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In Epic Season Finale, ‘The Mandalorian’ Recaptures ‘Star Wars’ Magic


(warning: spoilers ahead)

As someone who has been a “Star Wars” fan my entire life, I don’t ever remember a world without it. “Star Wars” is a sandbox so rich with potential it makes the Saudi deserts look barren. Yet until “The Mandalorian” debuted on Disney+ last year, that sandbox was running dry.

The original “Star Wars” trilogy of the 1970s and 1980s was a film series that changed the movie industry forever. There simply weren’t movies like “Star Wars” when it debuted in 1977. There weren’t movies that drove billions of dollars in merchandise sales to multiple generations of people around the world. There weren’t movies that played in theaters for years, returned time and again, and perpetually sold out. This was a story that transformed cinema.

Then came the long drought from the mid-1980s until 1999 when the first prequel movie came out. “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” was arguably the most anticipated movie of all time. I was in college at the time and had my last final the day it was released. I was determined to see it with my childhood friends, even though they were eight long hours drive away from campus. I drove 80 mph up I-35 that night, like a bat out of hell to reach the theater before the midnight showing. I made it just in time.

But what I saw, what we all saw that night didn’t, couldn’t, live up to the hype of thousands of hours of playing with our “Star Wars” action figures in the backyard during our entire childhoods.

Although the Prequels are, upon reviewing, slightly better than the Sequel trilogy Disney made starting in 2015, neither series captured the same magic as the original films. Whether it was an aged George Lucas, concerned about the checks he was writing to keep the movies afloat, or J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson, and Bob Iger who were concerned with the merchandise they could sell and the expectations they had to meet, no one truly harnessed what made “Star Wars” so special. Until now.

Jon Favreau, a deeply under-appreciated cinematic genius of his time, and Dave Filoni, the man who understands what people want from “Star Wars” better than anyone (including George Lucas), have recaptured the magic, the excitement, the adventure of the original “Star Wars” movies in “The Mandalorian.”

Jon and Dave have said that their approach to this show was to explore those background characters you saw in “Star Wars” movies and always wondered where they came from. The “reject action figures” their older siblings didn’t want to play with were used as the centerpiece of this show. “This is the way,” as Mando would say, to do “Star Wars,” for this generation of storytellers. In this second season of “The Mandalorian,” these gentlemen and their team were at their best, and it all culminated with an epic, and I mean genuinely epic season finale.

I am not a morning person. Just ask my kids. I’m not human until I’ve had my coffee, and I loathe my phone’s alarm. But, there’s one thing I get up early for, or in this case, stay up really late for, “The Mandalorian” and it’s middle-of-the-night premiere time on Disney+. When I sat down in my office at 2:00 a.m. to watch “Chapter 16,” I expected it to be a must-see event. I underestimated, however, just how jaw-dropping it would be.

As we begin “The Rescue,” masterfully directed by Peyton Reed (famous for helming the “Ant-Man” movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), Mando is gathering friends to go rescue The Child. Ever since the end of “Chapter 14,” Grogu has been onboard Moff Gideon’s Imperial light cruiser, held hostage for experiments on his blood in what is likely an effort to create “Snoke,” the future leader of The First Order.

Mando, Cara Dune, Boba Fett, and Fennec Shand begin this adventure by highjacking an Imperial shuttle carrying Dr. Pershing, who we first met last season. Pershing worked for The Client, and now for Moff Gideon. As a former cloning scientist, he’s the one that has been sampling Grogu’s blood for the Empire’s experiments.

Once captured, Dr. Pershing provides Mando’s team with the means to get on the cruiser and find The Child. Mando also recruits Bo-Katan and Nite Owl Koska Reeves to assist in the assault with the promise that Bo-Katan can keep the Darksaber from Gideon once he’s defeated. As Dr. Pershing explains though, their biggest obstacle will not be Gideon and his deadly blade, but the platoon of Dark Troopers on board the ship.

With the aide of Boba Fett and a ruse that their Imperial Shuttle is under attack from his ship, the team infiltrates the cruiser’s docking bay and makes their way to the bridge, seizing it from the Stormtroopers in a series of great shootouts. Meanwhile, as Mando sneaks off to find Grogu he must also deal with shutting down the Dark Troopers on the way.

Unfortunately for Mando, he arrives just as they’re walking out of their holding pen. He manages to close the doors and vent all but one into space, but the battle between Mando and the lone Dark Trooper is amazing. We see the incredible strength of the fully robotic troopers here as a single one can manhandle our Mandalorian friend, smashing his helmet into the bulkhead repeatedly while also beating back every trick and tool available in his armor.

It looks bleak for our boy. Then Mando whips out the pure Beskar spear he saved from the wreckage of his ship on Tython, and it is the only thing that can go toe to mechanical toe with the Dark Trooper. Eventually, Mando stabs the killing machine through the head and moves on to the brig where Grogu is being held.

When he arrives to rescue the little guy, however, he’s surprised to find Moff Gideon holding the Darksaber blade over Grogu’s head. Gideon makes a false bargain with Mando to catch him with his guard down, and attacks. Then, we’re rewarded with an exciting Darksaber versus Beskar spear battle as Mando and Gideon fight it out in melee combat.

We get to see just how effective Beskar is against the Jedi’s famous weapon. Giancarlo Esposito let slip that he broke multiple Darksaber props on this season of the show, so I expected some action today, and he did not disappoint. Ultimately, Mando bests the Moff, frees The Child, and brings both of them — plus the Darksaber and his spear — to the bridge where the rest of his team is waiting.

Then, we get a tense and interesting exchange. Bo-Katan is shocked and infuriated that Mando has defeated Gideon in combat and is carrying the Darksaber in his hand. It appears that the Darksaber must be won in battle from whoever wields it for its authority to pass to a new owner. Gideon implies that now Bo-Katan will have to fight and defeat Mando to claim the darksaber for herself so she can use it to win back Mandalore for her people. Mando tries to simply hand it to her, but she refuses.

Just as the tension is at a boiling point and it seems like these two friends, these two Mandalorians are going to come to blows, the ship gets boarded. The Dark Troopers have returned. Using the thrusters built into their feet, the Dark Troopers board the ship and make their way to the bridge where they begin banging down the thick blast doors with their mammoth and imposing steel fists. Moff Gideon turns to everyone in the room and says, “I think we all know, after a valiant stand, everyone in this room will be dead, but me and The Child.”

Just then, as the Dark Troopers are about to breach the doors, a single X-wing arrives. It’s a ship many “Star Wars” fans will immediately recognize.

It’s Red Five.

The Dark Troopers stop trying to get onto the bridge and turn their attention to the hooded figure that exits the X-wing: none other than “Return of the Jedi”-era Luke Skywalker himself.

Now begins Luke’s answer to the legendary closing moments of “Rogue One.” In that movie, we saw his father, Darth Vader, eviscerate a hallway full of doomed Rebel troops standing between him and the Death Star plans. It was a moment added on to the end of that movie in the final weeks of the reshoots, but it became the jaw-dropping spectacle that we all remember from that film. Here, Luke Skywalker says, “Dad, hold my blue milk, let me show you how it’s done.”

He mows through the two dozen Dark Troopers like a lightsaber through Tauntaun blubber. As he cuts his way through the best the Empire has to offer I audibly cheered so loudly that my dog woofed and left the room. The characters on screen were just as amazed, eyes wide, mouths agape as they saw for the first time what a Jedi could do.

When he’s cleared the ship and reached the bridge Mando tells his companions to open the door and Fennec says, “Are you crazy?” He opens the door anyway. The hooded figure drops his cloak and we see Luke’s face again, with Mark Hamill’s voice. He’s de-aged with what is likely the same technology ILM used to insert youthful Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing into “Rogue One.” It’s not a perfect technology yet, but it does its job admirably enough.

Luke tells Mando he’s come to take Grogu for his training, but The Kid doesn’t want to leave. The Jedi tells Mando that Grogu is searching for permission from him. In a touching moment, as Mando holds his child, Grogu motions for Mando to remove his helmet, and he does. We see the face of our bounty hunter, who at the beginning of the series would never have removed his helmet in the presence of others, much less a kid.

With tears in his eyes, Mando hands Grogu over to Luke and R2-D2, the Jedi’s faithful companion who has joined the party. When R2 arrives, he beeps excitedly to Grogu, perhaps something to the effect of R2 remembering Grogu from his time at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant with Anakin Skywalker.

Luke picks up Grogu and walks down the corridor with R2-D2 to the elevator. As the music swells, the black door of the elevator closes and the season comes to a close.

Or so you think.

At this point, it was nearly 3 a.m. and I sat in awe at my desk. As the credits rolled I watched to be sure it was, in fact, Mark Hamill whose voice I heard as Luke, and to see who directed this episode. Then, just as the main credits finished, the television screen came back to life and we were all of a sudden transported to Jabba’s Palace on Tatooine.

We see an older, fatter Bib Fortuna, who has, apparently, survived his encounter on Jabba’s sail barge that fateful day in “Return of the Jedi.” He’s now sitting on a throne where Jabba once lounged, the room full of lackeys, and a slave girl dancing for his pleasure. Suddenly, a shadow appears coming down the stairs. We see Fennec Shand as she blasts her way into the room, killing everyone, freeing the slave girl, and leaving Bib Fortuna cowering in fear. Then, another shadow appears, and in walks Boba Fett.

Bib Fortuna greets Fett saying he thought the bounty hunter was dead. Boba Fett blasts Fortuna, killing him instantly, and throws him out of his seat. Fett claims the throne for himself with Fennec Shand at his side and boom, a title card fades onto the screen that says, “The Book of Boba Fett. Coming December 2021.” Fade to black.

“Star Wars” has never had a post-credit sequence, but it’s something that Jon Favreau and Peyton Reed have a lot of experience with as members of the MCU. Here they use it to astounding success, announcing a show we had heard rumors of for a while now but was shockingly absent from the unveiling of the “Star Wars” future at the Disney investor call a week ago. Now it’s confirmed: The story of Boba Fett will be told. All I can say is, “Sign me up.”

What a way to close out an already memorable season that brought us ever closer to “Star Wars” characters who are beloved by its most dedicated fans. We’ve seen just how fantastic this show can be without concerning itself with the main storylines of the Skywalker Saga. “The Mandalorian” proves that when you put “Star Wars” in the right hands, it is a galaxy where you can tell any story you’d like. With Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, and their army of collaborators at the helm, I’ll go wherever they take us in that galaxy far, far away. This is the way!