I take back everything I said about the frog eggs.
Last week, Industrial Light & Magic’s Hal Hickel, who worked on The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Rogue One and now serves as animation supervisor for The Mandalorian, tweeted that fans of the series were “in for a rollercoaster these last three episodes.” This week, Hickel followed up with a GIF of a rollercoaster car approaching the precipice of a sickening plunge. On Friday morning, The Mandalorian propelled its audience over the edge. Chapter 14 of the Disney+ series—the third-to-last installment of the second season—began in a heartwarming way and ended in heartbreak. Maybe a meme can best convey the shock of what went down this week.
When word leaked that the follow-up to last Friday’s landmark Grogu/Ahsoka/Thrawn reveal would be brief—at 34 minutes (counting recap and credits), the second-shortest episode in the series so far—I figured, as did others, that we were in for a bit of a breather. When it comes to interplanetary travel, Mando tends not to take direct routes. Just as he went from Tatooine to Trask by way of Maldo Kreis and from Trask to Corvus via Nevarro, it seemed almost certain that something would waylay him on the way to Tython, the ancient Jedi planet where Ahsoka instructed him to take Grogu so that the kid could Force phone home. Surely a hyperdrive malfunction, interstellar ambush, or unsuspected stowaway would force Din to take a detour, setting up a sidequest that might seem like a letdown in the wake of the crossovers and lore revelations of recent episodes.
Not so. As the second season speeds toward its conclusion, Jon Favreau isn’t kriffing around. Not only did Mando get to Tython in Chapter 14, but he also left the planet a short time later—not safely ensconced in the Razor Crest’s cockpit with Grogu, but by hitching a ride on an iconic craft in the company of two old adversaries turned ass-kicking allies. Mando and Grogu found the Jedi conduit they were seeking, but Mando also met a new enemy, lost his friend, and left a large group of stormtroopers face down in the dust. By the end of the most violent, adrenaline-inducing, and heartrending episode of the series, part of me almost wished for a frog to ferry or a showdown with some scary monster that could be stabbed, blasted, or bombed into oblivion. The Empire is harder to kill than a Krayt dragon. And just as fate sometimes steps in to rescue the wretched, it also sometimes steps in to imprison the innocent.
The first scene of Chapter 14 finds Din digesting what he learned from Ahsoka and trying to convince himself to let Grogu go. Delighted by his companion’s powers, he puts the little green man through his paces in another father-son game of catch. Mando’s emotional armor has weakened as his outer shell has hardened, and his typically taciturn nature melts into chuckles and exclamations of pride as Grogu responds to his name and plays telekinetic catch with his favorite metal ball. But there comes a point when every parent sees a side of their kid that they can’t comprehend and realizes that they have to let their baby fly free and flourish. “I can’t train you,” Mando tells his sidekick, echoing Ahsoka. “You’re too powerful.”
Mando is basically bringing Grogu to college and preparing to return to an empty nest. Love and loss commingle until the title card interrupts the bittersweet exchange with some terrifying text:
Dank farrik. That’s when Hickel’s rollercoaster car starts heading downhill.
Tython seems deserted, and Din sets down near a hilltop temple. It looks as ancient as Ahch-To, and the seeing stone Ahsoka advertised sits in the center of a Stonehenge-esque ring. “Does this look Jedi to you?” Mando asks with uncertainty. When Grogu first touches the stone, nothing happens: He doesn’t time travel like Claire Fraser or cause the temple to broadcast a Bat-Signal to any Jedi who can answer its call. He simply sits and reaches toward butterflies like the confused guy from the anime meme.
Almost immediately, Mando hears a ship and looks skyward to see the distinctive silhouette of Slave I, the well-armed attack craft of Jango and Boba Fett. Either Fett has tapped into the tracking beacon that Gideon’s spy placed on the Razor Crest, or he’s used his skills as a bounty hunter to pick up Clan Mudhorn’s trail. To make matters more complicated, Grogu flipped the Force switch for the seeing stone while Mando was distracted, and he’s moved on from menacing blue butterflies (which are sometimes associated with Ben Solo) to meditating inside an impenetrable fountain of Force energy.
Unable to get to Grogu, Mando makes his way down the slope and faces off with Fett, who’s come to reclaim his armor. Fett isn’t alone: He has help from sharpshooter Fennec Shand, the ex-Imperial assassin (played by Ming-Na Wen) who was gunned down by overeager aspiring bounty hunter Toro Calican in Chapter 5. Shand was too cool a character to introduce and kill off in one week, and the coda to her episode, in which a faceless figure who looked like Fett approached her abandoned body, suggested that there might be life left in her. Sure enough, she—like Fett—survived being left for dead in the desert, and she owes him a life debt for saving her skin. Most of her skin, anyway: She has a hole in her midriff that displays her metal intestines, which must make for a great conversation-starter.
“The Tragedy” doesn’t disclose how Fett escaped the sarlacc, how his armor ended up with Cobb Vanth, or why he didn’t take it back long before Mando discovered it. (It’s been about five years since Fett slid into the sarlacc, and the scars on his head, which could have come from being in the beast’s belly, are smooth and faded.) But at least we know now that Temuera Morrison wasn’t making those cryptic cameos in occasional closing scenes just to set up a spinoff. Fett has an important part to play in Mando’s quest.
After defusing a standoff, Boba offers to help protect Grogu—whose bounty has escalated significantly—in exchange for his armor’s return. Mando isn’t biting, but before the trio can turn on each other again (and before Din can don his jetpack), an Imperial troop transport/clown car lands and starts disgorging stormtroopers. Moff Gideon’s flagship has followed the beacon to Tython, forcing Mando, Fett, and Fennec into an uneasy alliance.
Boba, ferociously swinging his Tusken gaffi stick and wielding a long rifle, more than makes up for his poor past performance as Jabba’s bodyguard, dispensing with stormtroopers faster than Disney digitally removed Jeans Guy from Chapter 12. Fennec remains a crack shot, and her cyborg abs have augmented her core strength enough to allow her to dislodge a big boulder and send it rolling, Raiders-style, toward a cluster of troops. This is the first time we’ve truly seen Fett strut his stuff, and he’s every bit as badass as millions of ’80s kids envisioned before they heard him scream or saw him on the set of the Special Edition when he wasn’t wearing his mask. Midway through the fight, Fett finds his armor on the Razor Crest and squeezes into it again, which only enhances his death-dealing abilities. (Rocket-dart-launching knee pads!)
By my count, Mando, Fennec, and Boba combine to take out a minimum of 72 stormtroopers, some of whom are armed with mortars or E-Web blasters (and their explosive energy sources, which still seem like a serious design flaw). The extended skirmish is a showcase for the action choreography of director Robert Rodriguez, the Mexico Trilogy auteur, maker of Machete, Planet Terror, and Alita: Battle Angel, and frequent Tarantino collaborator. Mando and Fett are loners like El Mariachi, and equally unstoppable. The survival-mode-style fight grinds on for more than six minutes, prolonged by the arrival of a second troop transport, but I’m not complaining. Rodriguez packs the sequence with creative choreography—the series’ structure of rotating assignments seems to elicit some of its directors’ best work—and some fans have waited for 40 years to see Boba Fett let loose.
The surviving troopers, more intimidated by the trio than they are by Moff Gideon, try to flee from the carnage, but Boba brings both transports down with one well-timed missile—a double disintegration.
As the battle takes shape, Mando tries and fails three times to get Grogu to snap out of his trance. But all things serve the Beam, and Din is repeatedly (and painfully) repulsed, symbolizing the potential for the path of the Jedi to jeopardize their bond. On the plus side, Grogu is safe as long as he’s still inside the Force field. As soon as his long-distance call disconnects, he slumps on his side like a burrito topped with too much guacamole. Exhausted from the effort of broadcasting his presence, he’s now vulnerable to attackers.
Gideon wisely decides to stop screwing around. First he fires a turbolaser blast from his flagship to the tracking beacon’s coordinates, turning the Razor Crest—the closest thing Mando has to a home—into a smoking crater that not even Kuiil, Karga’s mechanics, and all of the Mon Calamari on Trask combined could rebuild. (Presumably a tracking fob for the infant or the bright beam of light from the temple assured Gideon that there was no baby on board.) Only Grogu’s ball, the Magistrate’s beskar spear, and a few ship fragments survive.
With Mando still reeling from the destruction of his ship, Gideon dismisses the JV team and sends in the dark troopers teased at the end of Chapter 12. A quartet of the dangerous robots rockets down to the surface, scoops up the Child, and flies back to the ship, leaving me traumatized by the expression on Grogu’s face in the episode-ending concept art.
Boba gives chase in Slave 1, but Mando forbids him to fire, lest he hurt the child. The flagship escapes into hyperspace, carrying the kid to captivity. “The Empire. They’re back,” Boba says, which is not news to us.
Before the credits roll, Favreau and Rodriguez give us a preview of the next moves for Mando and Gideon. Although Mando’s clan is split in two, he’s added two stone-cold killers to his squad, and Boba (and, by extension, Fennec) is committed to rescuing the Child as compensation for Fett’s armor. Name a more iconic trio: To paraphrase Dak Ralter, right now I feel like that trio could take on the whole Empire themselves.
They won’t have to, though. The three fly to Nevarro, where we learn that the New Republic badge Captain Teva gave Cara Dune makes her a marshal. (First Cobb, then Greef, now Cara: Who isn’t a marshal these days?) But that doesn’t mean she’s unwilling to bend New Republic regulations when Grogu’s safety is at stake. In addition to joining Din’s incipient strike team, Cara searches the New Republic’s prison records to locate Migs Mayfeld (Bill Burr), the ex-Imperial sharpshooter who led the assault on the New Republic correctional transport in Chapter 6. Mando thinks Mayfeld can find the flagship, but he’ll have to bust the mercenary—and, perhaps, his Season 1 associates—out of the Karthon Chop Fields and hope he doesn’t hold a grudge against Mando for helping put him behind bars in the first place. (Next week’s chapter is directed and written by Rick Famuyiwa, who also directed and cowrote the prison break episode last season.)
While Mando and friends are laying the groundwork for a move against Gideon, the Moff is doing his best to bring the audience down from the high of a fully armed and operational Boba Fett. When he visits Grogu’s holding cell, he finds the Child choking his guards and otherwise treating the two stormtroopers as his puppets. It’s not a very Light Side–looking display, but as we learned last season when he choked Cara, Grogu either never internalized or doesn’t remember which Force powers were considered no-nos at the Jedi Temple. He’s raw, relatively untutored, and—as Ahsoka said—full of fear, so unless he gravitates toward the right teacher, he’s in danger of proceeding down the dark path. In fact, a musical cue in that scene seems to evoke Kylo Ren’s theme, possibly pointing to a link between Gideon’s forces and the future First Order.
Of course, the Child may not make it to a teacher at all. Gideon, who brandishes the Darksaber at Grogu and asks him if he’s ever seen a blade like it, intends to contact Dr. Pershing when the flagship leaves hyperspace to tell him that the donor is ready. (In current canon, it’s not uncommon for ships to send and receive messages while still in hyperspace, but maybe Gideon lacks the necessary equipment or doesn’t get good signal strength on the Outer Rim, although Tython is supposed to be a Deep Core world.) It seems as if Gideon has kept the kid prisoner before, and Gideon notes that Grogu has grown more powerful—but not powerful enough to stay awake after his adventure on Tython and his subsequent stormtrooper head-bashing. Gideon doesn’t show any sign of struggle when Grogu tries to grab the Darksaber through the Force. That’s probably because the Child is exhausted, but it’s possible that Gideon has a high Midi-chlorian count himself. Maybe he’s hoping to increase his count with an infusion from the Child.
After the events at the Imperial base on Nevarro in Chapter 12, though, it seems like a semi-safe bet that the Child is integral to the project that will one day produce Snoke and the decomposing clone of Darth Sidious. We learned last week that someone or something saved Grogu from the massacre of younglings at the Temple after Order 66. One likely candidate is Sidious himself, who may have instructed Darth Vader not to kill the Child because he knew he might need him for cloning purposes down the road. Because he’d be a baby for decades, Grogu wouldn’t be a threat, and Sheev could keep him around as a mini-Midi-chlorian factory until he’d perfected his clone. Plus, Sidious probably would have relished the idea of imprisoning an infant lookalike of Yoda, the Jedi adversary he’d hoodwinked. He might have even hoped to lure Yoda out of hiding by hoarding a member of his species.
(Until we learn otherwise, I’m not giving up on the idea that Grogu is the secret lovechild of Yoda and Yaddle. Think about it: They’re the only adult members of the species we’ve seen. Yaddle mysteriously stepped away from her Jedi duties and left the Council after The Phantom Menace but before Attack of the Clones; perhaps rumors of a scandalous liaison among two attachment-averse members of the Council were starting to spread. And if Grogu were a secret lovechild, the Order would have wanted to keep his existence quiet, which would explain why Ahsoka wasn’t aware of him. I’m mostly kidding, but it all adds up!)
If Sidious did orchestrate Grogu’s survival, he’ll be pleased to have him back in Imperial hands. But there’s no sadder sight in Star Wars than the last shot of “The Tragedy”: Grogu alone in his cell, his hands bound by some special, really tiny cuffs. I feel so sorry for the little fella (who was literally flying high early in the episode) that I’d feed him a tank full of frog eggs myself if it meant he’d be free. It’s clear that Mando is trying to put a team together for a raid on Gideon’s flagship or Pershing’s cloning HQ, and between Boba, Fennec, and Cara, he’s off to a fine start. Add Greef and Mayfeld to the mix, and the odds start to seem surmountable—especially if Ahsoka and/or Bo-Katan get in on the assault. (For what it’s worth, Mercedes Varnado, who played Bo-Katan’s companion Koska Reeves in Chapter 11, implied that she wouldn’t be back this season.)
Of course, Mando may have help from a heretofore unseen source. On the seeing stone, Grogu seemingly chose to open himself up to the Force, and whatever message he sent was certainly received by someone. Could it be Rebels’ Ezra Bridger? Luke or Leia? A crossover character from Jedi Fallen Order? A canonical character who’s not conclusively known to be dead, like Quinlan Vos, Mace Windu, or, um, Yaddle? Another salvaged fan favorite from pre-Disney canon, like Kyle Katarn or Mara Jade? Or might Ahsoka simply change her mind and decide that attachment needn’t be a bad thing?
“I’ll be going toe-to-toe with Mando,” Giancarlo Esposito teased in September. “It’s an iconic battle.” In February, Esposito also seemed to suggest that he might be involved in a lightsaber battle. But in November, Esposito said, “I have a feeling you’ll see more of me next season.” Maybe that means that the rescue attempt won’t come to fruition until Season 3, leaving Grogu’s safety agonizingly uncertain during the long break between seasons. Or maybe Mando will free Grogu but Gideon will live on to torment the two.
Maybe The Mandalorian will slow down and return to procedural territory next season. But as far as Season 2 is concerned, the days of ice-spider diversions are over. The Mandalorian is Reaganing right now, finding ways to tickle the pleasure centers of fans of the original trilogy, the Filoniverse, and Mando and Grogu as a standalone duo. And it isn’t a spice dream or fan fiction—it’s all true. How do you top Timothy Olyphant? Introduce Katee Sackhoff as Bo-Katan and tease Ahsoka. How do you top Bo-Katan? Reveal Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka, divulge Grogu’s name, and mention Grand Admiral Thrawn. And how do you top—or at least rival—that trifecta? Bring back Boba Fett and the Slave I, put Grogu in Imperial custody for the first time this season, and have him come face to face with Gideon while he’s holding the Darksaber. How do you follow that? Man, I don’t know. But I can’t wait to watch Favreau and Dave Filoni try.
Fan service of the week
“I’m a simple man making his way through the galaxy, like my father before me,” Boba (who’s suffered his fair share of father-son tragedy) tells Mando, blending two lines from George Lucas’s trilogies: Jango’s “I’m just a simple man trying to make my way in the universe,” and Luke’s “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” That’s the latest example of The Mandalorian strengthening the connective tissue between trilogies and trying to be a bridge between the entirety of the Skywalker saga and the animated series that the latest live-action tie-ins are inspiring more fans to watch.
Favreau and Filoni, in just 30 minutes, made me believe Boba Fett is the badass we’ve been told he was in the past 40 years, than he ever was in 4 full movies. #TheMandalorian pic.twitter.com/NJS4HLXkiA— ᴇᴅɢᴀʀ (@edckbar875) December 4, 2020
Aside from the Fett of it all, Chapter 14 confirmed that the black battle droids Gideon was admiring in Chapter 12 were indeed dark troopers.
And true to form, those troopers launch from Gideon’s flagship just like they launched from Vader’s in their first appearance in the first-person shooter Dark Forces in 1995:
Speaking of Palpatine’s former apprentice, Gideon not only borrowed Vader’s breastplate fashion, but he’s perfected the art of standing like him on the bridge.
Expanded universe deep dive
You never know where we might find accurate info about the future of The Mandalorian. Even author Timothy Zahn, who created Thrawn and continues to write books about him, says he didn’t know the character was about to be name-checked on the show and isn’t apprised of his on-screen future. Yet, a rando on Reddit knew Baby Yoda’s name was Grogu in August. Sometimes intel will surface hours or days after an episode goes live, often via unexpected sources. Last week, for instance, a Reddit sleuth astutely noted that the Magistrate’s HK droids sported the insignia of Thrawn’s 7th Fleet, a Mandalorian hairstylist let slip that the Magistrate is one of the last survivors of Darth Maul’s homeworld of Dathomir, and a character designer confirmed that Ahsoka’s head tails were shorter than they are in some of her animated appearances because it made movement and stunts easier.
But the most intriguing tidbit came from Filoni, who cleared up confusion about where in the Star Wars timeline The Mandalorian sits in relation to the last scene of Rebels, in which Ahsoka and Sabine Wren team up to search for Ezra and Thrawn. Sabine, who narrates the scene, doesn’t specify when it’s set, but most fans assumed it took place shortly after Return of the Jedi, which would have meant that Ahsoka’s search has been going on for years by the time of her Mandalorian debut. But why was it taking so long? And why wasn’t she wearing the majestic white robes she adopts at the end of Rebels?
It’s probably not because Corvus soot turned her white robes gray, or because white robes aren’t conducive to stealth. In an interview published on Monday, Filoni admitted that the closing scene of Rebels might just take place later than believed. “When you look at the epilogue of Rebels you don’t really know how much time has passed,” he told Vanity Fair. “So, it’s possible that the story I’m telling in The Mandalorian actually takes place prior to that. Possible. I’m saying it’s possible.”
If that’s the case, it suggests that Ahsoka hasn’t yet set out with Sabine when she meets Mando, and that Ezra probably isn’t about to show up in The Mandalorian. It also indicates that the last shot of Rebels could become a launching point for an upcoming Ahsoka-centric spinoff.
Previously unseen in Star Wars
We’ve seen what Boba looked like as a kid, and we’ve seen what Jango and his age-accelerated clones look like as adults. But until this week, we hadn’t gotten a look at the adult Fett’s face in live action. Behold Boba.
Facially, he’s not looking great for 41—which is how old he should be, according to canon—and he’s put on a few pounds since his stint at Jabba’s palace. But when swallowed by a sarlacc you are, look as good you will not.
Most people: “WOW Boba Fett’s fight scene was so cool! What a badass!!”— Mericam (@Mericam49) December 4, 2020
Me, thinking about how Jango was a foundling and fought in the Mandalorian Wars, meaning he was the last of his clan and asking for an unaltered clone was his way of making sure his clan lived on: pic.twitter.com/T8j301fDjG
Beyond cosmetic matters, Chapter 14 also settled the debate about whether Jango and Boba are true Mandalorians or merely cosplayers like Vanth. “The Tragedy” reveals that Jango was a foundling and fought in the “Mandalorian Civil Wars” (perhaps the same ones mentioned in The Clone Wars), earning his armor legitimately. Justice for Jango (and possibly Jaster Mereel, Jango’s pre-Disney adoptive father) is served. And even hardliner Din concedes that Jango and his son are legitimate Mandalorians, which also seems to suggest that Mando has accepted Bo-Katan’s assertion that true Mandalorians don’t have to have permanent helmet hair.