‘The Mandalorian’ Channels ‘Game of Thrones’ and Redeems Jar-Jar Binks
THIS POST CONTAINS spoilers for this week’s episode of The Mandalorian, “The Foundling.”
After a very long, off-format, and seemingly divisive episode last week focusing on the extremely minor character Dr. Pershing, The Mandalorian goes extremely back to basics with the Carl Weathers-directed “The Foundling.” The show clocks in at under a half hour, focuses on Mando, Grogu, and Bo-Katan in their new home with the Armorer and her covert, and is largely a collection of action set pieces.
As interesting as it is to see Favreau, Filoni, and company expand the definition of what The Mandalorian can be, this is ultimately a very simple show that does best when it remembers that. Fights. Flights. A clear-cut problem to solve each week. Baby Yoda being adorable. It’s a formula, but one that all involved know how to make so well.
There is a difference between simple and simplistic, though, and “The Foundling” is certainly not the latter. There’s a lot of interesting material about the culture of the Watch, Bo-Katan’s apparent spiritual awakening, father and son relationships, and more. And there’s also a lengthy flashback to how Grogu escaped the Clone Troopers on the day Order 66 was executed, with the help of a Jedi named Kelleran Beq(*). But it’s first and foremost The Mandalorian doing Mandalorian things.
(*) Whether Beq appears again, what a great and long-overdue showcase this was for actor Ahmed Best. The guy spent so long eating dirt from fans who understandably found Jar-Jar Binks annoying, but he was doing exactly what George Lucas wanted him to. Filoni generally did better by both Best and Jar-Jar on Clone Wars, but that was a much lower-profile corner of the Star Wars universe. Putting Best out front without any makeup or CGI and letting him wield two lightsabers and take on a few dozen Clone Troopers? Whether he plays this role again or not, it was a great moment for him.
The main plot involves Ragnar, the kid whose helmet ceremony was interrupted in the season’s opening scene, being abducted by a dragon that has been bedeviling the covert for a while. Though Paz Vizsla and the others refer to the great beast as a raptor, this is very much The Mandalorian stepping into Game of Thrones/House of the Dragon territory(*) and acquitting itself quite well. The dragon looked great, the flying sequences were thrilling, and it even gave Paz a little extra dimensionality, once it was revealed that Ragnar is his (presumably adopted) son. It also allows Bo-Katan to better integrate herself into the covert. A cynic might view her time with this group as her attempt to co-opt a pre-built army, and the episode opens with her watching with approval as all the men, women, and children around her train and show off various bits of iconic Mandalorian weaponry. (It’s everything a young Boba Fett obsessive might have dreamed about back in the Eighties.) And perhaps this is all trending towards a power struggle between her and the Armorer. For now, though, her interest in being a part of the Watch seems sincere. Seeing the Mythosaur has done something to her, forcing her to reconsider all the aspects of Mandalorian religion and mythology that she once dismissed as ceremonial nonsense. It seemed curious last week that she didn’t tell anyone about the Mythosaur, but in this episode’s concluding scene, we see that she is afraid to do so, for fear that anyone she tells will — like the Armorer here — dismiss it as a vision or dream, rather than the very real thing she knows she saw. This matters to her, enough that she is for the moment willing to abide by all the Watch’s rules, including keeping her helmet on whenever anyone else is around(**). Like “The Mines of Mandalore,” this feels more like her episode than anyone else’s.
(*) The mission even concludes with Bo bringing back the three dragon babies, in the hopes of perhaps training them to be foundlings as well. It’s a very Daenerys Targaryen kind of move.
(**) Katee Sackhoff’s face makes a cameo when the others let Bo sit at the campfire to enjoy dinner alone. That members of the Watch never eat together seems about right, given their generally taciturn nature. They’re not anti-social, but nor are they especially pro-social.
But does the title of “The Foundling” refer to Ragnar, or to Grogu? The little guy is too young (at least by the standards of his species) to talk, and thus too young to recite the Creed and don a helmet full-time. And it would be a crime against the audience to deprive us of getting to see the kid’s expressive eyes every week. As annoying as it is to have the title character largely played by a stuntman, it’s hard to imagine Favreau and Filoni would obscure the show’s single most popular feature. And perhaps because of that, it’s easy to see throughout “The Foundling” that Grogu isn’t hugely comfortable with the life of a Mandalorian. He abandoned Jedi training not because he wants to be a stoic warrior, but because he loves and reveres his father. Din’s religious beliefs require him to put his son into the family business, but the kid is much happier playing with sand crabs than sparring with Ragnar. And the sounds of the Armorer’s forge only remind him of the traumatic experience of Order 66. He will use the Force to protect himself and the people he cares about, but the Way does not seem like his way.
It’s impressive that, even within a very brisk running time with multiple big action set pieces, “The Foundling” is able to continue all these questions of who believes in what, and why. The rest of the season could go in all sorts of ways on this front. Bo-Katan could become the most devout Watch member of them all. Grogu could push back against his training, and/or Din could realize that it’s OK to take his helmet off, etc. And the adventure-based foundation of the show seems solid enough to support whatever happens.
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