Also, since Star Wars is a Disney property now, may I remind you once again that Disney is not paying the royalties due to Alan Dean Foster and possibly others as well.
Warning: Spoilers under the cut!
Our favourite Clan of Two has spent the past four episodes looking for the Jedi and since The Mandalorian is a show that likes to take its time, it’s certainly something of a surprise, when a Jedi shows up in the very first scene of episode five.
That Jedi is Ahsoka Tano (played by Rosario Dawson), the very Jedi Mando is looking for. Though she has her hands full at the moment, because she is attacking a fortified city on the forest world of Corvus (which seems to be suffering from a bad case of forest dieback). A gong is rung and people inside the city quickly retreat into their houses, while a spear-wielding female magistrate named Morgan Elsbeth (played by Diana Lee Inosanto) and her henchman Lang played by Michael Biehn (who like Carl Weathers is one of those actors so associated with science fiction movies of the 1970s and 1980s that you think he was in Star Wars, even though he wasn’t) appear on the ramparts. Lang orders some gasmask wearing guards in protective suits, who look a lot like Chernobyl liquidators (hmm, apparently some kind of environmental disaster struck Corvus) to go out and get her. Ahsoka, however, makes mincemeat out of them, slicing and dicing the liquidators with her dual lightsabres. Ahsoka’s lightsabres are white, so there’s yet another possible lightsabre colour in addition to the ones we’ve already seen.
Now I vaguely know who Ahsoka Tano is – Anakin’s former padawan turned Jedi knight turned rogue, who appeared extensively in the Clone Wars and Rebels animated series. Tor.com reviewer Emmet Asher-Perrin gives some of her backstory here. However, I have never watched either series, because CGI animation makes my teeth hurt, so I’ve never seen Ahsoka in action. Based on the introduction we get in “The Jedi”, she’s certainly impressive.
After Ahsoka has made mincemeat out of the liquidators, she confronts Morgan Elsbeth up on the ramparts. We later learn that Morgan Elsbeth’s home planet was destroyed during the Clone Wars, likely by the Republic, so she sided with the Empire and helped them build up their Navy, becoming wealthy and plundering planets in the process. So maybe Elsbeth is the cause of the obvious environmental problems on Corvus. We also learn that Elsbeth is essentially holding the townsfolk hostage. She has one of them dragged up on the ramparts and tells Ahsoka she will kill the man, unless Ahsoka surrenders. Ahsoka doesn’t surrender and Elsbeth orders the man locked in a cage.
The scene now shifts to the Razor Crest, where Mando approaches Corvus, while Baby Yoda uses the Force to reach for his favourite toy, the spherical knob from the Razor Crest controls that Mando really does not want him to have. Mando confiscates the knob, lands the Razor Crest just outside the fortified city, puts Baby Yoda into a shoulder bag and walks right up to the city gates. When the liquidator guards ask him what he wants, Mando replies that he’s on a trail and looking for someone. Since he’s a Mandalorian, the guards naturally assume he’s a bounty hunter and let him in.
Mando’s attempts to talk to the townspeople and ask about Ahsoka remain without success, because the townspeople are clearly terrified. However, the guards quickly show up and inform Mando that the magistrate wants to see him. So Mando is ushered into Magistrate Elsbeth’s fortress to meet the magistrate herself. Just outside the fortress, there are several prisoners, including the man we saw on the ramparts earlier, locked up in electrified high tech gibbets.
The town, the fortress and the courtyard where Mando meets Elsbeth are give of a certain Japanese vibe and immediately reminded me of Akira Kurosawa’s historical movies like The Hidden Fortress, which have long been considered one of the sources from which Star Wars grew. I’m not the only one who noticed the Kurosawa influence either, both Guardian review Paul MacInnes and AV-Club reviewer Mike Vanderbilt also make the connection.
Elsbeth is pleased that a Mandalorian bounty hunter just happened to walk into her city, cause she has a job for him. For Elsbeth has a spot of bother with a Jedi. If Mando will agree to eliminate that Jedi for her, she will give him a spear of pure beskar. The otherwise astute Elsbeth doesn’t notice that Mando never actually agrees to take the job, but just asks where he can find that Jedi. Armed with that information, Mando goes off to see Ahsoka.
The first meeting between Din Djarin and Ahsoka Tano goes about as well as you’d imagine. The two fight, deploying lightsabres, beskar armour (which happens to stop lightsabres strikes, which is neat) steelwires and flamethrowers, until Mando manages to blurt out that Bo-Katan sent him. That persuades Ahsoka to stop long enough to notice Baby Yoda, who is sitting on a tree stump, watching the show. “And I bet it’s about him”, she says.
What follows is Ahsoka using the force to communicate with Baby Yoda and get his story, while Mando paces up and down like a nervous parent in the pediatrician’s office. Ahsoka tells Mando that Baby Yoda’s real name is Grogu. He used to live at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, where he was trained by several Jedi masters. During the events of Revenge of the Sith, little Grogu was taken from the Jedi Temple (thus escaping Anakin’s child slaughter spree) and hidden away. Grogu doesn’t remember much of what happened afterwards. He was alone, he was scared and he had to hide his abilities to protect himself. Going by the timeline, Grogu probably was on his own for twenty-five years. Even by the standards of a longlived species like his, that’s a long time.
I’m not sure how I feel about the name Grogu. Based on what little we know about Yoda’s species (and Ahsoka doesn’t know more about them either, since the only other member of his species she met was Yoda himself, which makes me wonder about the female Jedi Yaddle. Did Ahsoka just never meet her?), Grogu fits in with their naming patterns. Grogu does sound a little bit like “Groko”, the German abbreviation for “Große Koalition”, which is used to designate the current German coalition government. And let’s just say that the “Groko” is not very popular and that everybody’s feeling about it are very opposite of how people feel about Baby Yoda. Nonetheless. it’s good that the little one finally has a name, though The Mandalorian is a show that’s slow to reveal anybody’s name. After all, we didn’t learn Din Djarin’s real name until the last episode of season 1 and we didn’t learn Kuuil’s name until the penultimate episode, which also was the episode he died.
Ahsoka also asks Mando whether Grogu still knows how to use the Force. Mando still isn’t quite sure what the Force is, but replies that he has seen the little one do things he cannot explain. Ahsoka agrees to test the little one, but in the next morning, because Grogu is still a baby and needs to sleep.
The next day, Ahsoka tests Grogu by using the Force to float a stone to the little one and asking Grogu to send it back. Grogu, however, doesn’t want to play and just throws the stone away. “He doesn’t understand”, Mando says. “Oh, he does understand”, Ahsoka replies and asks Mando to try it, because maybe he’ll have more luck. Mando is willing to try it, but points out that Grogu never listens to him anyway and that if he were to listen, that would be a first. “I like firsts,” Ahsoka replies, “Good or bad, they’re always memorable.”
Mando and Ahsoka do get their first, because Mando knows just the enticement the little one needs. And so he holds out the shiny control knob from the Razor Crest that Grogu likes to play with so much. And Grogu promptly uses the Force to grab it, making Mando beam like the very proud Dad he is, because his baby has just passed the entrance exam to the Jedi Academy. Or so he thinks.
Because Ahsoka flat out refuses to train Grogu, cause she senses that the little one is scared and also very attached to Mando, though you don’t need the Force to see that. And separating kids from their parents and caregivers was a large part of what caused the Jedi to fall down the last time around, as Ahsoka should well know, since she had a front row seat. And after what happened to Anakin, that’s not a mistake she’s willing to risk again. Better if Grogu never becomes a Jedi than risk losing him to the dark side.
I was impressed by Ahsoka’s fighting skills before, but this was the moment where I really began to like her. Because of all the Jedi we’ve met so far, she’s the one who is not willing to repeat the mistakes of the past, but break the cycle. In fact, I strongly suspect that the reborn Jedi Order would have fared much better and many of the events of the sequel trilogy could have been avoided, if Ahsoka rather than Luke Skywalker had been in charge of the new Jedi Order.
Because Ahsoka is right. Separating kids from their parents and caregivers (and at least Anakin never saw his mother again for ten years or so) and then not fulfilling their emotional needs, but blathering something about attachment and emotions being a bad thing, is a large part of what keeps going wrong with the Jedi and why they keep failing. Because what the Jedi are doing is institutionalised child abuse. Not that individual Jedi don’t care about their padawans, they obviously do. Qui Gon cared about Obi-Wan and Anakin (and I still maintain that if Qui Gon had lived, none of the events from Attack of the Clones on would ever have happened) and Obi-Wan cared about Anakin and Luke, but was woefully unprepared for dealing with an emotionally troubled teenager with superpowers.
I still remember how shocked I was when I first watched the prequels and saw that the padawans were not teenagers, as I had assumed, but little children. And at least Grogu’s experience shows that the kids the Jedi are taking are not just the six to nine-year-olds we saw in the prequels, but even younger. Grogu is not human, but developmentally he is about at the stage of a human one-year-old. Which implies that when the Jedi started training him, he was closer to a newborn. And taking babies from their parents and leaving them in the questionable care of the Jedi Order, who may be great warriors, but are completely unable to deal with emotions, either their own or anybody else’s, is child abuse, plain and simple.
Little Grogu likely never had the chance to form a healthy attachment to anybody, not even while he was still in the relative safety of the Jedi temple. And then he spent half of his young life alone and scared, because whoever spirited him away to safety (and I still suspect it was Yoda) thought that a fortified compound and armed mercenaries were totally sufficient to care for a small child. No wonder that the little one is deeply traumatised. Grogu always elicits the wish to cuddle him in me, but usually that’s just because he’s so cute. After this episode, however, I wanted to cuddle him, because I felt sorry for the trauma this little kid had to endure.
Ahsoka gets this, which is more than you can say for pretty much any other Jedi we’ve ever seen. She sees that she’s dealing with a deeply traumatised kid here and that separating Grogu from the one person he has ever developed any attachment to (and note how Grogu beams when Mando calls him by his real name) would be a huge disaster. Besides, as io9 reviewer James Whitbrook points out, it’s very obvious that Mando loves this child, even if he won’t admit it to anybody, least of all himself. There’s a sweet scene where Mando just sits with a sleepy Grogu, unwilling to wake the little one up, since he thinks he’s about to hand him over to Ahsoka for good. Also, if there’s one person who knows about trauma and how to get through it, it’s Din Djarin. After all, he was a traumatised child himself, as we saw in season 1. These two can help each other more than Ahsoka or anybody else can.
But there’s still an evil magistrate who locks up prisoners in electrified gibbets to be dealt with, so Mando and Ahsoka proceed to do just that, leaving Grogu in the safety of the Razor Crest. And so Ahsoka just scaled the city walls, makes mincemeat out of some more liquidator guards and finally throws Mando’s shoulder pad – the one with the mudhorn signet – onto the ground outside Elsbeth’s fortress. And since Mandalorians are normally never separated from their armour except in death, Elsbeth naturally assumes that Mando failed and Ahsoka killed him. So she opens the doors to the fortress to deal with Ahsoka herself, which leads to an impressive duel of lightsabres against beskar spear.
Meanwhile, Mando frees the gibbeted prisoners and gets them to safety. He then faces off against Lang in a typical High Noon type shoot-out scene, except that no one is shooting yet, because they’re listening to the sounds of Ahsoka and Elsbeth fighting. Lang points out that he doesn’t think that Elsbeth’s cause is worth dying for and that he’s willing to walk away. He even lays down his rifle to show his peaceful intentions, only to try and shoot Mando with his back-up blaster. But Mando is a quicker draw and kills him.
Elsbeth holds her own against Ahsoka quite well and even manages to divest her of one of her lightsabres. But in the end, Ahsoka prevails. “Where is your master?” she demands, “Where is Grand Admiral Thrawn?”
Now I’ve never been a particular Thrawn fan, as I explain here, but I still squeeed a little, when Ahsoka dropped that name, if only because I’d like to see him portrayed in live action.
Once Elsbeth, Lang and the liquidators have been dealt with, the rightful magistrate is restored and the city can live in peace again. Mando still thinks that Ahsoka will take in Grogu in return for him helping her deal with Elsbeth (Come on, Mando, you know you would have done it anyway.), but Ahsoka still refuses, because Grogu is much better off where he is. “You know, you’re like a father to him,” she says.
However, Ahsoka also gives Mando his next destination. She tells him to take Grogu to the planet Tython, where there is an ancient Jedi Temple. If he puts Grogu on the seeing stone at that temple, he can use the Force to reach out and maybe another Jedi will hear him and put in an appearance. Of course, that’s not all that likely, because there aren’t very many Jedi left (Luke is the only other one we know of at this point and you don’t want Luke in charge of anybody’s kid). Still, it’s Grogu’s choice, if he wants to reach out.
This is another reason to love Ahsoka, because she’s the only person we’ve ever seen in the Star Wars universe who actually thinks that kids should be able to decide for themselves who and what they want to be. This is revolutionary, because no one in the Star Wars universe is ever given the choice who and what they want to be. And no, false choices like Qui Gon giving little Anakin the choice to become a Jedi or remain a slave don’t count. And the truth is that Anakin, Padmé, Luke, Leia, Rey, Finn, Poe, Cassian Andor, Jyn Erson, Din Djarin, Obi-Wan and every other Jedi we ever saw never had a real choice to decide who they want to be. They were all pushed into becoming the people they are by circumstances and outright manipulation. Han Solo is the only exception. He became an outlaw by necessity, but he joins the Rebellion by choice, even if it means putting his own life at risk.
I also strongly suspect that Grogu already made his choice – and in fact, Grogu already made his choice at the end of the very first episode – and that he also communicated this very clearly to Ahsoka. He wants to stay with Din Djarin and Ahsoka respects that choice. Only Mando is a bit slow on the uptake, but then what else is new?
Much as we love the action, the effects, the creatures and the worlds, Star Wars has always been at its best, when it focusses on the characters, their friendships and found families. That’s the main thing that the original trilogy has (and the sequel trilogy partly has) that the prequels are missing, namely the found family aspect.
The Mandalorian, on the other hand, has it in spades. For in spite of all the aliens and worlds and fighting action, it’s at heart a story about two traumatised loners learning to be a family and that’s why it’s such a delight.