****WARNING! DEATH STAR-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!!****
Chapter 16 of “The Mandalorian” closes out the 2nd season of this wildly successful DisneyPlus series, and “The Rescue” offers some massive surprises to both longtime and casual fans alike. I deliberately held off publishing this column for a few hours later than usual, because the spoilers are that big. Hopefully, readers will have had a chance to see the episode by now–I don’t want to be personally responsible for ruining anyone’s experience.
Hold onto your popcorn… BIG SPOILERS! SECOND WARNING!
Picking up soon after the events of Chapter 15: “The Believer”, we see an Imperial shuttle carrying the cloning scientist Dr. Pershing (Omid Abtahi). The outmatched shuttle is being pursued by Slave One, the starship of bounty hunter Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison). The cat easily kills the mouse when Fett fires an ion cannon at the shuttle, crippling its onboard control systems. The arrogant but helpless shuttle pilots realize they’re about to be boarded…
The two pilots and Dr. Pershing remain in the cabin. The first pilot impulsively kills his copilot with his blaster in order to seize Dr. Pershing as a hostage for his own hide, hoping that Pershing’s credentials as a renowned scientist might be valuable. The shuttle is boarded by Mando (Pedro Pascal), mercenary/ally Fennec (Ming-Na Wen) and New Republic Marshall Cara Dune (Gina Carano). Facing off against the cowardly pilot and his hostage, Cara keeps her aim true. The pilot notices her Alderaan tear tattoo and tries to get under her skin, telling her he was aboard the Death Star (“Which one?” she deadpans) when it obliterated her home planet. That’s all Cara needs to shoot the coward right between the eyes, narrowly missing Dr. Pershing, who will be used to locate the kidnapped Baby Yoda (aka Grogu), now being held aboard an Imperial cruiser commanded by Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito).
Note: Not sure exactly why the cowardly killer pilot thought taunting a Rebel shock trooper as formidable looking as Cara Dune was a good idea…?
Slave One lands on a frontier planet. Mando and Boba Fett make for the local watering hole, where they meet fellow comrades-in-armor Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), the rightful heiress to Mandalore, and Koska Reeves (Mercedes Varnado), both of whom we saw in Chapter 11: “The Heiress”. While Bo-Katan owes Mando a debt, she and Koska look upon the clone Boba Fett with disdain. They don’t consider him a true son of Mandalore, since he was the cloned son of a ‘foundling’ (adopted Mandalorian), and all but ignores Mandalorian creed and customs. Boba, in turn, dismissively refers to Bo-Katan as “princess,” which doesn’t set well with her either.
Things reach a boiling point between the hotheaded Koska and Boba, as they get into a nasty bar fight, which stalemates with their matching flamethrowers. As Bo-Katan puts an end to the squabbling, Mando tells her that the child was abducted by Moff Gideon–the man who stole her planet’s darksaber (which belongs to Mandalorian royalty). She agrees to help Mando on two conditions; that she is allowed to fight Moff Gideon for the sword and that she may claim Gideon’s captured Imperial vessel to help retake Mandalore (a planet the cynical Boba Fett considers a lost cause). Mando readily agrees to her terms without a second thought, as no price is too high to rescue Grogu.
The group boards the captured Imperial shuttle and formulates a plan with the turncoat hostage Dr. Pershing, who usually aids whichever side offers him the best chances of staying alive. Pershing warns the group about Gideon’s robotic ‘Dark Troopers’; merciless, next-level automatons with incredible strength, jet packs, and a variety of weapons. It was a squad of such machines which swooped in and kidnapped Baby Yoda for Gideon. With Pershing’s warning in mind, Bo-Katan lays out their strategy; she will fly into the ship’s TIE fighter launch tube as a diversion. Once aboard, she, Cara and Fennec will plow through the opposition in order to capture the ship’s bridge (checkmate), while Mando goes off alone to find Grogu. If they’re successful, they’ll rendezvous on the bridge. Cara wants Gideon for a New Republic intelligence debriefing, Bo-Katan wants the stolen darksaber in Gideon’s possession (which has to be won in combat). Mando, of course, only cares about the child. Fennec and Boba owe a debt to Mando. The group’s objectives, while not necessarily the same, manage to align well enough.
The stolen Imperial shuttle leaps out of hyperspace, with Slave One in hot pursuit, staging a bogus attack on the shuttle. As Bo-Katan sends out a realistic-sounding distress call, Moff Gideon launches TIE fighters from the ship’s central launch tube. As Slave One picks off the TIE fighters with relative ease, Bo-Katan recklessly flies the shuttle into the still-open launch tube, feigning need for an emergency landing. With the TIEs destroyed and the shuttle aboard, Slave One jumps into hyperspace, having done its part.
Note: The TIE fighter launch tubes in the Imperial cruiser reminded me very much of the Viper fighter launch tubes aboard the “Battlestar Galactica.” Katee Sackhoff starred as pilot Kara “Starbuck” Thrace in the 2003-2009 version of the show, and now she’s starring alongside another strong woman named “Cara” in this show. The 1978 version of “Battlestar Galactica” was also sued by Fox (Star Wars’ original distributer) in a case that was eventually settled.
Cara and Fennec disembark from the shuttle, immediately shooting at the approaching stormtroopers, picking them off one by one. Soon however, more troops approach from behind, capturing Fennec and Cara….until Mandalorians Bo-Katan and Kosko fly in with their jetpacks and make short work of the troopers. As their Imperial opposition lays dead at their feet, the four make their way deeper into the ship… as Mando leaves on his own, towards the ship’s detention area to rescue Grogu. Riding an elevator towards the bridge level, Cara’s rifle jams, until she bangs it hard on the deck, ‘fixing’ it. The elevator door opens and the four women spray their stormtrooper opposition with laser blasts, almost effortlessly capturing the bridge. This too-easy capture of the command deck has Bo-Katan worried, as she wonders aloud, “Where’s Gideon?”
Elsewhere on the ship, the order is given to activate the Dark Troopers, the ship’s last line of defense. The activation process for the cryogenically stored Dark Troopers takes a few minutes, as the ominous robots begin their charging process. As Mando turns a corner near the detention level, he spots the chamber with the Dark Troopers, and notices their pending activation. Rushing to the doors of their chamber, he tries to prevent them from exiting, but one of the robots breaks free! Fighting the impossibly strong droid, Mando takes repeated blows to his beskar helmet, which remains intact (gotta love that beskar). As Mando’s various weapons fail to stop the monstrous machine, he whips out his beskar spear (“The Jedi”) and uses the near-indestructible rod to break the robot’s neck, disabling it. Rushing back to the chamber just as the other units are attempting to punch their way out of the locked storage bay door, a fast-thinking Mando hits the button to open the bay to vacuum—blowing the entire platoon of Dark Troopers into space!
Note: The Dark Troopers, with their two red glowing eyes, remind me very much of the sentry droids aboard the USS Cygnus in 1979’s “The Black Hole”, another Disney space epic (long before they bought Lucasfilm, back when every studio was trying to compete with 1977’s “Star Wars.”
As Mando picks off a few non-robotic stormtroopers with his beskar spear, he finds Grogu’s cell and opens the door… only to find Moff Gideon waiting for him, darksaber lit, standing over Grogu, who is found in energy shackles which prevent his using the force. Slowly and calmly, Gideon tells Mando to drop his blaster, and kick it to him. A helpless Mando complies. Gideon warns Mando, “Assume I know everything,” which he does, including the fact that Mando already exhausted his supply of target-seeking wrist rockets earlier. Gideon also realizes that Bo-Katan has already made her way onto the bridge by now. Gideon confesses that he’s already got the blood he wanted from the child, and doesn’t really need him anymore. He offers to let Mando take the toddler, in exchange for letting him escape with the darksaber (free of Bo-Katan’s inference). Mando, of course, has no interest in the darksaber or of Mandalore’s politics, so he readily agrees.
Note: Grogu’s energy shackles are similar to those used on Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) in “Attack of the Clones” (2002), when the Jedi master was held in place by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee).
As Mando reaches down for Grogu, Moff Gideon reneges on the deal, slicing down with fury at Mando with the darksaber, but is unable to penetrate Mando’s beskar body armor. Their fight moves into the corridor outside of Grogu’s cell, as Mando uses his beskar spear to repel Gideon’s repeated strikes with the energy blade. As saber and spear clash, the beskar spear begins to glow red hot, meaning that it can be punctured by pure energy, but it would take prolonged contact to do so. Mando wisely doesn’t give Moff Gideon the opportunity. Finally, Mando knocks the light saber out of Gideon’s hand, but refuses to kill him–choosing instead to honor his arrangement to bring him in alive for Cara’s intel debriefing and to deliver the darksaber to Bo-Katan…
Mando, with a captured Moff Gideon handcuffed and Baby Yoda in his arms, makes his way to the bridge rendezvous with Bo-Katan and the others. Gideon taunts the ignorant Mando, telling him that the darksaber is his now, and that Bo-Katan, by strict Mandalorian tradition, has to fight him for it. Mando forfeits, preferring to simply hand it over to her. Realizing that taking the saber won’t make it legally hers by Mandalorian law, Bo-Katan has to refuse. As Bo-Katan and Mando wrestle with the quaint loopholes of Mandalorian custom and tradition, an alarm goes off. The Dark Troopers, which Mando blew out into space, have used their rocket jetpacks to re-board the cruiser through the hangar bay. Very soon, the platoon of fearful machines are back aboard, and begin their march to the bridge. The blast doors to the bridge are immediately closed, but that only buys them some time–the Dark Troops will get through. The first two robots in the platoon position themselves outside the bridge doors and begin punching at the dual layers of metal doors with metronomic timing…
With the steady booming of the outside robot’s punches felt inside the bridge, Fennec notices that an X-wing fighter has approached the cruiser. Bo-Katan requests that the approaching pilot identify themself, but there is no response. Soon the X-wing fighter lands in the cruiser’s bay, and a black robed figure disembarks. With superhuman skill, the black robed figure activates a very familiar green lightsaber and begins slicing through stormtroopers and even the dreaded Death Troopers with little more effort than a master chef slicing vegetables…
The mysterious lightsaber-wielding figure elegantly slices his way through more Death Troopers towards the bridge, as the column of Death Troopers outside the bridge halt, and turn in unison, to face this new, and more dangerous menace. As the figure advances, the formerly arrogant Gideon becomes increasingly nervous. With everyone’s attention on the monitors, the wily Moff slides a fallen bridge officer’s laser pistol under his cape with his knees. Bringing the gun up to his cuffed hands, he’s still able to get a grip on the weapon and shoots Koska! Fennec trains her own gun on him, yelling for Gideon to “Drop it!” Cara then knocks her prisoner unconscious.
Note: It’s kinda silly to refer to the hooded figure as ‘mysterious’ at this point, since every Star Wars fan worth their salt knows the green lightsaber and X-wing only belong to…well, you know.
On the black and white security monitors of the bridge, Grogu reaches out and touches the black robed figure, immediately recognizing the presence of a fellow Force-sensitive. When the figure is just outside the bridge, Mando tells Bo-Katan open the blast doors, but the Mandalorian heiress is hesitant, due to her planet’s history with the Jedi (especially one clad in black…). Upon Mando’s insistence, she opens the blast doors, and in walks…
…. Lukę Skywalker!
Yes, folks. The show went there. And beyond. The star of the original Star Wars trilogy (and sequel trilogy), a character as iconic as Darth Vader or Princess Leia. A computer de-aged Mark Hamill returns as the Tatooine farmboy-turned-Jedi Master himself. The galactic hero stands on the bridge, facing the group. Everyone in the galaxy knows Luke Skywalker it seems, save for the delightfully Force-ignorant Mando, who only recognizes the stranger as a Jedi, and that he must’ve answered Grogu’s force call.
Note: When the de-aged Luke pulls back his hood, we hear a wonderful swell of John Williams’ iconic “Force theme,” that same familiar musical phrase we first heard when a young Luke Skywalker saw the setting twin suns of his home planet for the last time, in the original 1977 “Star Wars” (I hate the subtitle “A New Hope,” which was only added for the film’s 1981 re-release).
Luke reaches out for Grogu, the one whom everyone knows that he’s come for… but the 50 year old toddler is unsure whether to take the Jedi Master’s hand. Grogu turns to his adoptive father Mando, with the conflicted, uncertain look of a youngster’s first day at kindergarten.
Mando, not wanting to part with his child, for whom he’s sacrificed so much, tells Luke, “It seems he doesn’t want to go with you.” Luke, intuitively understanding the bond that exists between Mando and Grogu, disagrees, “He wants your permission. He’s strong with the Force, but talent without training is nothing. I will give my life to protect the child, but he will not be safe until he masters his abilities.”
Note: By breaking the bond between Mando and Grogu, I wonder if Luke is setting the child on the same dark path which led to the downfall of his own father, Anakin Skywalker, when Qui-Gon Jinn separated that boy from Luke’s grandmother, Shmi, in 1999’s “The Phantom Menace”. I’ve never agreed with the prequel’s bizarre Jedi philosophy that attachments are somehow bad–especially for children (who need familial attachments the most). A person without loved ones or family, who is taught to shun or suppress all emotions, could likely grow up to be sociopathic.
With his ‘permission,’ given, Mando picks up his beloved toddler for the last time; he is a changed man from when we first met him. Instead of caring only for himself or his creed, the Mandalorian Din Djarin is now a father–and he cares for his adopted son more than anything in the entire universe. But sometimes the only way to love your child is to let them go; to follow a path for their best possible future. As Grogu reaches to touch his face, Mando takes off his helmet, allowing the child to touch his face, to make that connection. No matter where they go from this point forward, they will always be father and son. “I will see you again, I promise,” Mando tells the toddler.
Luke gently takes Grogu in his arms, giving a wordless thanks to a tearful Mando. The Jedi then places the toddler on the floor, just as a familiar blue and white astromech droid enters the bridge. Yes, it’s R2-D2, Luke’s faithful droid who once belonged to his father as well. The droid cheerfully beeps and whistles at the toddler. The Jedi, the child, and the droid then leave…
Note: The CGI de-aging of the presently 69-year old Mark Hamill (with clever use of body doubles, too) certainly works well enough. Personally I don’t really care if it’s 100% photorealistic or not; it was just amazing to have the character back at all, let alone having him played by the original actor! Kinda glad they didn’t go the rumored Sebastian Stan route. Yes, Stan does bear a passing resemblance to Hamill, but it just wouldn’t be the same.
Shortly after the credits start, there is a coda sequence taking place on Tatooine. We see the exterior of the late Jabba the Hutt’s palace. Inside, we see that the place looks as seedy as ever, with some of the same characters in there as well. However, in the late Jabba’s former throne room now sits his former major domo Bib Fortuna (Matthew Wood), who, like his former master, has gained a considerable amount of weight since taking over the palace…
The decadent festivities are broken up by two old ‘friends’ who want to settle a personal score. Boba Fett and his companion Fennec come to bust up Fortuna’s hood, and take over the late Hutt’s criminal enterprise, after being left to die in the pit of Sarlaac years before.
Bib Fortuna tries to talk his way out of it, but is quickly shot dead by Boba, who is clearly not in a ‘taking s#!t’ kinda mood. He releases Fortuna’s dancing slave girl, and makes himself comfortable on the throne. A title card reads “The Book of Boba Fett, Coming in 2021.”
Note: Aside from the surprise announcement of this new series, the actor playing Bib Fortuna, Matthew Wood, also played Fortuna in 1999’s “The Phantom Menace” in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo during that film’s pod-race sequence. Also enjoyed enjoyed Fortuna nervously discussing the “rumors” that Fett survived his fall into the Sarlaac Pit–much like the non-canonical comics and books which hinted at the character’s survival, but were ‘erased’ when Disney reset the expanded universe canon after its 2012’s purchase of Lucasfilm. The actor who played Fortuna in 1983’s “Return of the Jedi”, Michael Clark, is 73 years old now, and would probably not wish to endure the heavy makeup for the transformation into a character he first played over 37 years ago.
Parting of the Ways.
Wow. Okay. I’m not crying, you’re crying. That final scene between Mando, Baby Yoda and Luke… heart-wrenching stuff. It could’ve been the end of the series for its power and intensity. And I’m sure the internet will be aflame with folks complaining about the arguably iffy CGI used to de-age Mark Hamill and other technical stuff, but for me it was all about the story… and the story worked. This ending, for Mando and Grogu, was the way; delivering the baby to the Jedi safely was always the end goal, but is that the end of the series? Frankly, I can’t imagine the series going on without the beautiful father-son dynamic between Mando and Grogu. It’s the beating heart of the series; all else is just so much fireworks. Well done fireworks, of course, but you need that core relationship for all of it to mean anything.
Some questions remain as well. It’s safe to assume that the midichlorians (I even hate typing that stupid word) mined from Grogu’s blood went into the creation of Snoke and the other Palpatine clone attempts, as seen in the sequel trilogy. Was Baby Yoda (aka Grogu) one of the Jedi trainees who were killed when Kylo Ren destroys the Jedi temple a decade or so later? Was the (hypothetical) loss of Grogu one of the many reasons for the horrible guilt which forced Luke into self-imposed exile on Ahch-To? Or does Mando somehow manage to return (as promised) and take Grogu from the Jedi’s care before they’re destroyed? Perhaps Luke found young Grogu to be ‘untrainable’ because of his attachment with Mando? If these questions aren’t answered in the season to come, the continuing story of Mando and Grogu could easily fill a feature film, though I don’t see too many of those in Star Wars’ future–especially given DisneyPlus’ heavy slate of Star Wars series-related releases coming soon…
It is the Future You See.
In addition to the “Book of Boba Fett” series promised in the coda, there are also a proposed “Obi Wan Kenobi” series (starring Ewan McGregor), as well as a Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) “event series” (a miniseries by any other name), and a “Rogue Squadron” movie (directed by “Wonder Woman” helmer Patti Jenkins). There is also the proposed “Bad Batch” series, about a rogue platoon of clone troopers (hence the title) who were first introduced in the “Clone Wars” animated series created by Dave Filoni, who also writes/produces/directs “The Mandalorian.” Oh, but that’s not all… not by a long shot.
And the risk of going permanently cross-eyed, there is also an Ahsoka Tano series (starring Rosario Dawson), a “Rangers of the New Republic” series, a “Visions” animated series, and a series based on the exploits of “Rogue One” spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna).
That’s a LOT of Star Wars. However, the revolutionary wraparound LED-screen filming technology pioneered for shooting of “The Mandalorian” cuts down on expensive (and unsafe) location shooting, which makes these once-prohibitively expensive projects arguably a lot more doable (the pandemic has hit a lot of studios hard, even Disney’s deep pockets). While such technology is a very expensive investment upfront, it soon pays for itself with photo-realistic worlds which can be be quickly (and safely) created within the immersive LED screens at the studios. Such technology could be the future of most post-pandemic filmmaking, once more studios adopt the infrastructure.
A full list of future Lucasfilm projects can be found here at StarWars.com. The future of Star Wars, while not returning to the silver screen anytime soon, still looks very bright indeed.
The First Mandalorian (1945-2020).
Actor Jeremy Bulloch, who played Boba Fett (physically) in the original Star Wars trilogy films, passed away this past week from Parkinson’s disease, at the age of 75.
“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 310,000 people as of this writing. Meanwhile, there is no widely available cure for COVID-19 as of yet. New vaccines are just now being distributed, and will take months for the majority of the population to be immunized, with frontline workers and other high-risk groups getting priority, of course. 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. May the Force be with us all.