child’s power, as he prevents his own troops from interfering.

Moff Gideon smiles with ghoulish gloating.

As we saw on Tython, excessive use of his power drains Grogu, and he is quickly exhausted. Gideon approaches the temporarily-drained tot, and mocks his sleepiness. Pulling out the dark lightsaber he somehow acquired (and which Bo-Katan wants back), he tells Grogu he is not yet ready to play with such toys. Gideon then tells reports into a comlink, “Tell Dr. Pershing we’ve got our donor.”

Note: Pershig intends to harvest the child’s force-rich blood for a continuation of the cloning project we saw in the now-destroyed Imperial labs on Nevarro in “The Siege”. The beings in the tanks looked like early attempts at creating First Order leader “Snoke”, who was made from the late Emperor Palpatine (see: “The Rise of Skywalker”). Grogu’s blood has a very “high-M count”– “M” being the ‘midichlorians’ which are supposed to amplify Force-powers (see: the Star Wars prequel movie trilogy). While I loathe the concept of the midichlorians, as they diminish the awe of the Force, I accept their usage here as a means to an end. I prefer the Force to be as Lucas originally conceived before he retconned it; “like yoga, anyone can do it” (see: J.W. Rinzler’s “The Making of Return of the Jedi”). That is all.

The End.

Mando a Mando.

So much Star Wars-y goodness is packed into this short little segment that I barely know where to begin. Aside from seeing Boba Fett back in his original trilogy armor flying Slave One again, we see Fennec’s return, Dark Troopers, stormtroopers getting their butts kicked by Baby Yoda, and about a few dozen Star Wars easter eggs, including Boba Fett’s use of a Tusken Raider gaffi stick, presumably taken from a local Tatooine sand person when Fett rocketed his way out of the Sarlaac pit (an event presumed to have happened shortly after his embarrassing exit from “Return of the Jedi”). This single half hour installment completely redeems the trashed reputation of Boba Fett from the last film of the Star Wars original trilogy; in fact, this is the first time we see the character truly living up to his largely hinted-at potential for true bad-assery.

Fennec watches a meeting of the Mandos.

Aside from the meeting of the Mandos, we learn that Boba’s father Jango (seen in the prequel trilogy) was, like Mando himself, a fellow foundling–not native to Mandalore (the adult versions of both Jango and Boba Fett were, of course, played by the same actor–Temuera Morrison). Boba is, of course, a clone of his father, but still the heir apparent to his father’s legacy. Mando’s reluctance to give the armor back to Boba Fett speaks to his own ideological zeal; sometimes the conscripted or the converts are the most diehard members of the flock. Mando is indeed a “Child of the Watch” (a zealot, or fundamentalist), as Bo-Katan called him in Chapter 11: “The Heiress”. At any rate, “The Tragedy” sees something Star Wars fans have dreamt up since “The Mandalorian” began; the eventual meeting and teaming up of Mando’s Din Djarin with Boba Fett himself.

Shape of Things to Come?

Watching “Star Wars” at home with a solid, low-end digital projector can be every bit as exciting (and far safer) than a theatrical presentation.

“The Tragedy” shakes up the show’s universe, for sure– Grogu is kidnapped for his force-rich blood (I prefer Baby Yoda, but whatever), Darth Gideon is forming the basis for a new Empire (presumably culminating with the cloned copies of Palpatine we later see in Episode IX: “The Rise of Skywalker”), and even Mando’s beloved Razor Crest, a ship as iconic as the show itself, is now blown to bits. More than just delivering a jaw-dropping cliffhanger worthy of anything seen in the Star Wars cinematic universe, “The Tragedy” cements what earlier episodes of The Mandalorian have already demonstrated…that live-action Star Wars can work just as well on television/streaming as it does on the silver screen. Perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway from this first live-action Star Wars series, as the current paradigm shift in entertainment delivery is only accelerated by the needs of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The next two episodes promise to be as rewarding and exciting as anything I used to wait three years for as a kid.

COVID-Safe Viewing

“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 276,000 people as of this writing.  Meanwhile, there is no effective treatment for COVID-19 as of yet, and vaccines are months away from mass distribution.  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.

Images: DisneyPlus, Disney, Lucasfilm

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