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The ‘Mandalorian’ Chapter 21 Recap: There’s More Than One Way to Win Mandalore Back

“The Pirate” may be Season 3’s busiest (and best?) chapter so far, stuffing in loads of plot, intrigue, and possible glimpses of the near future of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise

Disney+/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

How does that meme go again? Oh, right. POV: You’re Din Djarin. A while back, in The Book of Boba Fett, you showed up at your clan mother’s covert carrying the Darksaber, a blade that traditionally entitles its bearer to lead Mandalorians. Not only had you won the weapon in battle, but you’d defeated its infamous former owner, the perpetrator of a Mandalorian genocide, and put him behind bars. Instead of being hailed as a hero and welcomed back into the shrunken clan, you were immediately challenged to a duel and, after triumphing again, were sent packing as an apostate because you’d taken off your helmet twice to rescue and then bid goodbye to your son.

Then, you proved your penitence and faith by journeying at great personal peril to the damn mines of Mandalore, which were supposedly cursed and destroyed. (Also, I skipped the part where you showed up just in time to save your entire tribe from being eaten by an alligator.) Finally, you landed the group a great deal on a piece of prime Nevarro real estate. (Granted, that was more of a makeup for forcing the clan to flee from the planet before.)

And after all that, who gets special permission to pop her lid off and walk around without banishment or helmet hair, merely because she said she saw a Mythosaur? (Which, by the way, wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t gotten her off her ass and made her take you to the Living Waters despite her condescending dismissal of your tribe’s entire belief system.) And who earns the Armorer’s endorsement as leader of the effort to retake Mandalore? That’s right: Bo-Katan Kryze, who’s barely been around long enough to learn everybody’s names. (Come to think of it, aside from Paz Vizsla and Ragnar, we could use some name tags too.)

One could imagine Mando being a bit miffed. (And for now, we’ll have to imagine it—he still isn’t allowed to take his helmet off, so we can’t see his expressions.) All his life, he’s been told in no uncertain terms that there is only one way. Then Bo shows up, and five minutes later, it’s a two-way street. When did the Creed become optional? Are the Children about to do dress-down days? And then there’s the way this shocking decision was shared: in an abrupt announcement amid a celebration, à la Logan naming Rhea Waystar Royco’s next CEO. Would it have killed the Armorer to give Paz and Din, her most stalwart disciples, a courtesy helmets-up? You know: “Hey, I’m grateful for your years of service, but I’ve decided to go in a different direction vis-à-vis our dress code, core beliefs, and animating mission.” Instead, they have to hear about this pivot along with everyone else. No franchise cornerstone has been so slighted since Joe Maddon told the media that Mike Trout might move to an outfield corner before he talked to Trout about it.

Now, does Din want to look on Grogu with his own eyes again, go back and make up for missed make-out time with Omera, or, as he says during his address to the covert, “feel what it is to play in the sunlight” while working on his tan? Does Grogu want his dad to live the life of a Mand’alor? Should we want Din to get delusions of grandeur, or does he make a more compelling character as an imperfect family man? That’s a lot to ponder, and it covers only part of what went down in “The Pirate,” which delivered a long-expected confirmation that Moff Gideon has escaped (under suspicious circumstances), the latest live-action cameo by a beloved animated figure from the Filoniverse, and the explosive return of another legend who sadly leaves us too soon: Pirate King Gorian Shard. This week’s chapter was wide-ranging in setting, tone, and oratory, so let’s break down the details before any pirate kings crash our party.

“The Pirate,” written by Jon Favreau and directed by Peter Ramsey of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse fame, opens on Greef Karga in the office where he works his city-planning magic. Greef is on his High Magistrate grind, casually looking at a map and Robert Moses–ing large swaths of the city as his unspeaking engineers silently assent, resigning themselves to re-redesigning Nevarro. (While we’re discussing delusions of grandeur, “Make a note: Let’s move the trade district closer to the shipping terminals” is the sort of thing I wish my work gave me more chances to say.)

Sadly, large-scale infrastructure projects—aside from massive repairs—will have to wait. Enter Pirate King Gorian Shard, who must always be referred to by his full name and, preferably, his title too. (Sorry, it’s in his rider.) Pirate King Gorian Shard has designs on Nevarro for reasons that aren’t completely clear. Not that he has to have ulterior motives tied to Moff Gideon, as Captain Teva later speculates; attacking easy, prosperous pickings is kind of classic pirate behavior. (If Pirate King Gorian Shard was working in some way with Gideon, though—which Elia Kane’s convenient intercession to stop aid to Nevarro seems to support—then I’m miffed (moffed?) that we never got to see their disparate screen presences in the same frame.)

“Don’t mistake my hospitality for weakness,” Greef says to the mossy marauder, but bluster is his city’s sole defense; he’s been so busy studying diagrams, rearranging neighborhoods, and upgrading his robes that he hasn’t gotten around to hiring security, which seems like a serious oversight given Nevarro’s known local pirate presence. If the “Pirate Nation” that Pirate King Gorian Shard mentions is just what he calls his gang, then he has definite delusions of grandeur, but even a nation consisting of one cool-looking cruiser and several snubfighters is more than a match for Nevarro’s nonexistent forces. “Don’t hail me again unless it’s to surrender,” Pirate King Gorian Shard says as he signs off, apparently forgetting that he was the one who hailed Greef. He then makes good on his Han Solo–esque intention to shoot first by bombarding the city, which is extremely uncool. It’s one thing when Moff Gideon does it, but when you massacre civilians just for fun, PKGS, it makes me feel conflicted about your campy charm!

Not so long ago, Karga was scoffing at the idea of reporting warlords to the New Republic and opining that the Republic should leave the Outer Rim alone. Now, he’s singing a different tune, one that has him sending a “Help me Captain Teva, you’re my only hope”–type message to the Republic’s closest constable. The glimpse we get of Adelphi Base, the Republic’s backwater Outer Rim garrison, is notable largely for the glorious live-action debut of Garazeb “Zeb” Orrelios, one of Captain Teva’s Republic comrades. (Yes, Dave Filoni’s Republic pilot, Trapper Wolf, was there too, along with Deborah Chow and Rick Famuyiwa.)

Zeb, one of the few surviving Lasat—stop me if you’ve heard this sad story before, but the Empire devastated the Lasat homeworld, Lasan—is one of the main members of the Spectres cell at the center of Star Wars Rebels, along with much of the upcoming cast of Ahsoka (Ezra Bridger, Sabine Wren, Hera Syndulla, and Chopper). He’s a capable, fearsome fighter, a compassionate, principled friend, and an unflagging foe of the Empire whose quick temper and gruff exterior hide his … well, you can guess the rest. His appearance here is a setup for the spinoff, a potential tie-in to the end of this episode, and, of course, a treat for fans of Rebels—which you should watch, if you haven’t, both because it’s great and because, for better or worse, Rebels lore and characters are increasingly essential to the Mandoverse. Steve Blum, who voiced Zeb so memorably on Rebels, reprises the role here. Like nonhuman characters Ahsoka and Cad Bane before him—albeit with a bigger CGI assist, which might have made this appearance too costly unless there were more on the way in Ahsoka—Zeb makes the live-action leap gracefully, retaining the essential aspects of his animated look without coming off as cartoony. (Can Kallus be far behind?)

Through Teva’s exchange with Zeb, we learn that Republic HQ is so swamped that it hasn’t answered a dispatch in weeks. As Zeb might say, karabast. A communications disruption can mean only one thing: The Republic bureaucracy is wholly unprepared for the task of governing a galaxy. (Hence, perhaps, its reliance on pressing unctuous ex-Imperials into service.) That’s the cue for our weekly detour to Coruscant, as Teva decides that the powers that be can’t ignore him as easily if he shows up at their doorstep.

In this case, the power is powerless to help. Teva gets some face time with a harried-looking colonel named Tuttle, played by Tim Meadows in another of The Mandalorian’s many comedian crossovers. Tuttle knows nothing of Nevarro, and he has neither the time nor the energy to listen to Karga’s whole plea; he has heard, and had to ignore, a lot of SOSs like this. Karga, and Teva, might as well be calling customer service and getting an automated “We are experiencing higher-than-normal call volumes” message. Whatever the not-even-slightly-sinister, definitely-not-a-double-agent Kane might say, even the planetary priority of a member world wouldn’t be enough for Nevarro to climb this queue.

“Captain, this isn’t a rebellion anymore,” Tuttle tells Teva. “I work in requisitions.” Rebels impulsively fly off to help their friends; Tuttle tells you to take a ticket and get in line, if you want to wait. The Republic isn’t functionally the same as the Empire, as Migs Mayfeld argued last season and Kane and a Coruscanti citizen suggested two episodes ago. But between Tuttle’s impotence and Dr. Pershing’s impersonal appointments with the droid assigned to his case, it’s clear that the former insurgents are overmatched now that they’re in charge. Small wonder, given that they’re newish on the job and that liberating a galaxy is different from administrating one.

Unlike the Empire, the Republic didn’t simply swallow an existing infrastructure; it isn’t steered by an all-seeing Sith Lord, and it’s less likely to use fear to keep the local systems in line. They may be the good guys, but they aren’t good at this—and thanks to the sequels, we know they won’t get good at it either. As Teva says, finally delivering his “For What It’s Worth”–like lines from the trailer, “There’s something dangerous happening out there. All these events, it’s not a coincidence. And by the time it becomes big enough for you to act, it’ll be too late.”

Tuttle may be a bureaucratic desk jockey, but Teva remains a rebel at heart. And so, like Jyn Erso in that deleted line from Rogue One, he rebels, bypassing protocol to travel to the Mandalorians’ covert. The planet’s name is a mystery to us, but Teva knows how to find it because he has an informant too: his old Rebel colleague R5, whom he instantly outs as the mole. (I’m relieved that Din didn’t dump R5 on Mandalore, though in the interest of secrecy, perhaps he should have.) Because the covert is no longer quite covert enough, Din says, the Mandalorians will have to relocate. Teva has done them a favor; Nevarro may have a pirate problem, but at least it has fewer flying raptors! (Wait, never mind.)

After Teva tells Mando that Greef is in trouble, Din appeals to a caveful of murmuring Mandalorians for help. It’s a tough sell, given the clan’s history with big battles on Nevarro involving Greef, but a rousing, had-Din-going-for-a-minute-there pep talk by Paz seals the deal, and the Mandalorians board their two-starfighter fleet. Back on Nevarro, the pirates are up to some stereotypically piratical carousing: drinking grog, bullying servers, and taking potshots at Kowakian monkey-lizards (which they’ll live just long enough to regret). Mid-revelry, Pirate Nation is not prepared for a fight with trained warriors, so it quickly gives ground. Two fighters against a cruiser? “I like those odds,” Din says, a Season 1 callback. Din and Bo make quick work of the flagship and snubfighters, while the rest of the Mandalorians mop up the pirates on the surface.

Although Vane fled—maybe we’ll see him in Skeleton Crew—Pirate King Gorian Sharded the bed and went down with his ship, flaming out like Jek Porkins because he cared more about bombing Nevarro than saving himself. Tough look for my Pi. Based on the crowd that gathers around Greef, Nevarro’s population at the end of the episode appears to number roughly 30 souls. I hope that’s because most of the locals are sheltering in place, or because there’s only so much space on the Volume, not because the pirates purged Nevarro like Gideon did Mandalore. But hey, Greef has rebuilt before. And maybe he’ll have help: “You may no longer have a home planet,” he tells his former foes, “but you do now have a home.”

The Armorer, however, hasn’t given up on the “home planet” part. Which brings us back to where we began: Stop, Children, what’s that sound? / Everybody look at Bo’s helmet going down. In her tête-à-tête with Bo, the Armorer makes a major concession, saying, “Our people have strayed from the Way, and it is not enough for a few to walk it. We must walk it together. … All Mandalorians.” Bo is the bridge, the Armorer says, because, “You have walked both worlds. You are the one who can unite us.” She and Bo are like the two forges in the Armorer’s analogy: different Ways, same primary purpose. Even if Bo and the Armorer are just agreeing to disagree about what the Way should be, this is a compromise with the potential to end the Mandalorians’ wandering ways.

The Armorer’s arc was always going to go this way, which is all well and good: The Armorer refusing to budge from her hard-line beliefs, and Din doubling down on being an intolerant cultist, would’ve been a strange slant for this series. It’s satisfying to see the tribe’s leader put the good of her Children above an unquestioned and destructive adherence to dogma. However, the rapprochement between the Armorer and Bo was a bit abrupt.

Sure, both have bottomed out recently: Losing their clans and their missions made them more inclined to reach across the aisle. We’ve also seen Bo swayed by her Mythosaur sighting and the comradery she encountered in the covert. The Armorer, meanwhile, has watched Bo display her leadership qualities, and she may have been touched by Din’s words about living in the light on a planet where Mandalorians are welcome so that their children and culture can flourish in an alligator-free environment.

I’m not saying I wanted them to fight it out—though after watching them kick ass individually, I’d tune into that title bout—but considering “walking both worlds” was taboo until now, they could have acknowledged, addressed, and, perhaps, apologized for their past prejudices and disagreements in a more explicit and substantive, um, way. Maybe more conversations are coming: There’s still some taming of the Mythosaur to do, as well as some sorting out of Din’s and the Darksaber’s roles in Bo’s ambitions, which went almost oddly undiscussed this week.

The Mandalorians will have to hash out any lingering disputes, because their common enemy is about to be back. The episode ends with what seems like a stinger, though it comes before the credits: Captain Teva, following his instincts, determines that the rumors about Gideon never reaching his trial are true. His shuttle was intercepted, his captors were killed, and Gideon himself was freed or abducted. The only possible clue as to the attackers is a fragment of beskar alloy embedded in the cabin wall. “Wait, are you saying that Moff Gideon was taken by … Mandalorians?” Teva’s copilot cornily asks. Dun-dun-dunnn.

Well, no, he’s not necessarily saying that. There are several competing interpretations. In what I would consider ascending order of likelihood:

  • The Republic could have made it look like Gideon was taken by Mandalorians so that Gideon could be interrogated or tortured instead of tried.
  • Gideon was, in fact, taken by Mandalorians—some sect that wanted to see him punished more immediately instead of standing trial. But would a piece of a real Mandalorian’s armor have happened to come off and lodge itself at the scene of the crime? What a convenient clue!
  • Gideon could have escaped in some other way and framed his old enemies because he can’t get enough of messing with Mandalorians and wants them to be on the outs with the Republic too.
  • Morgan Elsbeth, the magistrate of Calodan who dueled Ahsoka in Season 2, was a servant of Grand Admiral Thrawn and wielded a beskar spear. Maybe Thrawn sent some other beskar users to spring Gideon?
  • Gideon was taken by a particular Mandalorian: Sabine, who could have captured him with Ahsoka in the hope that he would lead them to Ezra and Grand Admiral Thrawn. (Zeb’s presence might have been meant to put that possibility in our minds—though it may also have been a red herring.)
  • Gideon was freed by Imperials who’ve secretly been beskar mining on Mandalore—and, without a true Armorer’s expertise, they potentially fashioned it in an inexpert way that could have caused fragmentation. This would explain the false stories about Mandalore’s toxic air, as well as the presence of the fighters that attacked Bo and Din. It would also set up a climactic battle between the Mandalorians’ combined forces and the man they most want to destroy.

Five episodes into Season 3, I’m still waiting for an episode that stacks up in my mind to the best of Seasons 1 and 2, but busy (and unbearably light on Grogu) as it was, “The Pirate” was probably the closest so far—packed with plot, action, and theory bait; fun for fans of Rebels; and pleasantly goofy (Pirate. King. Gorian. Shard.). This season is still spinning lots of plates, laying groundwork for Ahsoka, the sequel trilogy, and possibly Skeleton Crew while slipping in some of the sleuthing and peacekeeping we would have seen more of in Rangers of the New Republic had Cara Dune not disappeared.

The downside is that there’s less screen time for the duo that got us engaged in this world and a more splintered story (though Teva’s side trip this week was both briefer and more pertinent than Dr. Pershing’s in “The Convert”). The upside is the chance that all of these threads will weave together in some spectacular fashion. As Teva says, “These events could all be connected.” In the Mandoverse, there’s no doubt that they are. And with three episodes left this season, we’re tangibly building up to the endgame: Alliances have formed, and the big bad is back in play. Gideonup.