(warning: spoilers ahead)
I’ve wondered when this episode was going to take place this season. Ever since we saw those Dark Troopers and Moff Gideon’s Light Cruiser, I had a bad feeling this day was coming. I just didn’t expect it to hit this hard.
Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni are unabashed fans of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. What’s the indisputable best part of the original three movies? “Empire Strikes Back” of course, the chapter mired in tragedy and setbacks. Well, this episode of “The Mandalorian,” appropriately titled “The Tragedy” and masterfully directed by Robert Rodriguez, is Mando’s version of the best “Star Wars” film to date. The Empire truly does strike back in this one — and with a vengeance.
We start this episode with our titular hero aboard the Razor Crest with the newly named Grogu. They fly to Tython, the ancient Jedi home, to “find a Jedi” to train The Kid, and when they arrive, they do indeed find the Seeing Stone at the top of the hill, or as Mando puts it, “the magic rock I’m supposed to take you to.” Mando places Grogu on a dome-shaped boulder in the middle of the temple, and after a little delay, The Kid reaches out through the Force and is enveloped in a beautiful, blue tunnel of pure Force power.
Then, in the first of many surprises in this episode, we get the arrival of one of the most infamous ships in all of “Star Wars”: Slave One. Ever since it first debuted in “Empire,” Slave One has been the unique ship of the famed bounty hunter Boba Fett — fast, stealthy, and exceedingly deadly. Off the ship walks none other than Boba Fett, himself.
Many fans speculated that might have been him at the end of “The Marshall” earlier this season. I wasn’t entirely sure, but now it’s official, and he’s brought Fennec Shand with him, whom he rescued from being left for dead in season one. After an Old West-style showdown, the three agree to a trade: Mando will give Boba Fett his armor back, and Fett and Shand will ensure the safety of The Child. Before the trade can commence though, the Empire arrives with the first one, then a second shuttle full of heavily armed Stormtroopers here to take Grogu for Gideon’s experiments.
Now we see what Rodriguez was brought in for: a great Western shoot out among the boulders and scrub brush of Tython. In fact, this entire sequence could have been shot in Rodriguez’s back yard in the Hill Country just west of Austin. The sequence is exhilarating, and immediately recalls many of his classics like “El Mariachi,” “Desperado,” or “From Dusk Till Dawn.”
Yet, just as Mando, Fett, and Shand are getting the upper hand in the battle — thanks in part to Boba’s return to his armor and his brutal mastery of the Tusken Raider Gaffi Stick he wields — the first tragic setback strikes. It comes in the form of a suborbital blast from Gideon’s cruiser that completely destroys Mando’s ship, Razor Crest, reducing it to dust.
I’ll be honest, I’m really sad to see this ship go. Its design wasn’t as memorable as the Millennium Falcon or as iconic as the X-Wing, but that was also part of its charm. In many ways, it was the rough and tumble A-10 Warthog of the “Star Wars” universe. Ugly but useful. We’ve seen Mando do so much work just to keep it going, and it was the mobile home to him and Baby Yoda for two seasons. Now all that’s apparently left is Grogu’s ball, and the beskar spear Mando won for helping Ahsoka take down the magistrate.
But wait, the hits keep coming.
As Mando and friends watch the Razor Crest obliterated from the sky, Dark Troopers deploy from the cruiser to steal Grogu. They fly straight down to the seeing stone where Grogu is now resting after contacting whichever Force user is going to answer. Before the bounty hunters can reach the summit, the Dark Troopers grab Grogu and are gone. Fett follows them to confirm that, yes, in fact, the Empire is back.
Fett and Shand pledge to help Mando get Grogu back to complete their bargain. With that, they head to Nevarro to get back-up from Cara Dune and intel to help break former Imperial sharpshooter Migs Mayfield out of jail, who has been spending time in a Republic cell since season one’s prison break went horribly wrong.
Meanwhile, Moff Gideon goes to interrogate Grogu on his ship and finds Grogu throwing the Stormtrooper guards around like rag dolls. It’s a great demonstration of how much power the little guy has, but as Gideon so keenly observes, this also makes him very sleepy. As a drowsy Grogu is teased by Moff Gideon and his Dark Saber, he’s hit by a blaster set to stun, and put in binders after he’s knocked out.
This is unquestionably the darkest chapter of “The Mandalorian” so far and sets up a race to the finish of the show’s epic second season. I assume Mando’s next step is freeing Mayfield and any other help he can gather while digging around a Republic prison. Though while I thought the season would end with The Kid swept away by Gideon and Mando chasing after him, what I definitely did not expect was for Mando to lose his ship or gain a friend in Boba Fett.
In case Rian Johnson is paying attention, this is how you “subvert expectations” — make Boba Fett, a man who has always been chasing the heroes of “Star Wars,” someone who is allied with the good guys for once.
Of the many pressing questions now is who is going to answer the Force call Grogu put out? I initially thought we would have to wait until next season to get an answer to that, however, now I’m not so sure. I’m also starting to think that we’re going to see a finale with the return of this season’s wide cast of characters to assist Mando in getting back The Kid.
As Moff Gideon has something very precious to Bo Katan — the Dark Saber — it would be incredible to see a Mandalorian super team of the Nite Owls, Mando, Boba Fett, and maybe the live-action debut of Sabine Wren, as they join Ahsoka Tano, a motley crew of bounty hunters, and perhaps the responding Jedi in a Magnificent Seven style episode to end the season and rescue Grogu from his Imperial captors.
On a broader note, Johnson’s much-maligned “The Last Jedi” was supposed to be all about “shattering taboos” and “defying tropes,” but in the end, it did all the wrong things in its effort to be different. Yet, one of the many strengths of “The Mandalorian” is how the series has done all the right things to be different. It plays on the edges of the “Star Wars” lore we’ve known and loved since 1977.
Favreau and Filoni have woven an expertly crafted tapestry of our favorite background characters into a story that is both more interesting and more exciting than anything J.J. Abrams or Rian Johnson could ever muster. They’ve done fan service right, bringing back beloved characters who didn’t get the attention they deserved in the “Star Wars” saga films, and giving the best characters from the cartoon series a chance to shine in live-action. If Lucasfilm is smart, this is how they’ll do “Star Wars” from now on, with these people in charge. This is the way!