Naturally, there are spoilers here.
Thinks looked grim for The Mandalorian, his crew, and the asset at the end of last week’s episode. They were lured into a trap and threatened by Moff Gideon, who turns out to be a former ISB officer who oversaw the purge of Mandalore that has been so often talked around during the course of the show.
There’s no way out except through the underground tunnels where the Mandalorian covert had been situated, but they can’t get through with the tools they have at hand.
Meanwhile, the asset has been picked up by a pair of incompetent biker scouts (Jason Sudeikis and Adam Pally.) Too busy worrying about whether Moff Gideon will kill them for existing, they fail to realize the threat of IG-11 and his protective, nursemaid programming. The droid makes short work of them, retrieves the asset, and steals a speeder.
This is the distraction the Mando and crew need to make it into the sewers. After a prolonged shootout and (literal) firefight, they escape, only to find that the Empire has decimated the Mandalorian enclave. The only one who remains is the mysterious armorer, who crafts a signet for the Mando and tells him that this quest is to either train the infant as a Mando or reunite it with its kind.
The Imperials quickly find them and they escape to a river of lava that will lead them in the direction of the Mandalorian’s ship. IG-11 is forced to sacrifice to save them all, killing a platoon of Stormtroopers in the process. The heroes aren’t in the clear yet, though. Moff Gideon has taken to his TIE fighter to end them once and for all. Fortunately, the armorer equipped the Mandalorian (whose name we learn to by Dyn Jarren) with a jet pack, and he does one on one battle with the Imperial ship. Once it crashes, he’s able to board the Razorcrest with the asset after parting ways with Greef Carga and Cara Dune, who opt to remain on Nevarro.
The season ends with Jawas picking on the wreckage of Moff Gideon’s TIE fighter when the Moff cuts himself free with the fabled Darksaber, leaving us with enough implications to reel our minds.
This episode was the Star Wars directorial debut of Taika Waitit and it’s hard to imagine anyone else being able to pull off his brand of humor in Star Wars without it feeling out of place. Jason Sudeikis and Adam Pally guest star as the witless Imperial biker scouts and have a conversation that seems as though it would be just as at home in a Kevin Smith film as in Star Wars, but Waititi is able to sell it.
In fact, Waititi is able to sell quite a lot that would ordinarily be limp. At one point in the episode, Moff Gideon offers an extended monologue that is almost entirely exposition about our main characters and their histories, but the director is able to infuse it with a kinetic energy that makes it riveting.
He brings that same energy to the action of the episode in a way that’s deeply satisfying. Not just with the standard shootouts, but the armorers action sequence rivals Donnie Yen’s major set pieces in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Waititi is able to wring jokes out of thin air and give us some of the most charming moments we’ve seen on the show so far, even involving the asset. At one point, Carl Weathers’ Greef Carga suggests that the child should be the one who deals with Moff Gideon’s TIE fighter with his “hand-wavey” thing. The moment they exchange, with the infant waving back to him, is perfect and will most likely be meme fodder for weeks to come.
The only downside, and it could be more in Jon Favreau’s writing than in Waititi’s direction, is the idea that a kid as old as Dyn Jarren during the Clone Wars would have no frame of reference for a Jedi at all. And since the history of the Mandalorians are so inexorably tied to the Jedi, it seems doubly fishy that he would have no knowledge of them. It makes me wonder what Mandalorian off-shoot he belongs to that strays so much from the ways of the Mandalorians we’ve seen elsewhere in the canon. Perhaps this is a feature and not a bug and hopefully this discrepancy will be explored later.
What to look out for
One of the most fun references in the episode the E-Web Heavy Repeating cannon. First seen in The Empire Strikes Back, these massive guns were the terror of Star Wars roleplaying games everywhere, doing a lot of damage and chewing through anything you put in front of them. They’ve had other canon appearances in Rebels and elsewhere, but it brought a smile to my face to hear Moff Gideon say the words “E-Web.”
The references from here on out get more esoteric and meaningful, though. We got an extended flashback to the Mando’s childhood that was ripped right from the last days of The Clone Wars. Super battle droids and the Separatist army chew through civilians until they’re rescued by the Mandalorians. Super battle droids haven’t been seen in live action since Revenge of the Sith and it’s great to have them back again.
The other interesting thing to note in the flashback sequence is the pauldron symbols of the Mandalorians on the rescue team. It’s the old symbol of Clan Vizsla, a stylized version of a Mandalorian shriek-hawk. It was adopted by all of Death Watch in this era, which was likely, by this time, under Maul’s control or close to it. Clan Vizsla later joined forces with House Kryze to rally against the Empire late in the Galactic Civil War. For more on the Vizla’s, you’ll need to watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. This symbol was often associated with the “Secret Mandalore” and that might help explain why their culture and creed is so different to the rest.
The reference that brought tears to my eyes, though, was Moff Gideon’s possession of the Darksaber. A couple of years ago, I put together a playlist of appearances of the blade for StarWars.Com that is going to be very useful right now. For those who want the short version, it’s this: The Darksaber was made by the first Mandalorian accepted into the Jedi order, Tarre Vizsla. After Vizsla’s death, the Jedi order kept the saber in their temple until a Mandalorian raiding party stole it. It became a symbol of power over Mandalore and it was said that the rightful ruler of their people would wield it. For a time, it was in the possession of Pre Vizsla—the Mando voiced by Jon Favreau on The Clone Wars. During the dark times, it was in the possession of Maul, a relic of his time ruling Mandalore from the shadows. It was liberated by Sabine Wren, the Mandalorian that was part of Phoenix Squadron on Star Wars Rebels. Not long before the events of A New Hope, Sabine handed the saber off to Bo Katan (voiced by Katee Sackhoff), who would go on to unite the Mandalorian clans against the Empire. That was the last we’d seen of it until this episode. What happened? How did a former ISB agent gain the fabled blade? What stories does this simple, wordless scene imply about the fate of Mandalore and Bo Katan?
And that’s what brought tears. The thought of the atrocities Gideon must have committed against characters we love to be able to carve himself out of a TIE fighter.
As the inclusion of the Darksaber adds to the mythology of Star Wars, so too does this episode draw from the mythology of our world. Particularly, the lava river our heroes find themselves traveling along to their would-be salvation at the end of the episode. It evokes thoughts of the River Phlegethon, a component of the Underworld in Greek mythology and written about in Dante’s Inferno. In mythology, the Phelgethon is a flaming river parallel to the river Styx and one of five infernal rivers flowing through the underworld. It’s guarded by centaur archers who stand at its bank and the egress of the flow, ready to shoot anyone who tries to escape from their pre-determined level of hell. In the Inferno, Dante and Virgil are able to make it through the river with safe passage by Nessus, one of the Centaurs who had formerly been guarding the river himself. An interesting parallel with IG-11, who was programmed to attack the Mandalorian initially and is now his savior, able to deliver him through the flaming river unscathed.
Another facet of its mythology is the idea that demons are said to be healed if they drink from the flow of the Phlegethon, though it causes indescribable pain as it heals. IG-11 is crafted as a healer here and although he mends the Mandalorian, it is accompanied by the indescribable pain of the Mando having to overcome his prejudice of droids. The entire ordeal of the river becomes one of rebirth for the Mandalorian.
Though it might still be a coincidence, there seems to be little doubt the Phlegethon was an influence on The Mandalorian. In Victor Hugo’s epic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo at four years old is abandoned outside the cathedral and an official remarks in the book, “Foundling — yes, found apparently on the banks of the river Phlegethon.”
Does this cast the so-called “Baby Yoda” as Quasimodo?
Surely, season two will give us the answers we seek.
As we close out this first season of The Mandalorian, we’re left with many questions left unanswered and our hero heading out into a new phase of his journey.
This season has been a little bit uneven in places, sure, but every Star Wars television show worked through their first season to find its footing and delivered some of the best Star Wars ever. If that’s the thing we can look forward to for season two, we’re definitely in for a treat.
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