Now that we’ve passed the point where all the footage from the trailer has been shown, we’re tossed into the unknown. But the fifth episode of The Mandalorian wastes no time introducing its titular Jedi guest star. I was a bit nervous going into this episode as it was directed and written by Dave Filoni, whose works in season one felt a bit stiff. But my fears were unfounded.
So, as teased in episode three, Din is on his way to meet Ahsoka Tano (as rumoured, played by Rosario Dawson) and the episode wastes no time in bringing her into the narrative. The plot opens up with the former Jedi padawan from the animated series stalking guards in the fog, picking them off one by one. She’s in search of information that the magistrate has and is desperately seeking it. Meanwhile, Din arrives on the planet with hopes of finding this Jedi and uniting her with The Child. He heads to the town and finds no warm welcome. In fact, he finds prisoners, guards, Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese from The Terminator) and a magistrate in possession of a Beskar spear. The spear is Din’s…if he kills the Jedi for her. WIth directions, Mando sets out to find the Jedi; not to hunt her down, but to pass The Child off to one of his own.
So let’s get the big thing out of the way. We can stop calling The Child “The Child” now, and “Baby Yoda”. Thanks to a conversation of thoughts with Ahsoka, we learn that the little guy is named…wait for it… Grogu. It’s surprising and a little alien to finally have a name for him and it’ll take some time for that to adjust, but it’s nice to know that he has a name, even if it’s a little weird. What’s even more interesting is to learn that he was at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant during the Clone Wars and was in training. We never hear of or see Grogu in this time period, which makes his mysterious origins that much intriguing. Was he kept in hiding or did we just never hear or see him throughout the years in The Clone Wars? Ahsoka did confirm that Grogu is the second being of this species she’s ever seen (which means she’s never met Yaddle before).
Rosario Dawson does a great job of bringing Ahsoka from the realm of animation to live-action. We can tell it’s Dawson in makeup, and that her human-sized eyes don’t quite line up with her larger animated design, but the mannerisms and speech pattern feel ripped straight from the source material, not to mention the makeup and costume. She embodies this fan favourite character quite well, and we have to wonder if this is a one-time appearance, or if this is actually a backdoor pilot for the padawan. Also, while we’re here, can I just give a shoutout to the puppeteers who bring Baby Yoda to life. Whenever Ahsoka or Din brought up the name “Grogu”, the little guy just chirped up. He’s so lifelike and his charm and lasting appeal is a testament to those who bring him to life.
While most of The Mandalorian has been oozing Western pastiche since the first episode, this is the first time the series has felt like a true samurai epic. Cinephiles will undoubtedly know that most of the popular spaghetti westerns are heavily inspired by samurai cinema, specifically the works of Akira Kurosawa. From the rundown town to the zen garden of the magistrate, which plays host to a duel between her and Ahsoka near the show’s climax. Assassin droids (HK models, no less), hunt from the rooftops, which invoke ancient Japanese architecture. The duel featured in this episode also reminded me of the spear duel in The Hidden Fortress, the movie George Lucas hails as a vital inspiration for Star Wars, while other shots were straight out of Yojimbo. Considering the galaxy far, far away would likely look very different without the works of Kurosawa, it’s great to see this visual style brought to life in live-action. Likewise, the scorched and barren wasteland surrounding the village reminded me of images of landscapes after a forest fire, with torched hills and trees making up the visual motif for around half of the episode.
And a lot of this visual style and pacing is brought to life wonderfully by Dave Filoni. While Filoni’s work was a bit lacking last year, he has greatly improved his craft in the second season, as the writing and direction feel a lot tighter. Perhaps it’s working with a character from The Clone Wars days that’s made him more confident or perhaps he’s been studying, but regardless, it’s a noticeable improvement.
During the duel at the end of the episode, we learn what the information Ahsoka was searching for. The answer to the question will mean something different to people, depending on how closely they’ve been following the story outside of the movies. You’ll either jump with joy or immediately do a google search. The magistrate’s boss is revealed to be none other than Grand Admiral Thrawn, who was last seen in the finale of Star Wars Rebels being flung into who knows where with young Ezra Bridger. Ahsoka has spent many years searching for Ezra, and by association, Thrawn. However, it seems like the Chiss admiral, voiced by Mads Mikkelsen’s brother Lars in Rebels, has carved out his own empire if he has subordinates. The question now is, will we see Thrawn pop up in this show or is this a setup for a new series down the line? Which leads me to my next thought.
A pro and a con of this season has been that every episode, save the second one, has been pulling from the expanded Star Wars universe and incorporating it into Mando’s tale. While it’s certainly fun to see Rosario Dawson bring Lady Tano to life, as well as Bo Katan, Cobb Vanth, Boba Fett and the potential introduction of Thrawn, the unique universe that was established in the first season is also starting to feel like a Star Wars deep cuts greatest hits. Thankfully, the guest spots have all worked in serving the narrative, but it does make the universe feel a little smaller. I don’t want Mando to feel like “who is going to guest star in this week’s episode” all the time.
Despite bargaining with Ahsoka in order to leave The Child with her, by the end, she refuses to take custody of him and instead, directs Din to the planet Tython in hopes of activating a beacon at the old Jedi Temple there, where Grogu can make his own decision about his path. She also mentioned other Jedi may answer the call, but there aren’t many of them left. As previously mentioned, I hope this isn’t a segue for Ezra or even a de-aged Luke Skywalker to show up. Let’s see what happens over the next three episodes. One thing is for certain though: the Imperial Remnant is coming.