The latest episode of “The Mandalorian” is so full of deep cuts, obscure references, and cool “easter eggs,” it deserves an entire piece devoted to it. With pulls from Prequels, a sly nod to a 90s classic, and maybe even a reference to a great British comedy bit, “The Believer” has it all.
Junkyard TIEs and Cranes — TIE fighters are all throughout this episode, beginning with the opening shots of this episode. We find Mayfeld in the “Chop Fields” where he breaks down old, decommissioned TIE fighters for the New Republic. In the background, we see more of those AT-AT based cranes that we glimpsed when Mando crashed the Razor Crest into the water with The Child and Frog Lady in tow earlier this season.
Video Game Roots — This episode was directed by Rick Famuyiwa, who did the episode last season where Mando had to scale the Jawa Sandcrawler. That episode was straight out of a 1990s-era “Star Wars” video game, and this episode also has a heavy influence from “Star Wars” gaming as well. In 2019’s “Jedi: Fallen Order,” an ex-Jedi survivor of Order 66 works at a chop shop just like this one. He’s taking apart relics of the Clone Wars though, not the Empire. And, just like in “The Believer,” that game features a level where you have to infiltrate an Imperial facility on a forest planet.
Rhydonium — There are several things used as fuel in the “Star Wars” universe — one of them is rhydonium. This highly unstable element is incredibly explosive. During the course of “Star Wars: Rebels,” Sabine Wren uses it to great effect multiple times to destroy crazy creatures and Imperial baddies.
ISB — When the crew reaches Morak, they learn from Mayfeld that the facility is run by ex-ISB officers. The ISB, or Imperial Security Bureau, was the Empire’s version of the Israeli Mossad. It was in charge of Imperial security and intelligence, comprised of the elite of the elite. They also had all the toys and tricks at the Empire’s disposal. While the ISB showed up in the original “Star Wars,” it was fully fleshed-out in “Star Wars: Rebels,” where one of the show’s main characters was an ISB agent.
Boba Fett’s Face — When Mando and company are deciding who will go with Mayfeld on this incursion, Boba Fett says, “Let’s just say they’ll recognize my face.” This is a sly reference to the fact that all the original clone troopers were clones of his father Jango Fett, just as he was. Boba Fett shares the same face and voice as the entire Grand Army of the Republic which once served Palpatine. If the Imperial system scanned his face, even in the torn-up state of his old age, it would return a hilariously epic number of results.
Clone Turbo Tank — As Mando and Mayfeld roll into the Imperial facility, the tanker they’re driving is a variant of the old Clone Wars era “Turbo Tank.” Officially called the HAVw A6 Juggernaut, they’re one of the few wheeled vehicles we see in “Star Wars.” The code name for each of the transports in this episode is “Juggernaut” with a number, a clear hat tip to the Prequel tank. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen one of these since the Prequels though. Jyn Erso was being moved about the Wobani prison camp in a Juggernaut when she was rescued by the Rebels in 2016’s “Rogue One.”
Tank Drivers — This episode is full of references to “Rogue One,” including the drivers’s uniforms that Mando and Mayfeld wear throughout “The Believer.” Originally created for the 2016 film at the suggestion of George Lucas who was on a set visit that day, the transport driver armor we see in “The Mandalorian” is slightly different. It is dark gray here, as opposed to the mostly white version we saw in “Rogue One.”
Alderaan — As Mayfeld and Mando discuss the lengths he’s willing to go to save Grogu, the ex-Imperial sharpshooter mentions Alderaan. The home planet of both Princess Leia and Cara Dune, Alderaan was destroyed in the original “Star Wars” movie by the first Death Star. It was a peaceful planet with no interplanetary defense system, but one that harbored a great many Rebel sympathizers.
Thermal Detonators — The pirates chasing Mando and Mayfeld lob thermal detonators at their explosive cargo. Essentially the “Star Wars” versions of grenades, they first appeared in “Return of the Jedi” when Leia, disguised as a bounty hunter, negotiated with Jabba the Hutt while holding a live one in her hand. Notably, one of the other key characters of this episode, Boba Fett, was present for that negotiation.
Fuel Stability Gauges — The Juggernaut’s cabin features a fuel stability gauge that shows how close the rhydonium is to exploding as the transport bumps along the road. We saw a very similar gauge in the Millennium Falcon during its transport of unrefined coaxium in “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”
Shore Troopers — In yet another nod to “Rogue One,” we see a whole platoon of shoretroopers in this episode at the Imperial facility on Morak. This is something that this series does so well. As Favreau and Filoni have stated, they developed this idea as a way to play with the reject action figures their older siblings wouldn’t let them have. It’s quite possible all these shoretrooper costumes were left over from “Rogue One,” and maybe had to be pulled out of storage anyway for the upcoming “Cassian Andor” series, so why not incorporate them into an episode of Mando’s adventure?
Death Star Canteen — This may be me projecting one of my favorite comedy bits onto this episode, but when Mando and Mayfeld entered the Officer’s Mess, I just couldn’t help but think of the hilarious “Death Star Canteen” routine from Eddie Izzard.
TK Number — “TK-421, why aren’t you at your post?” That was the first time we ever heard a stormtrooper referenced by their “TK Number,” in the original “Star Wars” movie, “Episode IV: A New Hope.” By the time of the First Order, some stormtroopers have FN Numbers, but in the Original Trilogy, and this show which takes place just afterward, all Imperial grunts have TK numbers. When Mayfeld’s ex-commanding officer asks Mando “What’s your TK Number?”, poor Mando has no idea what he’s referring to, requiring Mayfeld to jump in and save him.
Taanab — While trying to squirm out of the conversation with the Imperial officer Mayfeld tells his old CO that Mando can’t hear very well because his ship was depressurized at Taanab. A deep cut all the way back to “Return of the Jedi,” we first learned about this planet when Han Solo is surprised to see that Lando has been made a General. Lando tells him, “Somebody must have told them about my little maneuver at the Battle of Taanab. Since then, the planet has developed a rich history in “Star Wars” lore including becoming the home planet of pilot Wes Janson, and as a place for “Solo” villain Dryden Vos to hide his stolen collectibles.
TPS Reports — Mayfeld tries to get Mando out of the conversation with his ex-CO by telling Mando it’s “time to file those TPS Reports.” If you are a fan of “Office Space,” made in 1999 (the best year for movies), you immediately perked up at that reference.
Operation: Cinder — In an episode filled with video game references, Mayfeld’s mention of “Operation: Cinder” is a big one. “Operation: Cinder” was the plan set in motion upon the death of the Emperor at the end of “Return of the Jedi.” A major focus of the video game, “Star Wars: Battlefront 2,” Cinder sought to wreak havoc upon certain Imperial planets as retribution for the Emperor’s death. It appears from dialogue in this episode that Mayfeld was a part of that operation.
Many innocent civilians died during Cinder, and so did tens of thousands of troops, as he mentions. This whole discussion had a huge Vietnam vibe. George Lucas famously based the success of the Ewoks and their guerrilla warfare tactics on the victories Vietnamese forces had against the mighty American military. Mayfeld seems haunted by his participation in the Empire’s wrath, and shooting his old CO then blowing up the facility seems to be his way of trying to get past those feelings. As he tells Mando, “We all have to sleep at night.”
Freedom vs Order — Mayfeld and Mando discuss throughout this episode, between themselves and with the Imperial officer, about the struggle between freedom and order. The Empire was the epitome of order. Everything was as the Emperor wished, and if you didn’t comply, you were dead. After a generation under that rule, the New Republic is now struggling. People who lived under the harsh yoke of Emperor Palpatine and his goons now have freedom, and some of them don’t know how to handle it. This was explored in some of the novels that were released in the run-up to 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” including “Bloodline.” That book told the story of how First Order sympathizers in the New Republic government sabotaged Senator Leia Organa Solo, by revealing who her true father was Darth Vader.
Cycler Rifle — Mayfeld grabs a rifle and shoots the volatile fuel being refined at this facility to blow the place up as they flee in Boba Fett’s Slave I. The gun he uses is a “cycler rifle.” These guns are primarily used by the Sand People of Tatooine. One of them uses this same gun to shoot at Anakin Skywalker as he participates in the Mos Espa pod race in “The Phantom Menace.” Mayfeld uses it here with deadly accuracy and devastating effect.
Seismic Charges — As Mando and crew escape the Imperial facility aboard Slave I, they’re pursued by two TIE fighters. Boba Fett unleashes a concussion bomb that eviscerates the trailing ships. We’ve seen his father use this same type of weapon on Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Attack of the Clones.” There he deployed it in an asteroid field and when it blew, it sent boulders flying through space at Obi-Wan’s small ship.