(warning: spoilers ahead)
As we spend this holiday season giving thanks for all we have — family, friends, and health in the time of a global pandemic — I also want to give thanks for the great creative mind of Dave Filoni. On the latest episode of “The Mandalorian,” his creative mind was in full effect, and it was glorious.
Within the opening moments of the Black Friday edition of “The Mandalorian,” we got our first look at Ahsoka Tano — in the flesh. I say “in the flesh,” because if you’ve watched any of the “Star Wars” cartoon series, I don’t need to explain to you who Ahsoka Tano is. Nope, I just merely need to give you a high five or clink your glass in a toast, or maybe even hug you.
Of course, Ahsoka is not the first animated character “made flesh.” Boba Fett has that honor, debuting in the now much-maligned “Star Wars Holiday Special” before he appeared in “Empire Strikes Back.” Yet even from the more recent canon cartoons, Ahsoka’s real-life transformation is not the first — that honor goes to Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Saw Gererra from 2016’s “Rogue One” after appearing in “The Clone Wars” and later “Star Wars: Rebels.” All that being said, because of its ability to bridge the gaps in “Star Wars” history, Ahsoka’s debut is the most important, and here, Dave Filoni does not disappoint.
We start this episode with Mando and Baby Yoda heading to the planet Corvus. A couple of episodes ago, we were told by Bo Katan that this planet was a forested one, but when we reach it we see that most of the forest has been stripped or burned. We also quickly find our friend Ahsoka Tano engaged in battle with some guards outside a city wall, her unique white lightsabers in hand.
Ahsoka, it seems, is battling with the oppressive magistrate of a city and trying to free its people from her rule. Just before Mando’s ship arrives, she scurries off into the dark and fog of the dying forest. When Mando makes landfall in the city, the magistrate offers him a bargain: Kill “the Jedi” plaguing her and get a staff of pure beskar — also known as Mandalorian steel — in return. Yet, never intending to kill her, Mando uses this exchange to derive Ahsoka’s location. Her general whereabouts known, Mando and Baby Yoda set off into the woods to find the one they’ve been searching for this entire season.
Upon finding Ahsoka, she communes with Baby Yoda through the Force and we learn the second big shocker of this episode: Baby Yoda’s actual name is Grogu. She tells us that he once lived and trained in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant during the end of the Clone Wars but was taken from the Temple and hidden after the fall of the Jedi. She also believes that Grogu’s connection to Mando makes him vulnerable to the Dark Side of the Force, and says she cannot train him. We even get a nice little allusion to Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader here as she mentions that she has seen what this vulnerability does “to the best of us.” The two of them strike a bargain, Mando will help Ahsoka, she will tell him what to do with Grogu.
The pair of them assault the small walled city on Corvus, and, after a short battle, each has a challenger in their sights. Ahsoka is fighting face to face with the magistrate in a Samurai-style showdown, while Mando locks-in with the magistrate’s head guard in an Old West duel in the street. Both of our heroes win their encounters and then Ahsoka drops the third big bomb of the episode. She asks the magistrate, “Where is your master? Where is Grand Admiral Thrawn?”
For anyone who read a “Star Wars” novel in the 1990s, you know who Thrawn is. In the eyes of many fans, Thrawn was the most brilliant villain ever to grace the galaxy far, far away. He was expunged from “Star Wars” lore in the great purge — I mean Disney purchase — but was reintroduced into canon as part of Dave Filoni’s “Rebels” series. Now, it seems he too may make his way to live-action “Star Wars.”
Ahsoka then tells Mando that even though she can’t train The Child, she knows what he can do next: “Go to the planet Tython. There you will find the ancient ruins of a temple that has a strong connection to the Force. Place Grogu on the seeing stone at the top of the mountain. If he reaches out through the Force, there’s a chance a Jedi may feel his presence and come searching for him.” With that, off Mando and Grogu launch off into their latest mission.
Besides the fact that we finally learned Baby Yoda has a name, this episode probably served as the launching pad for the oft-rumored live-action sequel series to “Rebels.” That show ended with Ahsoka and Sabine Wren (another important Mandalorian) searching for Ezra Bridger, a young Jedi who, with Grand Admiral Thrawn, was sent into the Unknown Regions by an errant hyperspace jump. Rosario Dawson’s live-action portrayal of Ahsoka here, and the mention of Thrawn, may lend credence to all those rumors.
In all truth, we have very little idea of what the future holds for “Star Wars.” Other than another season of “The Mandalorian,” which begins filming soon, there is little on the public calendar. We’re fairly certain they’re doing a limited series with Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, but we have no idea when we’ll see it. We know they’re doing a prequel series to “Rogue One” for Disney+, but we also don’t know when it is scheduled to debut.
The other interesting thing about this episode is where Mando and Grogu are now headed. The planet of Tython is a remarkably interesting one. Its history is rich — especially in more recent times — and could very well lead to the beginning of yet another Disney+ show. Leslye Headland, of Netflix’s “Russian Doll” fame, has said she is doing a “female-led” “Star Wars” with an “Indiana Jones” vibe in an era not very well explored on film. What Headland describes sounds an awful lot like my favorite character from the canon Marvel “Star Wars” comics: Dr. Aphra.
The “Star Wars” equivalent of an archeologist, Dr. Chelli Aphra straddles the line between good and evil. At one time, she served as an assistant to Darth Vader but also has a history of helping the Rebels from time to time. She has two crazy droid companions, lots of bounty hunter friends, and once took Lord Vader to the planet Tython, which resides in the Galaxy’s Deep Core.
The temple Ahsoka spoke of was a Jedi temple. In fact, it is one of the oldest Jedi temples still in existence. Could it lead us to tying into Headland’s show, or maybe even to Luke Skywalker himself, who we know is searching old Jedi temples at this point in the “Star Wars” timeline?
Right from its start, one of the things that has been so interesting about “The Mandalorian” is its penchant for serving as a sandbox for all the “reject toys” and otherwise background characters in the series. It’s been about the bounty hunters you saw, maybe only half in focus on screen, the beings who have a rich and fascinating story but were only tangentially related to the big, important saga going on at the time. Yet that is starting to change, at least a little.
By connecting with Ahsoka Tano, Mando is now rubbing shoulders with one of the most critical characters in all of “Star Wars.” Sure, she’s not well known to those who only watch the Skywalker Saga films, but she is the key to Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side. As the story of this series moves forward, it will be interesting to see who else our titular hero and his newly named companion bump into next.