The original “Star Wars” begins with a Rebel Alliance spacecraft being chased by a gigantic Imperial Star Destroyer, which eventually fills the screen, covering everything else in the frame, in one of the most renowned and terrifying scenes in the whole series. This week’s episode of “The Mandalorian” depicts a reenactment of the incident, with Bo-Katan’s rebuilt army of Mandalorian privateers descending on Nevarro on an ancient Imperial Light Cruiser, causing the villagers to panic.
High Magistrate Greef Karga, on the other hand, reassures his worried droids that this big vessel is a pleasant sight. It might be a symbol of a brighter tomorrow, signaling the reunification of the scattered Mandalorian clans.
I say “perhaps” since one of the episodes’ themes is that “getting the band back together” isn’t necessarily a positive thing. While the Mandalorians congregate on Nevarro, the liberated Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) meets digitally with “the Shadow Council,” a group of former Imperial warlords condemned by the New Republic as a disorganized “remnant” of the previous Empire.
With Grand Admiral Thrawn still, in hiding (even from “Star Wars” fans who had been waiting for him to appear in this episode), Gideon assumes command of the cabal, stating that it is time for them to stop focusing only on their respective areas and start sharing resources. He specifically requests that they give him some of their armament so that he can remove the increasing Mandalorian menace.
“The Spies” is an unusual title for this chapter given the lack of cloak-and-dagger activity. Instead, the majority of this almost hour-long episode is about the various Mandalorian sects striving to set past grievances aside. The presence of the more autonomous sorts, such as Axe Woves, makes the more devoted types, such as Paz Vizsla, seethe. Those two got into an argument over the correct rules of a battle board game, allowing their residual rage over what happened to their world to boil over into a violent clash. (To be fair to Axe, Paz should have realized that only a wing guard could flank-jump.)
It is up to Bo-Katan to strive to bring her people together. But she has a heartbreaking secret that will make things difficult. When a huge company of Mandalorians arrives in Mandalore to examine the situation of their homeworld and prepare for its future, they come upon a group of ragged Bo-Katan loyalists who resisted the Empire during “the Night of a Thousand Tears” because they thought their commander would never surrender to the Empire.
However, the Princess did, in fact, surrender. She gave Gideon the Darksaber in order to rescue her people. Then he massacred the vast majority of them, leaving the divided remnant to battle among themselves.
However, something unexpected occurs once Bo-Katan acknowledges what she did. Din takes up on something she says — about how “Mandalore has always been too powerful for any enemy to defeat” and how “it is always our own division that destroys us” — and admits that the planet was probably dying long before the Empire arrived.
“We were taught that everyone except us had abandoned the Way,” he continues, stressing that his side was uninterested in the Darksaber or its significance. “Your song is not yet written,” he says to the Princess. “I will continue to serve you until it is.”
With many shots that scan the gathering army and their numerous vehicles and weaponry, director Rick Famuyiwa and credited screenwriters Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni give this episode a feeling of grandeur and gravitas. The action sequences are also fantastic, including one that isn’t necessary to the story but is nonetheless quite exciting, in which the enormous land ship flown by the survivors on Mandalore is wrecked by a subterranean monster.
Everything builds gradually and deftly to the huge climatic shock when the Mandalorians arrive at the planet’s Great Forge only to discover a hidden Imperial stronghold loaded with fighter ships that dangle from the ceiling like bats. They also come upon Gideon, who is surrounded by next-level stormtroopers and guarded by three Praetorian guards. He’s wearing his new state-of-the-art beskar alloy armor, and he’s proud to say, “The most impressive improvement is that it has me in it.” In the subsequent onslaught, Bo-Katan is able to take virtually all of her people to safety; however, Vizsla is slain and Din is kidnapped, setting up next week’s conclusion.
What Gideon says to the Mandalorians before ordering their annihilation is the most distressing aspect of his ambush. He connects many of the strands from previous seasons together, stating that he is constructing a new Dark Trooper army with the assistance of old and new technology that would combine the ancient talents and lethal contemporary strength of the galaxy’s strongest factions, such as the Jedi, cloners, and Mandalorians.
In other words, he is putting the broken parts of the old system back together. And this particular reunion isn’t going so well.
This is how it is done.
- This week’s end credits feature a quieter orchestral version of the theme music, which sounds melancholy rather than victorious. That’s a wonderful touch.
- The first shot, which has Elia Kane sliding discreetly into Coruscant’s red light district — drenched in “Blade Runner”-style lights and mist — brings some interesting noir vibes from Famuyiwa and the crew.
- Grogu has a brand-new toy! The killer droid IG-11 has been converted by Anzellan mechanics into the armed and armored vehicle IG-12, complete with a small seat for a Baby Yoda-sized pilot and controls that let the machine’s voice say “yes” or “no.” Grogu provides some comic relief in this episode by grasping items and lurching dangerously around while continuously pressing the “yes” button. (Or, as the Anzellans say, “Bad Baby!”)
- Overall, this was a decent episode, but it’s still a little troubling how much Favreau is leaning into the “Star Wars” B-movie origins this season, with even clunkier writing and hammier acting than in previous seasons. Esposito is an outstanding actor who typically has a strong understanding of behavioral subtleties, but as Gideon, he goes distractingly wide at times. And certain phrases, like when Din tells Grogu, “This isn’t working for me,” after his IG-12 excursions give him issues, seem startlingly present.
- Isn’t it strange that Karga still refers to Din as “Mando” even though Nevarro is now overrun with Mandalorians?