Minor SPOILERS For Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Ahead!
The penultimate installment in The Mandalorian‘s (sometimes) epic journey dropped last Wednesday, so as to avoid having to compete with Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker‘s Friday release date, but I am only just getting around to reviewing the suspenseful episode today. And I’m pleased to announce that, while the series has moved too slowly up until now, director Deborah Chow once again manages to send a jolt of tension into the story’s creaking mechanics just in time for the season finale.
The episode opens with The Mandalorian (voiced by Pedro Pascal: it was revealed recently that Pascal himself only occasionally portrays the masked and armored mercenary physically) receiving an urgent message telling him to return to the city of Nevarro with his precious cargo, the adorable Baby Yoda. But Mando, still finding time for detours in all the chaos and fast-paced action, first makes brief stops to two other planets to recruit former ally Cara Dune (Gina Carano) as additional muscle, and blurg-herder Kuiil (Nick Nolte) as a babysitter for The Child. But things don’t go entirely according to plan, and everything that happens next is one big spoiler – and for once, I actually mean that. This episode actually does have some twists and turns, and one shocking cliffhanger ending.
The first big surprise comes when Baby Yoda uses the Force to try and choke Cara Dune as she arm-wrestles the Mandalorian on his ship. The action is undeniably defensive on the Baby’s part, as he was obviously just trying to protect Mando from what he thought was real physical harm, but it still leaves the audience reeling: yes, Baby Yoda is capable of actually killing someone with the Force already, and isn’t afraid to use his powers. Not much later, he uses the Force to heal a wound dealt to Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) in a battle with giant bats. This is even more alarming than the Force-choke incident – Baby Yoda is one of only two (possibly three) characters in the current Star Wars canon to possess Force-healing abilities, the other(s?) being revealed in Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker. That would seem to suggest that Baby Yoda is very powerful and very unique, and it’s no wonder that the Empire wants him – we just don’t know what they plan to do with him.
But we will find out soon enough: after entering Nevarro and finding the city overrun with ex-Imperial stormtroopers, Mando, Karga and Dune come face-to-face with Werner Herzog’s mysterious character, still known only as The Client, while Kuiil takes Baby Yoda and rides as fast as possible back to the Mandalorian’s ship. But while Mando’s plan initially seems to be successful, as he guns down an entire squadron of stormtroopers and seemingly kills Herzog’s character, Kuiil isn’t so lucky. Stormtroopers intercept the mustachioed alien’s communications with Mando and hunt him down even as he tries to escape: the episode leaves us with a heartbreaking final shot of Kuiil’s tiny body, still smoking from a fatal laser blast, lying just a few feet from the spaceship. And Baby Yoda? The stormtroopers have him in their grasp.
Mando and his little team aren’t in great shape either, going into the finale. Their story leaves off with them barricaded inside Herzog’s lair, while dozens of stormtroopers surround them on all sides – far more than the “four” bodyguards that Karga had warned them about going into the mission. And that’s not even the worst of it: arriving in a majestic Imperial TIE-fighter, resplendent in military uniform, is Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) a new character to the Star Wars universe, but not wholly unfamiliar either: A New Hope introduced fans to Peter Cushing as the menacing Grand Moff Tarkin, commander of the first Death Star, and there have been a couple other “Moffs” here and there, grand or otherwise. Gideon, with his battalion of special death-troopers, certainly looks like one of the ex-Empire’s most senior officials. Whatever he is, his intentions are clear: he wants Baby Yoda, and, knowing the Moffs, he’s probably prepared to blow up the entire city of Nevarro to get his hands on the adorable little creature – I mean, can we blame him? Poor guy’s probably been scouring the internet for good-quality Baby Yoda plushies and has finally snapped and gone after the real deal. That’s a perfectly legitimate villain origin story.
Other highlights from the tense episode include the return of IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi), the assassin droid whom Mando slew in the very first episode. Kuiil reveals that he found and repaired the droid, and that the former bounty hunter no longer remembers his past life of brutality and violence, and is now a willing servant, farmhand and waiter. But the droid’s eerie interactions with his killer suggest that maybe IG-11 is just waiting for his chance to strike.
As we wait for the eighth and final episode in the series, I think it’s about time we started considering how many of our pressing questions can logically be answered in a forty-minute finale: will we learn who Baby Yoda is, and what the Empire wants with him? Will we learn anything about the state of the Empire at this point in time, and will it help to clarify certain elements of The Rise Of Skywalker? Will more of the Mandalorian’s former friends and enemies make an appearance one last time, or will it just be him, Dune, Karga and Yoda against the world? Will Mando remove his mask, give us a hint of his shadowy backstory, or explain why he hates droids so much? Was it Moff Gideon who approached Fennec Shand’s body on the sands of Tatooine in Episode 5, or was that another, as yet unknown character? We’ve got a lot of questions, and Episode 7, aptly titled The Reckoning, has only added more to the mix.
Fingers crossed that the finale can answer at least a couple of them.
Episode Rating: 8/10