After observing the Mandalorian in action for two episodes, I have to borrow a catchphrase from my boss, Bill Simmons: Are we sure he’s good?
Good at his job, that is; disintegrating a trio of Jawas is enough to tell us that he doesn’t have strong scruples. We know he’s not bad at his job: In Chapter 1, he wins a bar fight, helps erase a small army of mercenaries, and double-crosses IG-11. In Chapter 2, he survives a brawl with three marauding Trandoshans who are homing in on his bounty (although not without a wound). But the string of setbacks he’s suffered forces us to question his qualifications.
In Chapter 1, he has trouble subduing a blurrg. In Chapter 2, “The Child,” he has his ship stripped by Jawas, mounts a failed assault on a Sandcrawler, and nearly gets gored by a mudhorn after his rifle jams. We’ve seen what Stormtroopers can do to a Sandcrawler, but to the Mandalorian, the Jawas’ weaponless scavenging vehicle—which he calls a “crawling fortress”—is impregnable. You think Jango or Boba Fett would have left Slave I unattended without Jawa-proofing its hull, setting it turrets to autofire, or at least activating an alarm? Would they have tried to climb up the side of the Sandcrawler, or would they have rocketed straight to the top? And let me remind you how Jango handled his encounter with a fearsome, horned creature:
Time after time, the Mando acts impetuously and pays for it. If not for an Ugnaught and an infant, the Mandalorian would probably be dead or stranded on Arvala-7, the Tatooine-ish world where the entirety of Chapter 2 takes place. As it is, his armor and body are battered and torn, and we hear him grunt, sigh, and say “Ow.” Greef Carga told the Client that the Mandalorian is the best in the parsec, but Greef may have been burnishing the bounty hunter’s credentials. Plus, that parsec could contain only one inhabited planet; in our own galaxy, the closest star system to the sun is more than a parsec away. Maybe “He’s the best in the parsec” meant “He’s the available bounty hunter who happens to be nearby.”
That would fit with what we can conclude just from looking at the character. To a Mandalorian, weapons and armor are everything, and this Mando doesn’t stand out in either respect. He’s not packing a jetpack or a missile launcher. When we meet him, his helmet is his only piece of armor made of Beskar. His spanking new pauldron is plain-looking, not stamped with a signet, because—as he has to admit to the Mando armorer—his signet has yet to be revealed. In other words, he hasn’t accomplished enough to sport a distinctive symbol. This isn’t a respected warrior at the top of the tribal hierarchy. This is an upjumped outsider who’s still trying to make his way in the world. The Mandalorian’s life is like a video game: He accepts fetch quests and side quests, collects loot, earns “reputation points,” grows steadily stronger, and eventually unlocks the ability to customize his gear.
At this stage, the Mandalorian may not be great at his job, but his stumbles are a great sign for the series. It’s more fun to follow a flawed character who’s working his way up than an unstoppable killing machine who’s already reached his full potential. The downside for spectators is that it takes longer to reach the reveals. Instead of flying off-world immediately, the Mando spends the episode taking a series of detours: After finding the Jawas plundering the Razor Crest, he attacks the Sandcrawler, then seeks out Kuill, then returns to the Sandcrawler, then fights the mudhorn, then rebuilds his ship. That eats up all of Chapter 2, which runs only a little more than 28 minutes (not counting recap and credits), the first 10 of which are wordless. One wonders why the Mando couldn’t have parked his ship closer to his target—was the way really “impossible to pass” with a starship but possible to pass with a blurrg?—but perhaps he preferred a stealthy approach before the bounty droid went in blasters blazing.
Slow starts are nothing new for the franchise. Every Star Wars trilogy has opened with a raw talent earning passage off a desert planet: Luke and Anakin on Tatooine, and Rey on Jakku. In Chapter 2, The Mandalorian follows a similar model. This time, the hero with a thousand faces is an antihero whose face is hidden, but the hero’s journey is well on its way: The Mandalorian has already answered the call to adventure, encountered a helper, received supernatural aid to defeat a foe (à la Obi-Wan saving Luke from the Tuskens), and crossed the first threshold by escaping the planet.
The next stage, then, is likely to be a test, in which the Mando must resist temptation and start to transform. The obvious impetus for such a trial is what one imagines will be a contentious reunion with the Client, in which the Mando will decide whether to collect his fee or refuse to hand over his infant friend, which would certainly lead to a price being put on his own helmeted head.
Speaking of “the asset,” the Mando’s diminutive sidekick slept through the last third of the episode but still won the week. Let’s discuss what we learned about the baby in the first of our recurring categories.
Fan Service of the Week
Chapter 2’s climax is the moment when the little green guy goes all “size matters not” on the mudhorn. It’s a sequence that summons memories of Yoda raising Luke’s X-Wing from the swamp and deflecting projectiles during duels with Count Dooku and Darth Sidious, and it’s also the scene that confirms what we suspected: This kid can use the Force. As noted after Chapter 1, every member of Yoda’s species in Star Wars lore past and present has been Force-sensitive, so it’s no surprise that this one is as well. Nor would it have been easy to explain why powerful forces want to capture or kill an infant without special powers. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the tiny target, and The Mandalorian may make us wait for further details, but mercifully it didn’t delay the inevitable. Our rule of thumb—or no thumb—holds: If it looks like a Yoda, it can lift large objects like a Yoda. We can conclusively rule out the idea that The Mandalorian will steer clear of the Force, as Rogue One largely did.
In the infant’s case, the viewer knows more than the Mando does. The second we see the infant, we make the connection between its species and Force sensitivity. The Mandalorian doesn’t, which prevents him from recognizing what the infant is attempting when it stretches out his hand to heal his wound. Even after the infant freezes the mudhorn, allowing him to deal the death blow with a vibroblade, the Mando tells Kuill that he doesn’t understand what happened. (In his defense, he may have been a bit rattled at the time.)
The Mando’s ignorance of the Force and the infant’s species might seem strange, but this little, long-lived life form is mysterious and ultrarare. By this point, Yoda has been dead for several years and was in hiding for decades before that, and at least until Luke started taking down Death Stars, Jedi were widely believed to be extinct. The Rebel Alliance and New Republic may not have even played up Luke’s heritage and powers, given that he’s Darth Vader’s son and that years of Imperial propaganda had conditioned the galaxy to regard the Jedi as traitors (bad optics all around). Granted, Yoda was 900 years old when he went to forever sleep, so there was plenty of time for his name to get around. But there’s no indication that individual Jedi are public figures whose faces would be familiar on a galactic level, and in remote regions far from the former Jedi Temple, Force skeptics and Jedi doubters abound. Remember Han’s dismissal of “hokey religions and ancient weapons” in Episode IV, which is set nine years before The Mandalorian, and Rey’s question in The Force Awakens, which is set roughly 25 years after: “The Jedi were real?”
Although we now know what the infant can do, we still don’t know where it came from or why it’s among the galaxy’s most wanted. At least three hunting teams were on the infant’s trail: The Trandoshans in Chapter 2 may have been the same ones that were eavesdropping on the Mandalorian when he received the assignment from Carga in the premiere, but they had their own fob, so someone must have hired them to track the infant or the Mando. It’s possible that the Client could have hedged his bets by hiring multiple bounty hunters, but that doesn’t explain why he would have given some of them instructions to capture the infant alive and others instructions to terminate it. It’s more likely that the infant is embroiled in a power struggle between competing remnants of the Empire: those that are still trying to wipe out the Jedi, and those that see a Force-sensitive child as a weapon that the remnant could turn to its advantage. Perhaps Palpatine himself is pulling Moff Herzog’s strings in search of a new apprentice.
(Side note: Like last time, we have to ask how the heck these tracking fobs work. It seems clear that they aren’t only pointing toward a general last known location, because the Mando’s leads him directly to the room where the infant is kept, and the Trandoshans’ takes them to the infant even though it’s on the move. If there were a device sending out a signal, surely the Mando would disable it to throw the competition off his trail. The fobs can’t be Force-attuned midi-chlorian detectors, because they seem to be standard-issue, and the Mando followed a fob to the Mythrol, too. Does every Star Wars citizen have a LoJack system installed? If so, why weren’t we aware of this before, and why couldn’t the Empire find the Rebel base or Obi-Wan find Jango without placing trackers on the hulls of the Millennium Falcon and Slave I, respectively? If everyone’s whereabouts were known at all times, why would bounty hunting be hard?)
Earlier this week, some Maz Kanata–eyed viewers spotted that the Client’s accomplice, Doctor Pershing, was wearing an emblem also sported by Kaminoan clone soldiers.
Partial credit to @bhower1138 for noticing the symbol on his sleeve. pic.twitter.com/Im2wjSY94y— MarvelSW (@NumidianPrime) November 13, 2019
That seemed to support the theory that the infant is a clone of Yoda or Yaddle. The former Jedi council member who commissioned the clone army, Master Sifo-Dyas, could have stolen a tuft of hair or a skin sample from one of the Council members and taken it to the Kaminoans. That would have been a bit before The Phantom Menace, which was roughly 41 years before the events of The Mandalorian. The infant is about 50 years old, so the timing might work. That might also explain why the infant lacks a “chain code,” which seems to be some sort of Star Wars Social Security number. Then again, Pershing might merely want to experiment on a natural-born Force user. For what it’s worth, Yoda is a righty, whereas the infant sometimes (but not always) levitates lefty. But like identical twins, clones wouldn’t necessarily have the same handedness.
If The Mandalorian’s premiere was Justified with blasters, its second installment, directed by Dope’s Rick Famuyiwa, was blasters and a cross between Baby’s Day Out and Raising Arizona. Whatever its origins, the infant is cuter than BB-8 and a porg put together, except when it’s swallowing space-frogs whole. I’d already put my life on the line for this adorable baby, and maybe the Mandalorian will too. As a fellow foundling, he seemed to feel an affinity for the child at first sight. Now he owes it his life.
Expanded Universe Spotlight
Kuiil and the Mandalorian make an unlikely looking pair, but their backgrounds explain why they work well together. Ugnaughts are tribal, too, and the history of their Outer Rim homeworld of Gentes is even more dismaying than Mandalore’s. Ugnaughts were often sold into slavery, or at best transported offworld to work as indentured servants; the Ugnaughts on Cloud City were freed from slavery as a reward for their labor. Thus, when the Mando makes him an offer to join the Razor Crest’s crew, Kuill declines, explaining that he’s “worked a lifetime to be free of servitude.” The Mando, who’s known hardship himself, tells him he understands.
Ugnaughts are known as hard workers, although they haven’t always had the option of living more leisurely lives. Kuill is no exception: The Mando estimates that the repairs to the Razor Crest will take days, but with Kuill’s help, the repair process seems to take only one night. Kuill also declines a cut of the bounty hunter’s reward, even though he’s earned it as much as the Mando. His only goals are to end the constant stream of mercenaries seeking the infant and to return to moisture farming in peace.
The last time we saw Ugnaughts before The Mandalorian was in The Empire Strikes Back, when a group of them almost melted down C-3PO. They didn’t have any lines—but Kuill has spoken for them.
Previously Unseen in Star Wars
Star Wars canon indicates that Jawas are native to Tatooine, but if that’s the case, they’ve clearly branched out. The Expanded Universe has given us glimpses of Jawas on planets other than Tatooine, but beyond Neil Young concert films, we haven’t seen any onscreen evidence that they were a space-faring species. (Dex’s Diner on Coruscant served “Jawa Juice,” but it wasn’t made for, by, or of Jawas.) Did one visionary Jawa get the great idea to take their operation galaxywide? Did they bring the Sandcrawler with them, or was their trademark former mining vehicle already abandoned on Arvala? Is private equity involved?
Untended vehicles and discarded junk isn’t exclusive to Tatooine, so the Jawa way of life seems to work just as well elsewhere—although consuming raw eggs seems unsafe, but who’s to say how Jawa digestion works? We still don’t know what they look like. In that way, at least, they and the Mandolorians are alike. Jawas are jerks wherever they are, but thanks to Kuill, the Mando decided against trying to slaughter them like animals.