Welcome to the latest instalment of my episode by episode reviews of season of The Mandalorian. Previous installments may be found here.
Warning! Spoilers behind the cut!
After last week’s detour into 1970s style dystopian science fiction and the fate of Doctor Pershing, The Mandalorian returns to its main protagonists, everybody’s favourite Clan of Two. As the title indicates, this episode focusses on everybody’s favourite fifty-year-old Force-wielding toddler Grogu.
After spending most of the previous episode on Coruscant, we’re back on the unnamed planet that looks suspiciously like the South-Western US, where the Armourer and her flock have holed up – quite literally, since they live in a cave. We also get a glimpse at what Mandalorians do during their downtime, namely practice fighting and engage in friendly, but competitive contests on the edge of the very lake that belched up a giant Mandalorian-eating monster in the first episode of the season. Bo-Katan is wandering around among the group and seems impressed by what the Armourer has built up.
Meanwhile, Grogu is sitting on the beach and amuses himself by arranging stones in a circular pattern, only that the stones stubbornly move, because they are a type of hermit crab. Speaking as someone who as a kid picked up a promising looking seashall more than once, only to find it inhabited by a hermit crab, I certainly sympathise with Grogu. Grogu’s contemplation is interrupted by his Dad, who picks him up and tells him it’s time he started his training.
A bunch of Mandalorian kids are engaging in friendly matches under the watchful eye of a referee. Ragnar, the kid we saw take the creed in the first episode and also the son of Paz Vizla, the portly Mandalorian who seems to be the Armourer’s right-hand man, has just beaten his opponent, when Din shows up with Grogu in tow and challenges Ragnar on behalf of Grogu. Ragnar is initially sceptical – Grogu is a toddler after all and doesn’t even have a helmet, whereupon Din solemnly declares that Grogu doesn’t have a helmet, because he is too young to speak the creed. But he can fight all right. Ragnar finally relents, expecting an easy victory, especially since Grogu doesn’t even seem to understand what is expected of him.
The weapon chosen are darts, basically little exploding paint balls fired from a wrist gauntlet. The gauntlet is so big that it barely fits on Grogu’s arm. Din tries to explain to Grogu how the darts work, while Bo-Katan tells Grogu, “It’s okay. My Dad was the same. It just means he’s proud of you.” In fact, the whole scene, complete with anxious hovering dads egging on their kids, reminds me of youth sports – whether it’s football, baseball, tennis, figure-skating or something else – and the interplay between kids and parents in the real world. In fact, the idea of heavily armed football/baseball/tennis/figure skating parents is both hilarious and terrifying.
You need to score three hits to win. Ragnar easily scores two, largely because Grogu either doesn’t quite understand the game or is simply not interested in playing. During a break, where the Dads coach their kids, Din says to Grogu that he knows what Grogu can do and that he shouldn’t hold back. So when the match restarts, Grogu Force-flips over Ragnar’s head, fire all three darts and hits Ragnar point-blank in the chest. Din is a very, very proud Dad and even the Armourer is impressed by Grogu’s abilities. Unlike Bo-Katan, she hasn’t really interacted with Jedi and other people with Force abilities before, so Grogu’s Force abilities are a surprise to her.
While everybody is congratulating Din and Grogu, Ragnar slinks off to sulk, which is understandable, considering he has just been beaten by toddler. But then, all of a sudden, a giant pterodactyl-like creature – Tor.com‘s Emmet Asher-Perrin and io9 Germain Lussier refer to it as a “raptor” – swoops out of the sky and grabs Ragnar. Much as I enjoy the fact that every single ecological niche in the Star Wars universe is inevitably populated by a giant monster, I do find it a bit troubling that the Armourer and her flock have decided to settle on a planet full of mega-fauna that wants to eat them and don’t even take the slightest precautions to protect themselves.
The raptor flies off with Ragnar and several Mandalorians, including Din and Ragnar’s Dad Paz Vizla, give chase. However, their jetpacks run out of fuel well before they can track the raptor to its nest. Luckily, Bo-Katan had a better idea and follows the raptor in her ship. She then returns with the location of the raptor’s nest on top of a mountain in a difficult to access area.
A rescue plan is made. The Mandalorians haven’t figured out how to repell the raptors or at least warn them of their attacks, but they do know that if the raptor hears the sounds of jetpacks, it will kill Ragnar, because apparently, it has snagged other kids before. Therefore, Bo-Katan suggests landing the ship out of sight and covering the rest of the way on foot and then climbing to the nest to rescue Ragnar. Since Bo-Katan knows the location of the nest and came up with the plan, she will lead to rescue party. Din is along for the ride, of course, as is Paz Vizla – it is his kid, after all. Grogu would love to go along as well, because he doesn’t like being separated from Daddy, but Din and Bo-Katan tell him that he is too young and it’s too dangerous.
The rescue party makes it to the mountain, where the raptor has its nest, and decide to spend the night under an overhanging rock out of the raptor’s line of sight. A camp fire is lit – I guess the raptor doesn’t have a very highly developed sense of smell – and food is distributed. “How do you eat without taking off your helmets?” Bo-Katan whispers to Din, who replies that everybody goes off to find a private place to eat. Bo-Katan is about to do just that, when Paz Vizla shows up and announces that as the leader of the war party, Bo-Katan will be granted the honour of staying by the fire. Once everybody is gone, Bo-Katan takes off her helmet to eat, looking rather frustrated at the idiotic customs of Din’s people. Regardless of what you think of the requirement to never take off your helmet in public, the party splitting up and everybody going off on their own is also a needless risk to take on a planet teeming with hostile, Mandalorian-eating mega-fauna and makes it really easy to pick off the Mandalorians one by one.
Alas, this does not happen and after a good night’s rest, the party climb the mountain, using ropes as well as their hands and feet. They reach the nest and it’s huge. The nest is seemingly empty, but Din scans it and detects a heat signature. Against all warnings, Paz Vizla rushes in to save Ragnar. However, the heat signature doesn’t belong to Ragnar. Instead, it’s three baby raptors and they’re hungry and noisy. Worse, Mama raptor shows up, regurgitates young Ragnar from her crop, since he was intended as a meal for her babies. However, Mama Raptor first needs to deal with those pesky Mandalorians who have interrupted feeding time.
Hands up, who did not expect the nest to be full of baby raptors and the very angry Mama raptor to show up? Cause it’s a really obvious development to anybody who’s ever observed nesting birds or watched any cartoon involving giant monster nests. However, Mandalorians clearly aren’t bird watchers and the Star Wars universe apparently doesn’t have cartoons involving giant monsters. And so no one expected Mama raptors and her babies.
However, the Mandalorians quickly regroup and attack Mama raptor with all they have. They try to capture and tie her down with ropes and pry Ragnar out of her claws. In the end, Din saves Ragnar, earning him the undying gratitude of Paz Vizla. As for Mama raptor, she falls into a lake and is promptly gobbled up by one of those turtle aligator creatures that attacked the Armourer’s congregation in the first episode, once again proving that the truest line ever said in any Star Wars movie was Qui Gon Jin’s remark in The Phantom Menace that “there is always a bigger fish”.
While all this is happening, the Armourer has taken on Grogu babysitting duties. She takes him to her forge, explains that the forge is the heart of Mandalorian culture and that this is where Mandalorians are tested to reveal weaknesses and then forged into something stronger. The Armourer gets to work and her rhythmic hammering causes Grogu to experience a flashback to his rescue from the Jedi Temple during the night of Order 66. Interestingly, Din experienced something similar in season 1, when the Armourer’s hammering caused him to flash back to the attack on his homeworld that killed his parents, until he was rescued by the Mandalorians. So is there something hypnotic about the Armourer’s forge that causes people to relive traumatic memories?
At any rate, we’re back at the Jedi Temple during Order 66. Stormtroopers are attacking and killing everybody, while four Jedi are doing their damndest to get Grogu in his floating crib to safety. However, the Stormtroopers cut them down one by one. The last Jedi, a human woman, managed to push Grogu’s crib into an elevator. The elevator rises and when the doors open, a Jedi Master named Kelleran Beq awaits Grogu and he is played by none other than Ahmed Best, the actor who played Jar Jar Binks in the prequel trilogy.
Now Star Wars fandom has been beset by toxic elements since the beginning and backlashes against anything that taints the purity of the universe in the eyes of these toxic fans is mercilessly critcised and shredded. We saw this phenomenon as early as Return of the Jedi, where toxic fans hated the Ewoks for being too cutesy and cuddly (and I guess some folks found things to hate about The Empire Strikes Back as well). However, by the time the prequels came out, the internet was in the process of mass adoption, so the toxic fans were a lot noisier and their targets were not just the characters and bad writing, but also the actors who brought those characters to life. And since Jar Jar was widely hated by Star Wars fandom (though a lot of casual viewers liked him), Ahmed Best and Jake Lloyd, who played young Anakin, got the brunt of it.
Both Ahmed Best and Jake Lloyd experienced depression and even suicidal thoughts as a result of this backlash, even though they were not responsible for the issues with their characters or the script. Personally, I never understood why people had problems with Jake Lloyd’s performance, since I’d seen him in a recurring role in The Pretender well before he was Anakin and knew he could act. Never mind that he was only ten at the time. I hadn’t knowingly seen Ahmed Best in anything before The Phantom Menace (though it turns out he was in the touring production of Stomp, so I may well have seen him in that), but while Jar Jar is a hard character to like, the actor really isn’t to blame for that.
StarWars.com has an interview with Ahmed Best in which he opens up about how difficult returning the Star Wars was for him after his experiences during the prequels. What made things even worse was that Ahmed Best was a life-long Star Wars – he’s my age, so he would have been – only that his dream of being in Star Wars turned into a nightmare.
When “The Foundling” aired, Ahmed Best suddenly trended on Twitter and my first thought was, “Oh crap, is he dead?” But it turned that no, he was actually in The Mandalorian, he played a Jedi and he was awesome. And in fact, everybody seems to be happy that Ahmed Best got some vindication for the terrible way Star Wars fandom treated him 24 years ago. Though could we maybe stop abusing Star Wars actors, because we don’t like the characters they play? Because it’s not as if Star Wars fandom has learned from what happened to Ahmed Best and Jake Lloyd. After all, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran and Moses Ingram were also subjected to abuse for their roles in the sequel trilogy and Obi-Wan Kenobi. It’s also notable that except for Jake Lloyd, all of the actors who suffered abuse at the hand of Star Wars fandom are actors of colour.
Kelleran Beq, who is awesome by the way, demolishes a squad of Stormtroopers with two lightsabres and then loads Grogu into the sidecar of his speeder bike for a high-speed chase through the skies of Coruscant. AV-Club reviewer Sam Barsanti complains that the Coruscant chase is too reminiscent of last week’s episode, down to the fact that we see the commuter air train that played such an important role in “The Convert” as well as the rock that is the top of Coruscant’s highest mountain. He’s not wrong, because the locations are the same except for the Jedi Temple, which wasn’t seen in “The Convert”. However, creating the Coruscant backgrounds was likely time-consuming and expensive, so I cannot fault the showrunners for wanting to reuse them. And besides, that mountain top is cool.
Kelleran Beq takes Grogu to a blood-red Naboo starship docked on a landing platform. “Where are the others?” the crew asks, suggesting that Kelleran Beq was supposed to rescue more people than just Grogu. “There are no others”, Kelleran replies. He, Grogu and the crew board and the starship takes off, while Stormtroopers fire after it.
This flashback answers one pressing question about Grogu, namely how in the universe did he manage to escape from the massacre at the Jedi Temple and from Coruscant, considering he was just a baby – and it’s notable that Grogu looks younger and more babyish in the flashback scenes than in the present day.
However, there are still a lot of questions left unanswered, namely how exactly did Grogu end up in the heavily fortified component where Din found him? What happened to Kelleran Beq, who clearly was supposed to protect Grogu and yet is nowhere to be seen, when Din and IG-11 storm the compound? And who exactly is Grogu and why is he deemed so much more important than the other padawans at the Jedi Temple? Is it because his species is particularly Force-sensitive – after all, the only three member’s of Grogu’s species we’ve ever seen were all Jedi? Or is Grogu the secret love child of Yoda and/or Yaddle? After all, Yoda very much knows where the little padawans come from and does his damndest to bring Anakin and Padmé together to make little Jedi. And much as I love Yoda, he has always been rather flexible in his interpretation of the Jedi code, so I don’t find it at all hard to believe that he has a secret lover somewhere.
But whatever Grogu was originally, now he is a Mandalorian foundling and the Armourer finally reveals what she has been working on – namely a circular chest plate with the signet of the mudhorn, symbol of his and Din’s Clan of Two. “This will protect you,” the Armourer tells Grogu. Din will be a very proud papa indeed, once he sees the new armour upgrade.
When the rescue party returns with Ragnar, the assembled Mandalorians cheer and rejoice. The Armourer praises Bo-Katan, because she has fulfilled the highest purpose, namely to safe a foundling. However, Bo-Katan hasn’t just helped to save Ragnar – no, the Mandalorians also brought back the three raptor babies, because now that their mother is dead, they are foundlings, too. I have to admit that I was surprised by this, because while the Mandalorians’ commitment to rescuing and saving lost children extends beyond humans – after all, Grogu is very much not human – I didn’t expect it to extend to non-intelligent creatures like the raptors. On the other hand, do I see “Raptor Riders of Mandalore” on the horizon there? Cause that would be awesome.
Indeed, the thing I like most about The Mandalorian is that it turned the Mandalorians from a group who are mainly warriors to a people who are primarily define themselves as parents who protect and train the many orphaned children created by the constant warfare in the Star Wars universe. This episode very much reinforces this, because it focusses almost entirely on how much Mandalorians care for their children, both biological (Bo-Katan appears to be the biological daughter of her unseen father) and adopted.
Bo-Katan has lost a shoulder pauldron in the fight with the Mama raptor, so she asks the Armourer for a replacement. The Armourer takes her to the forge and asks Bo-Katan, if she wants the signet of the night owl, a symbol of her clan, on the replacement pauldron. Bo-Katan, however, asks if it would be okay if she wore the signet of the mythosaur, which is the symbol used by the Armourer’s group, instead. The Armourer agrees, because the mythosaur is a symbol for all Mandalorians.
While the Armourer works, Bo-Katan tells her that she saw a mythosaur. “A noble vision”, the Armourer replies. Bo-Katan insists that no, she really saw a mythosaur in the living waters underneath Mandalore. The Armourer, however, doesn’t seem to be convinced. “You will see many thing, when you walk the way of the Mandalore”, she declares.
Pretty much everybody seems to agree that this episode is a lot of fun, but doesn’t exactly progress the overall plot, if there even is one. And indeed, it doesn’t. However, The Mandalorian has always been a meandering show that moved at its own pace and particularly the early episodes of every season so far were full of detours and side quests. It’s usually not before the half or two-third point of every season that the pace picks up and the various threads and side quests come together to form a coherent whole. I strongly suspect that season 3 won’t be any different.
Episodes of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba-Fett tend to draw a lot on the original inspirations for Star Wars as well as on other movies and media that were popular around or just before the time Star Wars came out. And so we have Italian westerns, Kurosawa films, biker films, depressing 1970s dystopian science fiction films and others, all reinterpreted through a Star Wars lens. This episode with its giant monster mama and her babies, the focus on children in need of rescue and the message that monsters (well, monster babies) have a right to live as well is very remiscent of the Saturday morning cartoons of the 1980s. Honestly, replace Din, Paz Vizla and Bo-Katan with He-Man, Man-at-Arms and Teela, replace the Armourer with the Sorceress, don’t kill of the raptor mama and add a neat little moral message at the end and this could be a 1980s Filmation He-Man episode. Again, this is very appropriate, because the Saturday morning cartoons of the 1980s were all strongly influenced by the original Star Wars trilogy as well as drawing on the same pulp SFF influences as Star Wars.
One thing that surprised me is what a big role Bo-Katan plays in season 3. Based on the trailers, I expected her to be an antagonist, maybe even the main antagonist, considering that Din has the one thing she really needs, the darksabre. However, their relationship is not really antagonistic at all. I also expected Bo-Katan to try to take over the Armourer’s group – after all, she needs followers. But again, she doesn’t seem to be doing any of that. If anything, the Armourer gradually seems to be persuading Bo-Katan of the rightness of “the way”.
Kristin Baver’s interview with actress Katee Sackhoff, who plays Bo-Katan, at StarWars.com also reveals that Katee Sackhoff herself was surprised by how big a role her character plays in season 3. In fact, I wonder whether Bo-Katan’s role grew bigger, when the showrunners were forced to write out Cara Dune, who up to then had been the most important female character in the show.
So where is all this going and how will the different plot threads we’ve seen so far connect? I have no idea, though I suspect that we will find out soon, since we’ve reached the halfway point of the season.