Over its first six chapters, The Mandalorian presented two contrasting series that were almost as distinct as IG-11 before and after the hunter droid’s lobotomy by blaster. The first three installments were heavily serialized and centered on Mando’s development and the mystery surrounding Baby Yoda and his ex-Imperial pursuers. The next three were itinerant romps around the galaxy, featuring new settings, sidekicks, and adversaries but relatively few character revelations or advancements in the overarching plot. Both versions of the show were engaging on their own—The Mandalorian would have worked as an unserialized string of exclusively self-contained, action-oriented, genre-blending adventures—but in sequence, they were somewhat inconsonant.
It was obvious as early as Chapter 4 that as long as the bounty on Baby Yoda remained active, the hunters would keep coming and the Child would never be safe. Thus, Chapter 5’s trip to Tatooine felt like an excuse to serve Memberberries in bunches, and Chapter 6’s prison heist, while far more inventive, still seemed like a prelude to the main event. Chapter 7, “The Reckoning,” is the one where The Mandalorian gets back to the business it established early on: as Greef Karga asks Mando, “You tried to run, but where did it get you?” In the season’s penultimate episode, which aired Wednesday to clear the floor for The Rise of Skywalker, Mando stops running and turns to face his assailants at the source, with explosive and satisfying results.
“The Reckoning” dispenses with the series’ customary special appearances by one-and-done comedians and character actors in favor of familiar faces; now that the season is approaching its end, The Mandalorian is refocusing on the characters we care about. To remove the target from his back, Mando has to retrace his steps and reconnect with comrades and former foes, including Karga, Cara Dune, Kuiil, and even IG-11, whom Kuill has reprogrammed to be a benign, box-carrying, tea-serving assistant. It’s a testament to The Mandalorian’s world-building that Kuill and Cara feel like old friends, even though we’ve spent only a chapter or two with each of them.
When we met Mando, he worked alone and he didn’t ask questions about who his clients were or why they wanted him to track down his quarries. Because of the characters he’s encountered, he’s now part of a team, and he fights for a new cause. Mando doesn’t trust the new IG-11, both because of his deeply ingrained bias against droids and because he doesn’t believe that core code can be altered. “That droid was designed to kill things,” he says. “I don’t care how much wiring he replaced, it goes against its nature.” But Mando doesn’t realize that his own nature has changed almost as fundamentally as IG-11’s since he accepted that fateful fob from the Client. “Droids are not good or bad,” Kuill says. “They are neutral reflections of those who imprint them.” People aren’t so different. Mando imprinted on the warrior tribe that took him in as an orphan. Now he’s imprinting on an infant and a moisture farmer who pines for a peaceful planet. And for better or worse, the infant (who must feel sadness and suffering acutely through the Force) is imprinting on him.
The episode starts with a message from Karga, who doesn’t seem to hold a grudge about Mando betraying the Guild, blasting him in the lucky beskar pocket protector, and leaving him for dead. Karga tells Mando that the Client has called in reinforcements and that the Guild would prefer to be free of the ramped-up Imperial presence. He suggests that Mando and the “asset” return to Nevarro, pretend to be captured, and kill the Client, ending the threat and clearing the way for Mando to rejoin the Guild.
It certainly sounds like a trap, but Mando’s danger sense is only lightly tingling. That’s enough to make him bring backups, so he puts a crew together (unlike last week, when he joined someone else’s squad). “It seems like a straightforward operation,” he tells Cara, whom he collects on Sorgan after she brawled with a Zabrak. Granted, Mando doesn’t have much choice: He has to kill the Client to clear the price from his wrinkled companion’s head. But he’s always been a bad planner; it’s one of his most consistent character traits. To him, every operation seems straightforward, and perils lurking out of sight are hardly worth worrying about. Case in point: Despite Baby Yoda’s fondness for tampering with the Razor Crest’s controls, Mando tells Cara it’s OK to leave the kid in the cockpit alone. Almost immediately, the mischievous infant hijacks the ship, sets off loud alarms, and subjects his passengers to temporary turbulence. It’s the most endearing act of theft since adult Yoda ransacked Luke’s luggage and stole his flashlight.
On Arvala-7, Kuill agrees to team up with Mando and Cara to keep Baby Yoda out of Imperial servitude. He brings the blurrgs and the salvaged IG-11. Having upgraded his armor and completed his party, Mando is ready to take on the boss—although the encounter with the Client turns out to be a cutscene that sets up the final boss battle.
On the flight from Arvala-7 to Nevarro, Baby Yoda uses the Force for the first time since the Mudhorn miss-boss battle in Chapter 2. This time, his display of power is horrifying: He Force chokes Cara, who’s holding her own in an arm-wrestling match against Mando. The Child misinterpreted the friendly competition and acted to save his friend, who stops him and tells him he’s been a bad Baby Yoda. The sight of the internet’s beloved best friend using the Force power most associated with the Sith is as shocking as a cuddly, domesticated dog baring its teeth when its owner tries to take its toy away. But the disturbing scene illustrates the stakes of the struggle to save Baby Yoda. There’s a reason why bad people want to get their hands on him: Despite his adorable exterior, he’s a potentially powerful ally or enemy, and he’s too immature and untrained to know wrong from right or dark from light. Even if Mando can keep him from becoming an Imperial pawn, he’s hardly equipped to help him harness his powers.
Kuill recognizes Baby Yoda’s abilities and seems poised to deliver his version of Obi-Wan’s Force explainer speech: He’s heard “rumors” about the Force, but Mando and Cara are clueless, our latest reminder that the Force isn’t famous in the galaxy at large. Before Kuill can tell them about the birds, the bees, the rocks, and the trees, Cara interjects with a comment about Kuill’s Imperial past, which sidetracks the discussion.
Kuill explains that he was sold into Imperial indentured servitude and earned his freedom through “the labor of three of your human lifetimes.” (Presumably, his servitude predated the Empire; the Ugnaughts have a history of oppression.) The species’ long lifespan explains why Kuill is so capable: Over the course of his extended servitude, he’s acquired an extensive array of skills, from breaking blurrgs to reassembling spaceships to crafting cradles to weighing in on the infant’s origins. On Arvala-7, when Mando cryptically theorizes that the baby might be a “Strand-Cast,” Kuill answers, “I don’t think it was engineered. I’ve worked in the gene farms. This one looks evolved. Too ugly.” (Excuse me?) Baby Yoda could still be a clone, but his species, at least, isn’t human-made.
On Nevarro, the group arrives at the rendezvous with Karga (whose vest is still sporting a blaster hole) and his bounty-hunter backup. Karga tries to convince Cara to stay with the ship with a flimsy line about Jawas, but Mando still isn’t suspicious, so the magnificent seven and their baby bait travel partway to town and settle in for the night. No sooner than Karga can say, “Trust me, nothing can go wrong,” everything goes wrong: The camp is attacked by a pack of cliff-ghasts that escaped from the set of His Dark Materials. The winged creatures take out two blurrgs and one hunter and poison Karga, who in the absence of a medpac seems mortally wounded. This time, though, Baby Yoda uses his powers for good. He heals Karga’s wound and neutralizes the poison with a touch of his tiny hand, as he’d tried to do with Mando’s Trandoshan-inflicted injury in Chapter 2. The life-saving assist is a good way to make his friends forget the Force choke.
It also converts Karga, whose gratitude prompts him to abandon his not-at-all-transparent scheme to turn the Child over to the Imperials and shoot the hunters he’d hired as henchmen. Mando, Cara, and Karga cook up a new strategy straight out of the franchise’s popular “fake prisoner” playbook: The three of them will enter town with Cara posing as Mando’s captor, accompanied by the empty, closed cradle, while Kuill brings the baby back to the Razor Crest. (Mando tells him to “engage the ground security protocols” once he’s inside, having learned his lessons from the Jawa scavengers in Chapter 2.) It doesn’t seem to occur to any of them that a tracking fob would instantly spoil the ruse by revealing that the infant isn’t in his pram, but as we’ve established, flawed plans are par for the course.
When they enter the town, Mando and Cara (who conceals the arm tattoo that identifies her as a former Rebel drop trooper, but not the even more obvious Rebel insignia tattooed on her face) are overwhelmed by the heightened Imperial presence; the settlement is crawling with white-clad troops, including one Scout Trooper—clearly not a beskar connoisseur—who offers Karga 20 credits for Mando’s helmet. As Karga foretold, though, the Client’s only company is his four-trooper fire team, which has taken over the tavern. After a cordial conversation in which the Client revisits his favorite subject, the Empire’s heyday and Pax Palpatina, he asks to see the Child. Just as the ensuing standoff comes to a head, a call comes in from Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), pulling the Client’s attention away. Mando prepares to blast the Client, but Gideon beats him to it. (Maybe he has a tracking fob.) Moments after the Client lamented seeing nothing but death and chaos, death and chaos come for him, courtesy of the aptly named death troopers assembled outside. The Client has failed Gideon for the last time.
Unlike the Client and his guard detail, Mando, Cara, and Karga survive the initial blaster barrage, but they’re trapped. A troop carrier pulls up outside and disgorges dozens of Stormtroopers, and Gideon makes a grand entrance in a TIE fighter. Worse, the scouts overhear Mando telling Kuill to get the baby back to the Razor Crest, and they set off in pursuit on their speeders. Just before Kuill reaches the ship’s lowered ramp, the troopers blast him, scoop up Baby Yoda (who has terrible timing in deploying his powers), and speed back to base. The episode ends on a shot of the smoking carcass of Kuill, his long lifetime presumably at an end.
Like the acclaimed and eventful third chapter, in which Mando braved the Imperial safe house, “The Reckoning” was directed by Deborah Chow. This time, Chow shot only small-scale skirmishes, leaving fireworks for Taika Waititi next week. In the finale, Mando and Co. will face Butch Cassidy–esque odds, but there’s more than one way out of this jam. Maybe Mando was right about old droids not learning new tricks, and IG-11—who helped Mando shoot his way out of a tight spot in Chapter 1—will charge in, blasters blazing, to avenge Kuill. Maybe the Mandalorians who swarmed the streets in Chapter 3 relocated to a new base on the same planet and will rocket to the rescue again, striking a blow on behalf of their home planet by using the troopers as target practice. (Mando HQ would have had some thoughts about the Client’s contention that the Great Purge was the Mandalorians’ fault for resisting the Empire’s expansion.) Or maybe Baby Yoda will demonstrate that size matters not by unleashing his latent Force skills on an entire Imperial platoon.
As we await the finale—which, judging by the early Rise of Skywalker reviews, has a chance to be by far the most fulfilling finale for the franchise this month—we’ll wonder not only how Mando and his surviving sidekicks will escape, but also whether Jon Favreau will find time to dole out answers between blaster bolts. Will we learn where Baby Yoda came from? Will Moff Fring divulge why the Child means so much to him? Will Mando be forced to remove his helmet? Or will the series keep us in complete suspense until Season 2?
Fan Service of the Week
When Karga meets Baby Yoda, he remarks, “So, this little bogwing is what all the fuss was about.” Bogwings, a flying, nonsentient species, live on Dagobah, among other planets, and they’re easily spotted in the original trilogy’s Dagobah scenes, as well as a deleted Dagobah scene from Revenge of the Sith. Grown-up Yoda, who knew bogwings well, probably wouldn’t have appreciated Karga’s comparison.
Expanded Universe Deep Dive
While the Emperor reigned, Moffs were administrators who oversaw sectors. The position was political, and Moffs weren’t warlords by rule; the late Moff Jerjerrod, who went down with the Death Star II, was an architect and a starship designer. In the aftermath of the Battle of Endor, any remaining Moffs must be more martial in nature: Without the Emperor’s protection, they’d have to be skilled in battle to maintain control of their territory. We don’t know Gideon’s background, but he flies his own TIE and commands his troops personally, and his battle dress doesn’t display the position’s traditional rank insignia (five blue squares over three red and two yellow). Gideon’s battle insignia incorporates eight squares, all red and blue, split into one row on each shoulder.
Gideon may be serving someone even higher up, but he probably presides over his own autonomous portion of the Imperial Remnant. He could be acting in concert with other Imperials who outlived their Emperor (or so they thought), but he may just as well be at war with them, fighting for control of the factions that will eventually coalesce and form the First Order. Perhaps he thinks the Child will give him an edge in that power grab, or that the Force user could become the next Emperor. (Although if the Remnant is hoping to turn Baby Yoda into an authority figure, it’s going to be waiting a while.) Either way, he’s bound to be a formidable military opponent. And he won’t be inclined to evacuate in his moment of triumph.
Previously Unseen in Star Wars
Moff Gideon flies a new type of TIE fighter, the Outland TIE.
Introduced in October via the Star Wars: Card Trader app, the Outland TIE is based on a Doug Chiang design that appeared in early concept art for The Force Awakens (see the seventh image here). Unlike the original trilogy’s TIE fighters, this model, much like X-wings, features foldable wings and landing gear, which allow pilots to set down anywhere and easily disembark. It still looks and sounds like the classic Imperial starfighter, but these modifications mean something: The Empire learns from its enemies. If you can’t beat the Rebels, you’d better borrow their design ideas. By the time the First Order rolls around, TIEs have taken on even more characteristics of Rebel starfighters, including deflector shields and hyperdrives. Those life-preserving upgrades may also reflect the fact that the Empire’s smaller descendants don’t have as much manpower to spare.
Evolving ship designs like the Outland TIE help visually distinguish between trilogies (or TV shows) and situate us in the Star Wars timeline, but they also offer insights into the ongoing arms race between the two sides.