Welcome to the latest instalment of my episode by episode reviews of season three of The Mandalorian. Previous installments may be found here.
Warning! Spoilers behind the cut!
In my review of the previous episode, I pointed out that based on the first two seasons, the various meandering plot threads should come together in the last two episodes of the season. And guess what? That’s exactly what happened.
The episode opens not on Nevarro or Mandalore or Plazir-15, but on Coruscant. Elia Kane, dressed in a conspirational trenchcoat, sneaks through the streets of Coruscant, clearly up to no good. She steps into a dark alley, where an Imperial probe droid descends from the sky for a clandestine meeting. The droid scans Elia and then projects a hologram of none other than Moff Gideon. Of course, we already knew that he escaped, but this is the first time we actually see him this season.
Moff Gideon isn’t thrilled to be called away from his very important scheming and he’s even less thrilled, when Elia tells him that the pirates were driven away from Nevarro. “But you assured me that the New Republic wouldn’t help them,” Moff Gideon grumbles. Elia Kane explains that no, the New Republic did not help Nevarro, but that the world was protected by Mandalorians, led by Din Djarin and Bo-Katan Kryze, two of Moff Gideon’s least favourite people. Moff Gideon vows to find them and finally exterminate the Mandalorians once and for all.
During the conversation with Elia Kane, the camera switches from Elia on Coruscant to Moff Gideon in an as of yet unknown location. The camera follows Moff Gideon as he walks along a black walkway – without any handrails, of course, it’s Star Wars – as red glowing force fields open and close. Furthermore, Stormtroopers in redesigned stand guard on outcroppings from the main walkway – also without handrails. It’s an impressive looking set and the red force fields were clearly inspired by the Duel of the Fates scene in The Phantom Menace, though I couldn’t help but think of the “chompers” scene from Galaxy Quest, because the whole design makes absolutely no sense and is clearly just there to look cool.
We also get a look at the very important scheming that Moff Gideon was called away from, which turns out to be a meeting of the Imperial Shadow Council. The Shadow Council consists of a number of unnamed Imperial officers turned warlords, Moff Gideon as well as one Commandant Brendol Hux, who sports a three days’ beard that would probably have gotten him Force-choked, if Darth Vader were still in charge, and one Captain Gilad Pellaeon. If the name Brendol Hux seems familiar, he’s the father of General Hux, who had a love/hate relationship with Kylo Ren in the sequel trilogy and was also a secret informer for the Rebellion, all to piss off Kylo Ren. The make the connection even more apparent, Brendol Hux is played by Brian Gleeson, brother of Domnhall Gleeson who played General. As for Captain Pellaeon, he is a character who was introduced in the 1991 Star Wars novel Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn as the right-hand man of …drumroll… Grand Admiral Thrawn. Of course, we’ve known for a while that Grand Admiral Thrawn would show up. In fact, the back of his head can already be glimpsed in the trailer for the upcoming Ahsoka series, which caused much squeeing across the Internet, though personally I will hold the squees until we finally see the face of Thrawn.
Of course, nobody can be expected to remember a secondary character from a 32-year-old tie-in novel, even one as popular as Heir to the Empire. And in fact, I remember almost nothing about the Thrawn trilogy, even though I eagerly devoured it back in the day. Oddly enough, I do remember exactly where I found the book (which in those pre-Internet days I had no idea existed) – in the window of a bookshop near Antwerpen Central Station. I think I went past that window two or three times, gazing at the book, that unimaginable thing, a brand-new Star Wars book, until I finally went in and bought it. Still, since most will have no idea who Captain Pellaeon is, he is introduced as a representative for Grand Admiral Thrawn and declares that everybody present is to prepare for the triumphant return of Grand Admiral Thrawn, who will then proceed to rebuilt the Empire. Meanwhile, Moff Gideon wants to know where exactly Thrawn is, since no one has seen hide nor hair of him (though we did see the back of his head) since the Fall of the Empire. As for Brendol Hux, he is engaged in something called Project Necromancy, which has something to do with cloning research. Gee, I wonder what Project Necromany could be? Could they maybe be… cloning Palpatine?
The meeting of the Shadow Council – nerds of a feather reviewer Haley Zapal calls it the galaxy’s most evil Zoom call – makes it very clear that Hux, Pellaeon (and Thrawn) and Moff Gideon don’t see eye to eye with regard to anything. Moff Gideon thinks that Hux and Pellaeon are hoarding resources that he and the other warlords should have. Hux doesn’t like Gideon and also wonders what happened to Doctor Pershing and his research (Elia Kane and a mindflayer happened) and suspects that Moff Gideon is using Doctor Pershing’s research for his own purposes (which, to be fair, he is). Captain Pellaeon, meanwhile, thinks that Grand Admiral Thrawn should head up the rebuilt Empire and that Moff Gideon seeks power for himself (which, to be fair, he does). Moff Gideon further irritates Hux and Pellaeon by demanding a squad of TIE interceptors and bombers and three Praetorian guards.
Coincidentally, the Post-Imperial Shadow Council is also the most diverse gathering of Imperial generals and dignitaries we’ve ever seen in Star Wars. This Shadow Council has several members of colour and two women members, including one woman of colour. And Grand Admiral Thrawn, though unseen for now, is not even human. This is a far cry from the councils and meetings seen in the original trilogy, which consisted solely of white British men, most of whom played by people you’d seen in dozens of movies and TV shows before. Come to think of it, Elia Kane is probably the first female Imperial officer in Star Wars, though the First Order had several women. And Moff Gideon is the first high-ranking Imperial of colour whom we’ve seen. It’s certainly telling that even blatant space Nazi analogues like the Empire now feature a diverse cast.
Meanwhile, back on Nevarro, the citizens are cleaning up after the pirate attack of two episodes ago, when a shadow falls onto their city. At the same time, Greef Karga’s protocol droid comes hurrying into his master’s office, announcing that “The Empire is here”. Greef Karga walks out onto his balcony just in time to see what the droid insists is a Star Destroyer flying by overhead, flanked by smaller ships. “That’s a light cruiser”, Greef corrects the droid (come to think of it, Star Destroyers are huge and this ship, while big, is not that big). At this moment, the sign of the mythosaur painted on the underside of the ship comes into view. “And it’s not the Empire, it’s Mandalorians and they’re our honoured guests”, Greef Karga continues, though he sounds a little bit doubtful, probably because he did not expect there to be that many Mandalorians with that many ships.
Bo-Katan is at the helm of her own ship, the Gauntlet, and directs the fleet to the Mandalorian camp on Nevarro. Grogu is sitting on her lap, showing how very comfortable he is with Bo-Katan by now. Bo-Katan, however, is a little worried how these Mandalorians will get along with the Armourer’s group. And indeed, there is some tension, once the fleet lands and the Mandalorians emerge and Axe Woves, being something of a jerk, demonstratively takes off his helmet. Paz Vizla, meanwhile, tells his son Ragnar to take the other kids inside and is clearly spoiling for a fight. However, before a fight can break out, the Armourer shows up and welcomes the newcomers and soon everybody is sitting by the campfire, content for now.
Greef Karga, meanwhile, comes to the camp to welcome Din – whom he still callos “Mando”, even though there must be more than a hundred Mandalorians on Nevarro by now. He has a bottle of some kind of drink – straight from Coruscant – and he has another surprise for Din as well, though Din will have to come to the city to see it.
The surprise turns out to be the largely rebuilt IG-11, now rechristened IG-12. However, Babu Frick took out the damaged memory circuit and instead installed a space for an organic, if very small pilot. Babu Frick is small enough to fit into the pilot seat and control the droid. So is Grogu and Greef Karga thinks that Grogu would be the perfect pilot for IG-12. Din, being the anxious Dad that he is, doesn’t like that idea at all and insists that Grogu is too young. Babu Frick, meanwhile, just hopes Grogu won’t try to hug him again and says, “Bad Baby. No squeezie” and then utters something which may or may not be the F-word.
Greef Karga insists that they at least give it a try, picks up Grogu and settles him into IG-12’s pilot seat. Din still claims that this is a terrible idea, while Grogu discovers another function of IG-12. Because Babu Frick also installed two buttons that allow the pilot to say “yes” and “no” in Taika Waititi’s voice. So when Din insists that Grogu is too young and wants him to come out of the droid at once, Grogu keeps on pushing the “no” buttton. Din initially assumes that Grogu is just hammering buttons at random, but Greef Karga points out that the “no” is actually a response to Din insisting that Grogu come out of the droid. “Yes”, IG-12 says. Din is clearly overruled and we see him and IG-12 walk through the streets of Nevarro with Grogu pushing the “yes” button over and over again. It’s a cute scene and also very reminiscent of how human toddlers react when they discover the word “no” and its impact. Indeed, the thing that makes Grogu so appealing – beyond the fact that he’s incredibly cute – is that he behaves very much like a human toddler.
Back at the camp, Bo-Katan announces her plan to retake Mandalore, now she knows that the planet is habitable. The entire Mandalorian fleet will move into orbit around Mandalore and Bo-Katan and a small team will head for the surface to locate the Great Forge, heart of their culture, and establish a secure perimeter. Then they will bring the rest of the Mandalorians down. If the pirates want to attack Nevarro again, now would be a great time, since the Mandalorian protectors of the planet are all buggering off to Mandalore. AV-Club reviewer Sam Barsanti clearly agree with me, especially since it’s made clear that there is something on Nevarro that Moff Gideon and that the pirates were only a front to allow him to get his hands on that planet.
But first, Bo-Katan needs volunteers. Din immediately volunteers himself and Grogu. Paz Vizla, Axe Woves, Koska Reeves, the Armourer and several other members of both groups volunteer as well and so Bo-Katan has a sizeable exploration force. They head for the surface in the Gauntlet and are dropped Starship Troopers style to land with their jetpacks.
The Mandalorians are shocked to see Mandalore in its ruined state and Axe Woves says that he was there when it happened. However, Mandalore isn’t as dead or deserted as everybody thinks, for the Mandalorians spot a moving structure on the horizon. The structure turns out to be a land glider/ship. Three figure in armour and jetpacks rise from the decks of the ship. Turns out that there still are Mandalorian survivors on Mandalore. They’re starved and clearly ill and the first thing they ask is “Do you have food?”
Bo-Katan’s forces do have food and so they soon have a feast on the deck of the land ship, which is a really impressive structure BTW and will probably be a crowdfunded playset on Hasbro Pulse eventually. The Mandalorian survivors are thrilled to see their once and former queen and tell her that they built the glider to escape the Imperial forces scouring the planet and picking off every ship that tried to leave and that they never surrendered.
“I did,” Bo-Katan says quietly, “I surrendered.” And now we finally get her full story. After the so-called Night of the Thousand Tears, when Mandalore was bombed to smithereens, Bo-Katan arranged a meeting with Moff Gideon to surrender and promise to cease all resistance and submit to Imperial rule in exchange for the Empire sparing the remains of her people. However, Moff Gideon tricked her, took the darksabre and proceeded to exterminate what was left of the Mandalorians anyway.
I don’t think it’s ever been established when the Empire attacked and destroyed Mandalore, but it makes sense if that would have happened shortly after the rise of the Empire, since wiping out anybody with a chance to stand against the Emperor like the Jedi or the Mandalorians would have been a priority. The Mandalorian is set approx. five years after Return of the Jedi and therefore about twenty-five years after the rise of the Empire. So Bo-Katan must have been very young, probably in her teens or early twenties based on Katee Sackhoff’s age, when she became ruler of Mandalore. In short, she was way too young for the burden placed upon her.
And indeed, shortly after admitting to everybody that she surrendered and that Moff Gideon tricked her, Bo-Katan is standing alone by the railing of the ship. Din joins her and Bo-Katan admits to him that she’s not sure if she truly fit to lead the Mandalorians, since she allowed Moff Gideon to trick her and lost the darksabre and besides, the various Mandalorian factions dislike her as much as they dislike each other, even though she wants to bring them all together. Din tells Bo-Katan that the darksabre and the whole royal bloodline stuff means nothing to his people. What does mean something to him are loyalty, honour and character and Bo-Katan has plenty of that, more than enough to win over Din and the rest of his group. “I serve you, Lady Kryze,” Din tells her, “Your song is not yet written. I will serve you until it is.”
It’s a powerful line and a powerful moment – Bo-Katan showing her vulnerability and Din offering his unwavering support – as most reviewers – Germain Lussier at io9, Sam Barsanti at The AV-Club and Haley Zapal at nerds of a feather – point out. Din’s definitely a keeper and I think Bo-Katan knows it, though I suspect Disney won’t allow them to be together, because Disney doesn’t want romantic relationships in Star Wars.
When Bo-Katan first showed up last season, I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the character. And in fact, I suspected that she would be an antagonist for Din this season, something the trailers seemed to hint at, since Din had the one thing she needed, the darksabre. However, I really like what they’ve done with Bo-Katan this season, portraying her as someone who was forced into responsibility at a much too young age, had to see her world destroyed and most of her people killed or scattered and has a massive case of survivor’s guilt as a result. In some ways, she reminds me of Prince Adam from Masters of the Universe, who also is forced to take on an enormous responsibility at a much too young age, who is also outwardly strong, but inwardly insecure and who wants nothing more than to protect his world and his people and who also has a handful of people who support him and believe in him no matter what. I’ve drawn quite a few comparisons to various animated series aimed at kids in the course of my episode by episode reviews and I now wonder whether the fact that co-producer/showrunner Dave Filoni comes from the animated Star Wars shows, which were aimed at younger viewers, has something to do with that.
I also noted in some of my earlier reviews that the Mandalorians seem to be matriarchal, since all of their leaders we’ve seen so far have been women. However, it only just occurred to me that it’s not just Mandalore that appears to be matriarchal, it’s the whole Star Wars universe. Because throughout Star Wars history, almost all of the political leaders who actually do a good job and aren’t dictators or incompetent have been women: Leia, Mon Mothma, Padme Armidala, Bo-Katan, the Armourer, Amilyn Holdo, even the Duchess from Plazir-15 – they’re all women, which is made even more remarkable by the fact that the Star Wars universe has a massively skewed gender ratio. But while there are a lot of important and heroic male characters in Star Wars, they are often muscle, who do the fighting, while the women govern.
When the Mandalorian survivors learn that Bo-Katan’s group are looking for the Great Forge, they offer to take them there. However, a lot of the survivors are too ill and weak to travel or fight, so the Armourer suggests transporting them aboard the Gauntlet to the fleet in orbit for treatment, while the others proceed to the Great Forge.
So now the exploration force continues to travel aboard the land glider/ship. It’s a lengthy trip and so Axe Woves and Paz Vizla, clearly the two most macho members of their respective factions, decide to pass the time by playing a type of chess. However, the rules of how the game is played have diverged between the two groups and so Axe Woves and Paz Vizla quickly come to blows. Din wants to intervene, but Bo-Katan insists that no members of either faction can intervene lest the conflict escalates. All they can do is watch and hope that Axe Woves and Paz Vizla come to their senses before they kill each other.
However, one person aboard the skiff does intervene and that Grogu. He steps between the two combatants in his droid body, uses IG-12’s strength to keep them apart and says “No”, “No”, “No” over and over again. It’s a great moment and also shows that even though Grogu has chosen to stay with Din and the Mandalorians, there’s still a lot of Jedi in him. Honestly, I think that Grogu is probably the best hope the Mandalorians and the Jedi have, once he’s grown up.
The skiff is attacked and destroyed by one of the giant monsters, which are so ubiquitous in the Star Wars universe. Tor.com reviewer Emmet Asher-Perrin feels that this is just payback for all the giant monsters Din killed over the course of three seasons of The Mandalorian. They’re not wrong, because while giant monsters lurking in every cave, lake or trash compactor have always been a feature of Star Wars, The Mandalorian really takes it to extremes to the point that there’s a giant monster in almost every single episode. It almost seems as if showrunners Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni have adapted Raymond Chandler’s famous writing advice “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand” as “When in doubt, throw in a giant monster.”
At any rate, the Mandalorians are out of a ride and the Gauntlet is up in orbit transporting the injured. So they have to walk, though luckily, the Great Forge is not that far away. Once more, they descend into the underworld of Mandalore and find the Great Forge or what is left of it. However, before they can celebrate or establish a security perimeter, as planned, they hear the sound of jetpacks. “More survivors?” someone asks hopefully.
However, these jetpacks don’t belong to any Mandalorian survivors. They’re Stormtroopers of the type we saw in Moff Gideon’s hideout earlier and they’re equipped with jetpacks. A massive battle breaks out and the Mandalorians quickly find themselves outnumbered. Paz Vizla covers Axe Woves, as he escapes through a hole in the ceiling to get help from the fleet in orbit. Meanwhile, the Stormtroopers chase the rest of the Mandalorians deeper and deeper into the complex. They finally find themselves on a ledge overlooking a fully fledged Imperial base complete with TIE interceptors and bombers. Worse, blast doors close, trapping the rest of the Mandalorians, while Din is overpowered by the Stormtroopers.
The situation is dire enough, but it’s about to get worse, for who shows up – in midnight black Mandalorian inspired armour, complete with jetpack – but Moff Gideon. Moff Gideon delivers a classic supervillain monologue – and Giancarlo Esposito clearly has so much fun with the role – to explain his plan. He built a base on Mandalore to exploit the beskar mines and create an army of updated cloned Stormtroopers with beskar armour and Mandalorian tech. Because, Moff Gideon points out, all the various people that the Empire subjugated and/or exterminated had something to offer. The Mandalorians had beskar and weapons tech, the Jedi have the Force and so on. It’s not just a great supervillain monologue, it’s also an analogy for colonialism, because colonialists took what they wanted and needed from the people they subjugated while doing their best to destroy their cultures.
Moff Gideon orders the Stormtroopers to take Din away for “debriefing”, which very obviously is a euphemism for torture. He also orders his TIE interceptors and bombers to launch and take out the Mandalorian fleet in orbit. Then he spots Bo-Katan and demands the darksabre back. Bo-Katan, however, is not going to make the same mistake twice. “This is the way”, the Mandalorians say as one and open fire on Moff Gideon and his Stormtroopers, while Bo-Katan uses the darksabre to cut through the blast doors. She succeeds in creating an escape route for everybody.
In the end, Bo-Katan and Paz Vizla are the only ones left. Bo-Katan calls to Paz Vizla that everybody is clear and that he should make a run for it. But Paz Vizla shakes his head. “There’s too many of them”, he says and announces that he will hold them back. “This is the way”, Paz Vizla says, closes the blast doors and makes his last stand, allowing the rest of the Mandalorians to get away. In spite of their new beskar armour, Paz Vizla does manage to take down all of the Stormtroopers. But then, the three Elite Praetorian Guards Moff Gideon requested earlier arrives and proceed to cut him down. Paz Vizla is another character who wasn’t particularly likeable, when he was first introduced in The Book of Boba Fett, but who has really grown on me. And he does get to make a great heroic last stand, though I feel sorry for his son Ragnar. Though considering Ragnar has grown up with a Mandalorian faction who prize raising and protecting orphaned children above all else, I guess he’ll be well taken care of.
As I said before, so far all seasons of The Mandalorian have been somewhat meandering with all the elements only coming together in the last two or three episodes of the season and this one is no different. Even plot points such as the beskar fragment that Captain Teva found embedded in a bulkhead of the prison ship from which Moff Gideon was liberated and the weird blood-sucking vampire droid that Din ran afoul of have been explained. Okay, so the vampire droid hasn’t really been explained, though I suspect it’s a trap planted either by Moff Gideon or by the Imperial forces that destroyed Mandalore. The episode also ends on a great cliffhanger – Din has been captured, Moff Gideon is on Mandalore, the Mandalorians are on the run and outnumbered, the fleet in orbit is about to be attacked and Paz Vizla has died a hero’s death.
How will it all end? We’ll find out in the season finale.