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Saturday, December 19, 2020

Force in Focus: The Mandalorian Season 2x08

"The Rescue"

Plot
Using Slave I, the Mandalorian and his allies capture an Imperial shuttle carrying Dr. Pershing, and confirm the presence of the child aboard Moff Gideon's ship. He then enlists the aid of Bo-Katan & Koska Reeves, offering Bo-Katan Gideon's ship and to reconsider joining her fight for Mandalore in exchange for their help. The group then uses the captured shuttle & Slave I to force a landing onto Gideon's cruiser, with Cara, Fennec, Bo-Katan, and Reeves heading for the bridge while the Mandalorian attempts to shutdown the Dark Troopers and rescue the child. As his allies capture the bridge, he manages to blow the Dark Troopers into space, then finds Gideon waiting for him in the child's cell. Gideon attacks him with the Darksaber. Using his beskar staff, the Mandalorian defeats Gideon, but leaves him alive for Cara Dune. They enter the bridge, and Gideon reveals to the Mandalorian that by defeating him in battle, he has claimed the Darksaber for himself, not Bo-Katan. Just then, the Dark Troopers, under their own power, reboard the ship, and proceed towards the bridge. As the Mandalorian and his allies brace for a battle they're unlikely to win, an X-wing flies into the cruiser's landing bay, and a figure in black emerges wielding a lightsaber. As Gideon realizes who it is, he grabs a fallen blaster and tries to kill the child and then himself, but the Mandalorian blocks his shot and Cara disarms him. As the figure in black cuts through the Dark Troopers and arrives on the bridge, he reveals himself to be the Jedi Luke Skywalker, and offers to take the child for training. The Mandalorian tells the child to go with him, and assures him they will meet again. He then removes his helmet to say goodbye, and Luke takes the child, leaving behind a teary Din Djarin. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Luke Skywalker makes his live-action post-Return of the Jedi, pre-The Force Awakens debut in this episode, as he arrives on Moff Gideon's ship and offers to take Grogu for training. 


Obviously, it remains to be seen where the show goes from here in regards to Grogu, and whether this is setup for some kind of Jedi Academy series (given the dodgy and expensive CGI de-aging on display here, such a series would likely require a recasting of Luke, or need to be animated in some form) or if some kind of circumstances will result in the Mandalorian quickly becoming reunited with his charge by the start of the show's next season, in order to keep the fan favorite relationship intact. At any rate, it seems highly unlikely this is the last we'll know of the child and that he died at Ben Solo's hands a few years before The Force Awakens (which is still about twenty years away at this point in the timeline). 

Everyone's favorite astromech R2-D2 also pops up alongside Luke. 


In a post-credits sequence, Boba Fett & Fennec Shand stroll into the former palace of Jabba the Hutt and execute Bib Fortuna (who, after apparently surviving the destruction of Jabba's sail barge in Return of the Jedi, seemingly took over his criminal empire), claiming the Hutt's former enterprises as their own and setting up The Book of Boba Fett in the process. Jon Favreau later clarified that Book of Boba Fett will be its own thing (and that The Mandalorian will continue with a third season chronicling the adventures of Din Djarin), though its inaugural season takes the place of The Mandalorian Season 3 on the Disney Plus schedule next year. 


Moff Gideon is defeated and captured this episode (though explicitly not killed), suggesting his particular faction of the Imperial Remnant is no longer a going concern, but presumably Gideon will return in future seasons. 

Dr. Pershing, who is explicitly called out as an expert in cloning, returns in the episode's opening act, though his ultimate fate is left up in the air (presumably, like Moff Gideon, he is in the charge of the New Republic now). 

Casting Call
Mark Hamill sort of reprises the role of Luke Skywalker, providing the characters voice and, of course, his de-aged CGI likeness, while British actor Max Lloyd-Jones physically plays the role with Hamill's face superimposed over his. 

LucasFilm sound designer and editor Matthew Wood plays Bib Fortuna; he was also the voice of General Grievious and played Fortuna, uncredited, for his brief appearance alongside Jabba the Hutt during the podrace in The Phantom Menace

A Work in Progress
The tear tattoo Cara Dune sports marks her as a survivor of Alderaan. 

The back and forth between Cara and the Imperial pilot regarding the fates of Aldeeraan and the Death Star(s) is very Kevin Smithian, while also reinforcing the notion that, to Imperial adherents, the Rebellion was essentially a terrorist organization. 

In a (likely unintentional) statement on the circular nature of thinking, Dr. Pershing says that removing the human side of Stormtroopers proved the key to the Dark Trooper's success making them, essentially, battle droids, aka the largely inept foot soldiers of the Trade Federation and later the Separatists throughout the prequel trilogy, to which the (flesh and blood) Clone Troopers (which later became the first generation of Stormtroopers) were largely setup as a superior alternative. 


Bo Katan's ship, similar in style to the Imperial Lamda-class shuttle later used to infiltrate Gideon's ship, is a Kom'rk-class Gauntlet fighter that appeared in Clone Wars


The third member of Bo Katan's crew (from "The Heiress") is absent here, for whatever reason. 

When the Mandalorian is sneaking aroung Gideon's ship, he passes by a RA-7 droid, one of which was seen amidst the Jawa's stash and on the Death Star in A New Hope


Moff Gideon mentions that Gorgu's blood is the key to bringing order back to the galaxy, another possible clue that it plays a role in the creation of Snoke and/or the resurrection of Palpatine.  

Gideon also says that, according to Mandalorian lore (Manda-lore?), the Darksaber can only properly be claimed via combat. This is inconsistent with the end of Rebels, in which Sabine Wren gave Bo-Katan the Darksaber willingly and acknowledged her as the ruler of Mandalore, though the easy No-Prize explanation is that Bo-Katan at the time didn't put much stock in that bit of lore, but given all that befell Mandalore (and her leadership of it) after claiming the sword on friendly terms, she is now more committed to the letter of the law, so to speak. 


Luke's hallway assault on the Dark Troopers visually mirrors Darth Vader's fight through the Rebel troops at the end of Rogue One


Did You Hear?
When Boba & Fennec storm into Jabba's palace, Bib Fortuna yells out "maclunkey" (technically, "ma klounkee, a Huttese threat); this term was added to the much-altered exchange between Han and Greedo in A New Hope by George Lucas just before he signed over the filmsto Disney, though fans weren't aware of it until Disney Plus launched and that final edited version of A New Hope was released there, with "Maclunkey" shortly thereafter becoming a meme.  

Austin's Analysis
Putting aside objective analysis for a moment, my immediate reaction to the climax of this episode was elation on behalf of my younger self, that kid cracking open Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire for the first time on the ride home from Target, the teenager reading a Rogue Squadron book under his desk in high school, or the college student reading the latest New Jedi Order installment between sessions of his J-term Shakespeare class. I continue to adore the send-off Luke received in The Last Jedi and grow to appreciate it more with each viewing, but a post-Return of the Jedi, height-of-his-powers Luke Skywalker flying into a Star Destroyer and slicing through a bunch of Dark Troopers is pure pre-Disney cannon Expanded Universe joy, and I can't deny the thrill I felt in seeing it. If you had told any of those past iterations of my younger self they'd one day be able to watch something akin to the stories they'd devoured in book form presented as what is essentially an episode of TV like it was no big deal, they'd never have believed you. 

More objectively, I continue to struggle with this development, or at least, the reaction to this development and this show's place within the larger Star Wars universe. There is, amongst certain segments of Star Wars fandom (mostly a little bit older and less steeped in the former & current Expanded Universe than me), online and elsewhere, that maintains The Mandalorian is at its best the further away from Star Wars (or, at least, more specifically, the Skywalker Saga) it is. There is some truth to that, beyond personal tastes, at least in terms of establishing and maintaining the quality of The Mandalorian as a distinct TV entity (and in keeping the Star Wars universe a broad and expansive setting). At the same time, any successful TV show is always building out, expanding its world and the relationships of its main characters, which, for a show set in the Star Wars universe, inevitably means it is going to come into contact with elements of that broader setting and, eventually, more and more characters with an established history in the universe. This is, ultimately, what makes shared universe stories so much fun. 

They key is making sure the characters and the story at the heart of the show remain distinct and don't get overwhelmed by the larger shared universe aspects of the narrative. This is something The Mandalorian endeavored to do from the start, but worked especially hard at in this second season when it took bigger and bigger steps into a larger (Star Wars) world. And, for the most part, it has succeeded. As much as Luke's arrival at the end of this episode is the thing everyone is talking about and serves as the vehicle for the biggest disruption to its status quo (by splitting up Din & Grogu), it's not really what this episode is about, and Din stays central to the narrative throughout, his drive to rescue the child in turn driving the narrative, and he still provides the emotional climax of the episode (and, really, the season) as he removes his helmet to say goodbye to Grogu. Luke functions as, essentially, a deus ex machina. For as much as we, the audience, know Luke Skywalker is a big deal, the characters (or, at least, the titular Mandalorian) don't. Instead, Luke appears as an almost mythic figure within the perspective of the episode; he is not GALCTIC SAVIOR LUKE SKYWALKER, but first & foremost, a Jedi, and thus, someone able to complete the Mandalorian's season-long quest and reunite Grogu with his "people". Luke's presence isn't important because a de-aged Mark Hamill got to slice up some droids, it's important because he furthers the narrative of The Mandalorian

The relationship between this show and the larger universe of Star Wars is definitely a delicate dance, and one the series will have to continue to do, given the future narrative arcs set up here (with the Mandalorian now more connected to the fight for Mandalore than ever before), while, presumably, lacking the core emotional relationship that defined the series, at least for awhile. Who is the Mandalorian without the child, when operating as part of a larger world with consequences beyond his immediate concerns? Can it tell those stories while still embracing the "space western" elements that have defined its tone & plots on an episodic level? Can The Mandalorian survive without its most popular and meme-able character for a time (or even indefinitely)? These are questions future seasons will need to answer, and they are questions new to the series. But redefining itself while staying true to the core of what it is about is the nature of any ongoing series, especially one in a shared universe, and perhaps the best hope for its future is the fact that this series hasn't yet been diminished by taking those steps into that larger world.    

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6 comments:

  1. Not sure why this hasn't gotten a comment, but it was a very smart assessment of both the last episode and of the state of The Mandalorian after two seasons.

    I am a casual fan who saw Star Wars (I refuse to call it A New Hope) in the theater as a young kid, but never took the plunge into the extended universe (so no comics, novels, or animated shows for me). I shared your thrill of seeing Luke slicing his way through the Battle Droids—and thankfully I was protected from spoilers—but I also worried about what it means for the rest of the series. I think one of its strengths was setting it in the SW universe, but keeping it at a remove from the other, bigger events. It's a big universe! Not everyone has to know each other. And your speculation about what will happen to Grogu if he becomes a pupil of Luke awakens the specter of the prequelitis that has gummed up so much pop culture. We don't need to know every detail of every character's past. It's what made Solo a painful movie and what has ruined Wolverine as a character.

    At any rate, while I'm still chugging my way through your X-Men X-aminations from eight years ago, I'm happily all caught up on my Mandalorian viewing so I can comment in (relatively) real time.

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    1. It's what made Solo a painful movie and what has ruined Wolverine as a character.

      I could have done without the "origin of the surname 'Solo'" business, but for the most part, I really enjoyed SOLO and would love to see more from that team. But the big reveal at the end is a great example of something that fell on the wrong side of the line between "fun for general audiences & meaningful for hardcore fans" and "too inside baseball for normies", a line I feel like this series has thus far stayed on the right side of (the Darksaber has a lot of history behind it, but the general idea of "Moff Gideon has a cool sword" is all you really need to know at the end of Season 1 and that's apparent from the given text, for example).

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  2. I didn't like how the big raid against the Imperials was so easy. I thought they could have brought the third member of Bo Katan's gang, the male, and had him die to show this was a suicide mission. It would have made the Dark Troopers seem more menacing,

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    1. I went back and forth between feeling like the raid was too easy (at least the "storming the bridge part of it") and appreciating that the creative team trusted that it can be entertaining to see competent people do their jobs competently. But having that third guy on hand to serve as cannon fodder would have been a nice way to split the difference.

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  3. I finally have a moment to comment on this! As you said, Luke is what everybody was talking about after it was released, and yeah, his appearance was polarizing. For me, it was great; like you said, something I never thought I would see, at least outside of animation, at this point. I thought the CGI was fine; it wasn't perfect, but it looked better than Tarkin and Leia in ROGUE ONE (though I was mostly fine with both of them as well).

    More surprisingly, I was amazed that Mark Hamill was somehow able to make himself sound young again! As with most people as they age, his voice has aged a lot over the past few decades, becoming deeper and more gravelly. All those Joker laughs can't have helped to keep it pristine! Yet somehow, he sounded like he did in the 80s. I don't know if some digital tinkering was done there too or what, but I was impressed.

    Though as I think about it, being a professional voice actor of course helps with training one's vocal chords for things like this. I've been watching a ton of Scooby-Doo lately with my son, and Frank Welker as Fred sounded nearly exactly the same in the early 00s WHAT's NEW, SCOOBY-DOO? series (which is where we are now in our voyage), as he did when the show started in the late 60s. (Though it doesn't work for everyone; Casey Kasem sounded demonstrably older as Shaggy in that same series than he had originally.)

    Also, Cara had to know that was Luke, right? Being a member of the Rebel Alliance (and a traitor?), she must have known of him even if she never met him.

    Anyway, yeah -- it'll be interesting to see where the show goes next. I'll miss Grogu, but at the same time I don't want them to contrive a way to bring him back into Mando's custody. They each have their own paths to walk now.

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    1. I thought the CGI was fine; it wasn't perfect, but it looked better than Tarkin and Leia in ROGUE ONE

      I would probably rank them: 1. Tarkin 2. Luke 3. Leia. But with the exception of Tarkin (who I thought was legitimately great), I'd say pretty much all the MCU de-agings have looked better.

      I don't know if some digital tinkering was done there too or what, but I was impressed.

      I too found the voice work pretty impressive, whatever the mix of Hamill & digital effects.

      Also, Cara had to know that was Luke, right? Being a member of the Rebel Alliance (and a traitor?), she must have known of him even if she never met him.

      First of all, I see what you did there and I love it. Secondly, you'd think so, though the Disney Era and the Sequel Trilogy specifically have thrown a lot of doubts on the question of just how well known Luke's Jedi business was known, galaxy-wide and even within the Alliance. Like, everyone knows him as "Luke Skywalker, ace pilot who blew up the Death Star" but did the average boots-on-the-ground Rebel trooper (like Cara) know that Luke proceeded to wander off and become a Jedi? Did the troops he was with on Endor know, or were they like "I guess the Death Star guy is here cuz the princess likes him"? You'd think, just for propaganda purposes, the Alliance would play up the notion of "Luke Skywalker: Superhero" but maybe not?

      All that said, I can't exactly blame the show for not featuring Cara's reaction to Luke's presence, even if she did know/recognize him: at that point, the story is all about the impact of Luke on the Din/Grogu relationship. No need to muddy the emotional waters by cutting to Cara.

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