Chapter 12 of The Mandalorian marks the midpoint of the second season in style. “The Siege” sustains the excitement of an audience that’s still squeeing from last week’s tour de Force, delivering familiar faces, high-speed chases, and—most intriguing of all—tantalizing looks at the mysteries surrounding Din Djarin’s quest. This week’s breakdown is free-falling straight into the fray, so fasten your seat belts, put your hands in the air, and try not to toss your cookies.
Mando is the master of the detour. Did you think he’d proceed directly to the planet where he can potentially fulfill his mission by bringing Baby Yoda to a Jedi? Not a snowball’s chance in Mustafar. It took Mando two episodes to make the strange, erotic journey from Tatooine to Trask, and it was bound to take at least that long for him to travel from Trask to Corvus, where (according to Bo-Katan) Ahsoka Tano awaits.
The Razor Crest’s constant state of disrepair is the best excuse for creator-showrunner-writer Jon Favreau to keep detaining Din, and that go-to narrative crutch comes in handy here. (The Star Wars sequel trilogy ruffled fans’ feathers by making flights too fast and hyperspace travel too cavalier; Favreau’s slow-food series sometimes frustrates fans for the opposite reasons.) Mando, displaying his typical parenting prowess, sends his subverbal sidekick into the ship’s Child-size access compartment to perform maintenance that he’s completely unqualified for, on the dubious grounds that it’s “worth a shot.” (Granted, it’s slightly less dangerous than trusting a baby to defuse a bomb.) But Baby Yoda is worse at rewiring the Razor Crest than he is at controlling his appetite, and his effort backfires, reminding me of the last time I tried to set up a surround sound system. No decision involving red wires and blue wires is ever easy.
Just as the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive trouble forced Han Solo to seek refuge in the city of a scoundrel with whom he went back a long way, the spider-pierced, scalded, and waterlogged Razor Crest’s problems make Mando divert to Nevarro, which is undergoing urban renewal under Greef Karga and Cara Dune. As was the case in Cloud City, the reunion is spoiled by an unsuspected and unwanted Imperial presence.
Wherever Mando goes, he inevitably encounters someone who’s happy to help him out, provided he does a favor for them (which often requires clearing out troublesome locals). It’s a formulaic—if often fun—structure for the episodic installments that tends to postpone payoffs in the series’ central story. This time, though, Favreau and director-costar Carl Weathers manage to turn an apparent detour into a revealing adventure that illuminates the larger picture.
When Din lands on Nevarro, he discovers that Cara is now marshal Dune—move over, Olyphant—and Greef is now magistrate Karga. (Mando goes away for a little while, and everybody gets delusions of grandeur.) The Mythrol Mando captured in Chapter 1 is in town, too, working off the debt to Karga he incurred through “creative accounting.” Cara and Greef agree to have their people repair the Razor Crest, but they also put a proposal to their pal: While you wait, why not join the two of us in attacking a nearby Imperial garrison on our own, without doing any real recon or making any kind of plan? Din is down.
Yes, there’s a still-occupied Imperial base on Nevarro, which, frankly, seems like something that could have come up before. Was the Mandalorian covert okay with this? Why was the Client keeping a pied-à-terre in the city when he could have hung out on the high ground and made Mando come to him? In fairness to Favreau, maybe the base was abandoned after Endor and subsequently staffed up again when Gideon started making moves on Nevarro. Or maybe the Client didn’t care for the nuclear reactor’s proximity to lava. Regardless, the base poses a stormtrooper problem, and it’s up to Mando and the reluctant Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) to help Cara and Greef remove the massive obstacle standing in the way of Karga’s gentrification plan for the planet, just as Cara kicked the Aqualish squatters out of the covert.
What follows is a fast-paced and well-choreographed cascade of escalating action, from firefights in the halls of the base to a speeder bike chase to the Outland TIE fighters’ pursuit of our heroes’ stolen Trexler Marauder to a dogfight between the TIEs and the almost miraculously restored Razor Crest. (Kuiil couldn’t have fixed it much faster.) Weathers hasn’t had an especially distinguished career behind the camera, but he handled the demanding assignment in a way that was worthy of the action hero he is. Deborah Chow (who directed the action-centric chapters 3 and 7) has presumably been busy with the Obi-Wan limited series, but the rest of the series’ stable has stepped up.
When the dust settles, the base has been destroyed, the troopers and pilots have been slaughtered, and only the Mythrol’s speeder and the Child’s macaron-encrusted stomach and cloak are any worse for wear. Before the base explodes, though, The Mandalorian scatters some tasty bread crumbs. Take some troopers, throw them in a mysterious research facility, add some grotesque clone bodies and a cryptic message sent by Dr. Pershing … baby, you’ve got a stew going.
Ever since sleuths noticed the similarity between the symbol on Pershing’s sleeve in Season 1 and the one worn by clones on Kamino, it’s seemed pretty apparent that the not-so-good doctor is working on a cloning project. And given what we know about Darth Sidious’s survival after Endor, it seems likely that Pershing’s work is connected to extending Sidious’s life. That would explain why Baby Yoda matters so much to Moff Gideon, who—as you’ll recall from last week—wants the Empire to live a long time.
The Rise of Skywalker didn’t do much to explain how Sidious survived his first death, but the canonical novelization went into greater detail. According to the book, Palpatine’s spirit was transferred into a clone body when his original frame fell into the second Death Star’s reactor shaft. But because Palpatine wasn’t prepared to be betrayed by his apprentice, “the transfer was imperfect, and the cloned body wasn’t enough.” The new host was an “imperfect vessel, unable to contain his immense power,” and by the time Kylo and Rey start sightseeing on the secret Sith stronghold of Exegol, Sidious’s essence is confined to a “broken, dying form” whose existence depends on a mechanical spine and life-preserving liquid injected by machines made during the Clone Wars.
That’s not for lack of trying to find the fountain of youth. The novelization notes that in the years between trilogies, Sidious’s servants experimented with gene splicing and tissue transplants to build bodies that they hoped could contain Sidious’s spirit in a more stable (and less smelly) way. These “unnatural abominations” were called “strandcasts,” a word that Din uses when speculating about Baby Yoda’s origins in Season 1. Kuiil declares the Child isn’t engineered. But Palpatine’s puppet, Supreme Leader Snoke, was a strandcast. And it’s probably not a coincidence that the misshapen body and indented skull of Snoke and his Rise of Skywalker clones strongly resemble those of the floating body at the base on Nevarro.
In the three-day-old hologram Mando and friends find—which clues in Din that Gideon is still alive—Pershing (who hasn’t been sighted since Chapter 3) says he saw promising results for a fortnight but that the body in question eventually rejected the limited amount of blood drawn from the Child during his brief captivity last season. “I highly doubt we’ll find a body with a higher M-count,” Pershing reports, a probable reference to the microscopic midi-chlorians that are linked with Force sensitivity. That midi-chlorian-rich blood must be the “necessary material” that the Client instructed Pershing to extract. The implication is clear: Pershing needs the blood of a being who’s strong in the Force to develop a suitable body for his subject (probably Palpy, whether Pershing knows it or not). Baby Yoda is the best possible source, and Pershing is seeking a fresh sample. Then again, we can’t be completely confident that Pershing’s project is Sidious-related; perhaps he’s simply trying to create combatants with Force powers.
The personnel stationed on Nevarro are desperate to safeguard Gideon’s secrets. Unlike Grand Moff Tarkin, Gideon doesn’t have a Death Star at his disposal, but as we witnessed last week, he still relies on fear to keep the local systems (and his subordinates) in line at a time when the remnants of the Empire are divided among squabbling, self-interested warlords. In “The Siege,” we see officers scramble to purge the data drives before Mando and Co. can read them, but we do get a glimpse of one readout.
Could that circular image—and the one with the lines stretching toward planet-like dots—be part of the plans for the First Order’s future superweapon, Starkiller Base?
I’m probably projecting, but there’s precedent for a sneak peek at a planet-killer: The Death Star made a cameo in Attack of the Clones, decades before the battle station became operational. It takes time to design and construct something so destructive.
Most of the New Republic may be oblivious to the threat, but Paul Sun-Hyung Lee’s Captain Carson Teva is on the case. Teva, the X-wing pilot who made his Mandalorian debut in Chapter 10, shows up again at the end of “The Siege” to question Karga about the destruction of the Imperial base, which evidently wasn’t a priority for the Republic. “There’s something going on out here,” Teva tells Cara, whom he’s trying to coax back into action. “They don’t believe it on the Core worlds, but it’s true. These aren’t isolated incidents. They need to be stopped before it’s too late.” Karga believes the Republic should leave the Outer Rim alone; as he points out, “If the Empire couldn’t settle it, what makes them think they can?” But that’s precisely the defeatist, laissez-faire attitude that allows the First Order to take root.
I’m into Detective Teva, though I question his recruiting technique. (“Did you lose anyone?” seems like the wrong question to ask when you’re talking to someone whose home planet exploded.) Semi-swayed by his appeal to her past service (and the shiny New Republic deputy swag he left as a sweetener), Cara responds, “I’m not a joiner,” which was ironic considering some of Gina Carano’s recent tweets. (This was an awkward week for the vocal voting truther, mask mocker, gender-pronoun dismisser, and anti-“cancel culture” crusader to make her return to the screen.)
You can join me over @parler_app— Gina Carano (@ginacarano) November 14, 2020
I go by GinaJoyCarano Joy is my middle name.
As The Mandalorian delves into the dark art of midi-chlorian cloning and explores the foundations of the First Order, the series is benefiting from the huge holes in the sequel trilogy. Although The Mandalorian can’t conflict with Episodes VII-IX, which limits its story in some ways—no matter what the Child and Din do, they can’t prevent the First Order’s ascendance or the Sidioussance—it can supply some of the context that the trilogy lacked. In his rush to rehash the original trilogy, J.J. Abrams did a piss-poor job of setting the scene, perhaps because the scene was so similar that he assumed it wouldn’t require much exposition. How did the First Order arise? Why did the New Republic overlook the threat it posed and force Leia and her allies to start a splinter Resistance? Who or what was Snoke? How did Sidious survive? Supplementary materials have offered some answers, but the movies left those questions largely unexplored. There’s still plenty of meat on those bones.
As someone who still suffers from post–Rise of Skywalker angst, I’m hoping The Mandalorian can partially redeem the choices the sequel movies made (as The Clone Wars did with the prequels), while continuing to tell a self-contained, character-focused story. In a sense, it already has: Without the derivative and largely pointless Palpatine return, we might never have had Baby Yoda, and Din might have had nothing to do. If The Mandalorian maintains its current quality, maybe The Rise of Skywalker will have been worth it. Or maybe I just need to tell myself that.
“The Siege” saves some of its most momentous teases for the final scene. For the first time this season, we see Gideon in the flesh—not in a TIE or on foot this time, but aboard a flagship that seems to be an Arquitens-class command cruiser of the sort first seen in Star Wars Rebels. We learn that one of Greef’s “best people” is actually an Imperial spy, and that the Mimbanese mechanic has placed a tracking beacon aboard the Razor Crest. (If it’s any consolation to Karga, this isn’t the first time the “best people” didn’t live up to their billing.) Gideon’s comms officer ominously tells the spy, “You will be well rewarded in the new era,” further evidence that Gideon’s outfit has already envisioned a First Order–esque second act for the Empire.
More ominous still, Gideon has the hardware to back up his steely resolve.
Are those sentry droids? Dark troopers? Cylons? Something even worse? We don’t know for sure. Dark troopers, which debuted in the 1995 shooter Dark Forces and were recently brought back into canon, could support the Force-sensitive soldiers idea, but many dark trooper models in the history of Star Wars have been more machine than man, as these bad boys appear to be. To me, they most resemble the Samurai-esque phase III dark troopers, the most lethal kind. If that’s the case, those may be badass exosuits worn by living troops who have the firepower of heavy battle droids.
What we can say with certainty is that Gideon’s jumpsuit-wearing attendants, who sport a Dharma Initiative–looking logo on their backs, are members of the Imperial Department of Military Research, a deep cut that dates back to 1989 in the non-canonical expanded universe. In current canon, the IDMR is responsible for manufacturing stormtrooper armor, TIE pilot helmets, and interrogation and spy droids. But in the old-school expanded universe—which Favreau and Dave Filoni have liberally borrowed from before—the IDMR had its hands in the Death Stars and other superweapons, as well as all manner of deadly droids (including phase III dark troopers). Basically, these dudes could be building almost anything, none of it nice.
Last week revolved around characters who were new to The Mandalorian, whereas this week focused on friends and foes from Season 1. Next week may be a blend of both. Filoni wrote and directed Chapter 13, which means we’re almost certain to see Ahsoka next week: Favreau likely left Filoni the honor of integrating the beloved character he developed. And thanks to that tracking beacon, the good guys are almost certain to cross paths with Gideon again soon. Giancarlo Esposito has promised an “iconic battle” with Mando and “major, epic, epic, lightsaber action” sometime this season. Give me the live-action lightsaber-on-Darksaber battle I crave.
Fan service of the week
Baby Yoda’s criminal rampage continued this week with his Force-aided theft of a classmate’s snacks, which look like they would go great with blue milk. Fortunately, no frog eggs were harmed in the making of this episode, but the Child’s insatiable appetite and rapid digestive process remains mysteries. How fast is the tiny green guy’s metabolism? Is Baby Yoda toilet trained? Does Din change diapers?
Chapter 12 gave us the usual selection of nods to existing Star Wars staples, including a First Order–style code cylinder, Constable Zuvio, a student with Rey’s triple-topknot Jakku do, the Mythrol’s mention of being unable to see out of his left eye (reminiscent of Han’s hibernation-sickness-induced bout of blindness in Jedi), and our latest look at lax Imperial construction standards (which Favreau made the Mythrol mention—“There’s no guard rail on this”—because he can’t resist overplaying a reference to any ancient Star Wars inside joke). The episode was also stuffed with homages to Episode IV: the view of Gideon’s cruiser from below, which echoed the famous first shot of the saga; the views of the TIE fighters’ targeting systems; the ways in which certain scenes inside or outside of the Imperial base mirrored shoot-outs in the hallways of the Death Star, Luke’s turret TIE fighter kills, and the trench run; the similarity between the coolant control panel in the base and the tractor beam toggle that Obi-Wan disables; even the tracking beacon, a callback to the beacon that enabled the Empire to track the Falcon from the Death Star to Yavin 4.
But the best reference here wasn’t to any other Star Wars property: It was a touching tribute to IG-11, the fallen former bounty hunter that sacrificed itself to save everyone’s ass in the Season 1 finale and also changed Mando’s mind about droids. Mando didn’t seem to notice the triumphant statue that Greef and Cara erected in the square where IG rode to their rescue, but I hope most Mandalorian viewers did.
Expanded universe spotlight
Chapter 11’s introduction of Bo-Katan and reference to Ahsoka were handled deftly: While fans of Rebels and The Clone Wars were ecstatic about those characters’ transitions to live action, those who haven’t seen those series may not have even known they were missing something. “The Siege” didn’t draw on nearly as much history from the Filoniverse, but next week will probably be a big one in determining whether The Mandalorian can incorporate hardcore-fan favorites from the animated realm and keep tying together every era and aspect of Star Wars without turning off casual fans (or at least leaving them in the dark about what makes certain characters so special).
If you listened closely or turned on the closed captioning during this week’s classroom snack-stealing scene, you were treated to an extended lesson about the geography of the galaxy far, far, away. Here’s a pop quiz to determine whether you were paying attention to the teacher or distracted by Baby Yoda. Answers at the end.
1. Name the regions of the galaxy in descending order of distance from the bright center to the universe.
2. Name at least two major hyperspace routes.
3. Name the hazard in the Kessel Sector that can be navigated via the Kessel Run.
4. Specify how many moons Kessel has.
5. Name the capital of the Old Republic, and its region.
6. Name the current capital of the New Republic, and its region.
Previously unseen in Star Wars
Last week, Bo-Katan and her comrades opened a closed door, reached down, and pulled Mando to safety in a scene that smacked of his childhood salvation from the Separatists by the Children of the Watch. (Mando’s submersion gave the scene some baptism symbolism to boot.) The first rescue led Din down a path that prevented him from showing his face in front of anyone else, but the second rescue may gradually undo that decision.
Early in “The Siege,” Din slightly lifts his helmet to slurp some soup alongside the Child, as his sidekick looks up with interest at his first flash of Din’s chin.
Mando may not be ready to make out with Omera yet, but it’s a start. Free Pedro Pascal!
Pop quiz answers
1. Outer Rim, Mid Rim, Expansion Region, Inner Rim, Colonies, Core, and Deep Core
2. Corellian Run, Hydian Way
3. The Akkadese Maelstrom
5. Coruscant (Core)
6. Chandrila (Core)