The Mandalorian Deals with Monsters and the Troubles of Parenthood in “The Passenger”

It’s time for my episode by episode reviews of season 2 of The Mandalorian again. Previous installments (well, actually just one and an aggregate review of season 1) may be found here.

And yes, I’m still annoyed at whoever thought it was a good idea to have Star Trek Discovery and The Mandalorian air not just at the same time, but on consecutive days. Have some consideration for the reviewers, particularly those of us who are not tied to the big pop culture websites.

Warning: Spoilers beyond this point!

“The Passenger” begins where last week’s episode “The Marshall” left off. Mando and Baby Yoda are on their way back to Mos Eisley with a chunk of krayt dragon meat and Boba Fett’s sarlacc battered armour. However, before they can get there they are ambushed by what thankfully only turns out to be a bunch of garden variety bandits. Life is certainly rough on the fringes of the Star Wars universe and once again, we see that the fall of the Empire hasn’t improved life for the majority of the population at all. For the New Republic isn’t interested in doing anything about the rampant crime problem on the galactic rim. They have other concerns, as we’ll eventually see.

The bandits trash Mando’s speeder bike and unseat both Mando and Baby Yoda with the old rope trick that the Ewoks already successfully used in Return of the Jedi. Mando is able to fight off three of the bandits without any problems, but the fourth – a diminuitive being which is either a droid dressed like a jawa or a cyborg jawa – takes Baby Yoda hostage and puts a knife to the little one’s throat.

Now we get Mando in full Papa Bear mode. He tells the cyborg jawa (sorry, but I just like the idea) that if he hurts Baby Yoda, there’s no place in the universe where Mando won’t find him. I’d believe him, too. Mando also offers the cyborg jawa whatever he wants of the wreckage and cargo in exchange for Baby Yoda. The cyborg jawa wants the jetpack – Mando’s sparkling new jetpack, not Boba Fett’s battered one – so Mando gives it to him and the cyborg jawa finally lets Baby Yoda go. The little one runs to Daddy as fast as his little feet will carry him. Baby Yoda is clearly in the development phase where babies and toddlers like to explore the world around them. But sometimes, that world is just too scary and all a baby – even a fifty-year-old baby with Force powers – wants is Daddy. I strongly suspect that a large part of the reason why everybody loves Baby Yoda is not just because he is incredibly cute, but also because he behaves very much like a real small child would.

Once Mando and Baby Yoda are reunited, Mando pushes a few buttons on the remote control on his armour and the jetpack first throws off the insolent cyborg jawa and then returns to Daddy as well. Of course, the speeder bike is still trashed, but that dosn’t stop Mando. He just walks all the way to Mos Eisley, carrying Baby Yoda, Boba Fett’s armour and the rest of the cargo.

Once in Mos Eisley, we get a glimpse of the cantina (Does Mos Eisley only have one bar or is the cantina just the coolest bar in town?), where Peli Motto is playing cards with an insectoid being she calls Doctor Mandible. Doctor Mandible looks very much like a giant ant, which probably an in-joke, because Peyton Reed, who directed this episode, is best known for directing the Ant-Man films.

According to Peli Motto, Doctor Mandible knows someone who knows someone who knows where to find some Mandalorians. However, in order for Mandible to spill the beans, Mando needs to join the sabaac game they’re playing and the stakes are quite high. Relunctantly, Mando joins and Peli promptly fleeces them both.

I wasn’t familiar with actress Amy Sedaris beyond a washing powder commercial in which she appeared a few years ago, but I like Peli Motto a lot. She’s a tough frontier woman who does what she has to to get by. Peli Motto obviously likes Mando and Baby Yoda, but that doesn’t stop her from fleecing him. And so she not just tricks him into joining the card game, but she also gets Mando to give her his chunk of krayt dragon meat (which she has a droid grill on a podracer engine). Peli Motto also has no time for any macho posturing. When Mando shows up with Boba Fett’s battered armour, she takes one look at it and says, “Oh, you finally found another Mandalorian and you killed him.”

The person Doctor Mandible knows who knows where to find more Mandalorians turns out to be an alien woman. The character and her species have no name and since Mando doesn’t speak her language, she can’t tell him her name either. The credits list her as “Frog Lady”. The name is appropriate, because in many ways, the Frog Lady looks like a character from Wind in the Willows who has accidentally wandered into the Star Wars universe. The Frog Lady indeed knows where to find more Mandalorians and they’re nearby, too, on a world named Trask. However, there’s a catch. For the Frog Lady wants Mando to take her and her eggs (which she carries around in a glass container filled with blue liquid) to Trask, where her husband is waiting for her to fertilise the eggs. Those eggs are the last (and probably only) eggs she’ll ever lay and they need to be on Trask by a certain time or the Frog Lady will never have a family of her own. Furthermore, the eggs cannot tolerate hyperspace travel, so Mando will have to take the Frog Lady to Trask at sublight speeds.

Mando isn’t at all happy about this. He’s not a taxi service, as he points out, and besides, the Star Wars galaxy is a dangerous place full of pirates and bandits and way too dangerous for sublight travel. But a deal is a deal and so Mando takes the Frog Lady and her eggs to Trask.

The trouble starts very soon. First of all, Baby Yoda is very fascinated by the Frog Lady’s egg container. And the reason he is fascinated is because he thinks those eggs are very yummy. Mando catches him in the act and valiantly tries to stop him, but Baby Yoda is a toddler and he’s not listening to anybody. Several critics are troubled by the fact that Baby Yoda snacks on the eggs of an intelligent species – the last and maybe only eggs the poor Frog Lady will ever have. I’m not wild on that aspect myself. Yes, the Star Wars universe is a place where there’s always a bigger fish to quote Qui Gon Jinn and we know that Baby Yoda is carnivorous, but eating the eggs of an intelligent species is still wrong. And yes, he’s a toddler who doesn’t grasp the impact of what he has done, but that’s why he needs his Daddy to teach him right from wrong. Which Mando tries, though not very successfully so far. And indeed, Guardian reviewer Paul MacInnes views the episode as an analogy on the troubles of parenting.

Because it’s a long trip, Mando eventually goes to sleep and we finally see his and Baby Yoda’s sleeping arrangements. Turns out that Mando’s bunk is in a compartment we saw in an earlier episode where it was used to keep Baby Yoda safe and out of trouble. And yes, he sleeps in his armour. Baby Yoda, meanwhile, has his own dedicated hammock, which is very cute.

Mando’s nap is rudely interrupted, when the Razor Crest gets company. Luckily for Mando, the ships hailing the Razor Crest are not bandits or space pirates, but New Republic X-wings, so he and his passengers should be safe for now. The X-Wings are on patrol, looking for Imperial holdouts. And since the Razor Crest is a clone war troop ship, it attracted their attention. The X-wing pilots are played by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Mandalorian co-producer Dave Filoni who look as if they’ve just stepped out of 1977, but then it’s always 1977 in the Star Wars universe. Mando assures the X-Wings that he’s not with the Empire, but the X-wing pilots insist that every ship needs to have a transponder now, which the Razor Crest doesn’t have. Mando assures them he’ll get it fixed during his next stop and wishes them the least enthusiastic “May the Force Be With You” you’ve ever heard. However, the X-wing pilots demand the ship’s log to verify his identity. Mando tries to stall, but when he sends them the log, the X-wings suddenly go in attack position. Mando decides to take that as a cue to get the hell out of there and a merry space chase ensues that soon leads into the atmosphere of an icy planet.

Mando shakes the X-wings off by landing the Razor Crest in an ice cave. However, the ship is too heavy for the ice layer, so the ice shatters and the Razor Crest falls deeper into the cave and is badly damaged in the process. Mando is understandably pissed off. His ship is trashed and they’re all trapped on an ice planet. Mando also fears that once night falls, he, Baby Yoda as well as the Frog Lady and her eggs might freeze to death. So he rigs up a heater and some emergency rations, which Baby Yoda eats with considerably less enthusiasm than frog eggs. But then adult Yoda displayed a similar lack of enthusiasm about Luke’s emergency rations of Dagobah.

Since there is nothing he can do for now, Mando goes to sleep and Baby Yoda huddles close to Daddy in a moment that is just incredibly cute. Mando is once more rudely awoken by the voice of an old enemy, the villainous android Zero whom Mando had shot way back in the season 1 episode “The Prisoner”. However, Zero has not come back to life, but the Frog Lady has used the vocaliser in his severed head to communicate with Mando and guilt him – by appealing both to his Mandalorian pride and the fact that he is a parent, too – into repairing the Razor Crest and getting her to Trask.

So Mando gets on the job, while Baby Yoda frolicks about in the snow. And once again, he behaves like a real toddler would, when they see snow for the very first time. Meanwhile, the Frog Lady has wandered off, taking her eggs along, in what is a spectacularly bad idea. After all, they are on an unknown planet in a cave in the Star Wars universe. And while in the Star Trek universe, you can find mythical shrines and sacred pools in caves, in the Star Wars universe, there is only one thing to be found inside a cave and that’s monsters. Honestly, has there ever been a single cave in Star Wars which was not inhabited by a monster?

Mando and Baby Yoda follow the Frog Lady and find her and her eggs taking a bath in a hot spring. Yes, I understand that the Frog Lady is cold, she’s an amphibian, after all, but deciding to take a bath in the middle of a crisis makes little sense. Also, if she’s so eager to get herself and her eggs off the planet, why doesn’t she help Mando with the repairs? Seeing that she could rig up a communicator out of a severed droid head, she clearly has the skills.

Mando tells the Frog Lady in no uncertain terms to gather her eggs and go, because it’s not safe. And because the Frog Lady has a lot of eggs, he helps her gather them. Baby Yoda wants to help, too, but Mando tells him “No”, because he worries – not without reason – that Baby Yoda will gobble up another egg. So Baby Yoda wanders off towards some very sinister looking nodules in the cave, which look highly reminiscent of the Alien eggs from the other late 1970s filmic science fiction franchise. And indeed there is an Alien vibe to this whole episode, from Peli Motto basically cosplaying Ripley from Alien to the sinister eggs. One of the eggs starts to open and Baby Yoda waddles over, still eager for a snack. Uh-oh.

Inside the egg, there is a small white spider critter, which Baby Yoda promptly eats. However, there are a lot more eggs and they’re opening, too. Double uh-oh.

Mando finally catches on to what his happening, helps the Frog Lady gather the rest of her eggs and rescue Baby Yoda from a bunch of very pissed off mini-spiders. This soon draws somewhat bigger spiders and then even bigger spiders and finally a huge spider the size of a house. Triple uh-oh.

Now our trio are on the run. Frog Lady hops ahead on all fours – and yes, she does move like a frog. Mando shoots spiders, while carrying the eggs and Baby Yoda. Mando blows up the tunnel, bringing down the roof on the giant spider, but there are still a lot of little ones. The three make it back to the Razor Crest, but the spiders are swarming the ship. Mando shoots and even deploys his flame thrower, but there are just too many for him. Finally, he, Frog Lady and Baby Yoda pile into the cockpit, Mando shoots the last of the spiders, closes the door and is about to take off. However, the giant spider Mando buried in the cave isn’t dead. It suddenly shows up above the Razor Crest, effectively pinning the ship to the gound, and tries to bite its way into the cockpit with its very sharp teeth.

The spider creatures are called the krykna and first appeared in some unused Empire Strikes Back concept art by Ralph McQuarrie, as John Saavedra explains at Den of Geek. They later appeared in some of the tie-in novels as well as in the Star Wars: Rebels cartoon. This is their first live action appearance, if you can call CGI critters live action.

All seems lost for our heroes – or is it? For just as the giant spider is about the swallow the Razor Crest and her crew whole, laser fire can be heard outside the ship. Someone has come to our heroes’ rescue, but who?

The rescuers turn out to be none other than the two X-wing pilots who – though obviously not the sharpest knives in Princess Leia’s cutlery drawer – have finally tracked down the Razor Crest and just in the knick of time, too. The pilots make spider barbecue and inform Mando that they’ve checked his record and found that there is an outstanding arrest warrant for him due to his part in the prison break from the season 1 episode “The Prisoner”. However, the record also shows that Mando helped to apprehend several dangerous criminals – well, that is his job, after all – and that he risked his life to protect a New Republic officer during that same prison break. So they’ve decided to let Mando go… for now. But woe betide him, if they ever catch him without that transponder again.

The portrayal of the New Republic in The Mandalorian has always been ambivalent and “The Passenger” reinforces that impression. For starters, the New Republic are obviously pretty useless. Instead of doing something about the crime, corruption and slavery running rampant in the Star Wars galaxy – Tatooine alone really needs a good clean-up and there are probably a hundred similar planets out there – or tackling the huge social issue of homeless orphans at the mercy of whoever will take them, the New Republic wastes its time by harrassing passing space ships for minor traffic regulations.

We also see that as far as the ordinary citizens of the Star Wars galaxy are concerned, not a lot has changed now the Empire is gone. Yes, there is a new sheriff in town, but for the vast majority of people in Star Wars galaxy, life is still a hardscrabble existence. And with the Empire gone and the New Republic weak, some things like the rampant crime and slavery problem have even gotten worse.

The scenes with the X-wing pilots also serve as a reminder of Mando’s outsider status. The Mandalorians clearly did not get along with the Empire – the Fetts notwithstanding – since the Empire tried to wipe them out, but they don’t really trust the New Republic either. Mando’s resigned and unenthusiastic “May the Force Be With You” says it all, really. To an outlaw like him, one regime is much like the other and the best thing one can do is to keep under the radar.

In many ways, The Mandalorian shows the broken people and worlds that the war between the Empire and the Rebellion left behind, whether it’s ex-Rebel trooper Cara Dune, ex-Imperial magistrate turned bounty hunter Greef Carga, the ex-Imperial slave turned moisture farmer Kuill, Werner Herzog’s unnamed character trying to hold on to the lost Empire, Baby Yoda who has become an asset all sides fight over, even though he’s only a toddler, or Mando himself who’s lost everything more than once and just tries to somehow muddle through. Here we have another parallel to the western, for the cowboys and gunslingers of the historical Old West were often disaffected Civil War veterans. A large number of them were also black, former slaves looking for a better life. Interestingly, the actual western genre rarely touches on this aspect – and indeed it took me a long time to make the connection – probably because the Civil War was (and is) still a raw wound. Space westerns handle this aspect better, probably because the space setting allows writers to address themes that would be too raw to tackle in a real world setting. See Firefly, where Joss Whedon sneakily made American viewers side with the analogues of former Confederate soldiers. Or see The Mandalorian, which shows the lost and broken people on all sides.

“The Passenger” ends with Mando, Baby Yoda, the Frog Lady and her eggs (and from the look she gives Baby Yoda as she wraps her arms around the egg container, she knows exactly what he’s done) crammed into the cockpit of the Razor Crest – since the rest of the ship is full of holes – and on their way to Trask once more. Mando goes to sleep, Baby Yoda (who has managed to grab yet another egg) on his lap, and this time he actually gets to sleep. At least until next week.

Compared to last week’s episode, this episode feels very slight. Not a lot happens except that Mando makes an unscheduled stop-over on an ice planet and fights some monsters. Quite a few reviewers such as Tor.com‘s Emmet Asher-Perrin or The AV-Club‘s Katie Rife were also disappointed, because the episode was so slight and also doesn’t address the still open mysteries such as Moff Gideon and the darksabre or who the scarred person with Temuera Morrison’s face we glimpsed last week on Tatooine was.

However, so far season 2 of The Mandalorian is remarkably similar to season 1. And in “The Child”, the second episode of season 2 (which was nominated for a Nebula Award after all), Mando hangs out with a lot of non-human creatures, has his ship trashed, loses a fight against a bunch of jawas, fights a big monster – the mudhorn which is now his sigil – and would have lost, if not for outside intervention – in that case by Baby Yoda using his Force powers. In short, the second episode of season 2 has almost the same plot – or lack thereof – as the second episode of season 1. The Mandalorian is a show that takes its time. Yes, the showrunners know that we have questions and that we’re burning to learn more about Moff Gideon and the darksabre and Temuera Morrison’s character. And they’ll get to those questions – eventually. But they also like to take detours along the way and if that means that Mando will spend an episode fighting monsters, then he will.

That said, I do feel that “The Passenger” falls a little flat compared to last season’s “The Child”. A large part of the problem is that unlike Kuill, with whom Mando hung out during “The Child”, Frog Lady doesn’t talk much. And indeed, the episode wuld have worked better if Frog Lady had been given more dialogue, either on her own or via the Zero head. A heart to heart between Mando and Frog Lady about the challenges of parenthood would certainly have been nice.

If last week’s episode played up the western elements, this episode plays up the pulp science fiction elements. In many ways, “The Passenger” feels like a short story from a 1940s issue of Planet Stories. Furthermore, the structure of The Mandalorian with its fairly short serialised chapters is also reminiscent of the movie serials of the 1930s and 1940s, where Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers would occasionally spend an episode stumbling through ice caves and fighting cardboard monsters as well. The Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials have long been identified as one of the main roots from which Star Wars sprang (though my teen self, who watched those serials after I had watched Star Wars, was utterly baffled by this, because they looked so very cheap and silly), so it’s certainly fitting for The Mandalorian to go back to that structure.

All in all, this was a fun but slight episode of The Mandalorian. But then, this has always been a show where the whole is bigger than the parts. And I for one look forward to where Mando and Baby Yoda will be going next.

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