A review of The Mandalorian season finale, “Redemption,” coming up just as soon as we make the baby do the magic hands…
What a reassuring feeling it is, isn’t it, to be thrilled by the conclusion of a Star Wars story?
A week after the release of Rise of the Skywalker brought the main movie saga to a disappointingly frantic, muddled end(*), The Mandalorian wraps its first season in splendid form with “Redemption.” Admittedly, the eighth episode of a deliberately small Western pastiche that’s been around for two months has far fewer questions to answer and characters to service than the ninth chapter of a 42-year-old movie epic. But after feeling so bummed out by Skywalker on so many levels, I was as relieved as I was elated by how effectively Team Mandalorian (with another Jon Favreau script, and Taika Waititi directing as well as voicing IG-11) concluded this phase of Mando and Baby Yoda’s story.
(*) No movie spoilers if you haven’t seen it yet, except to note that last week’s Mandalorian scene where Baby Yoda healed Greef seems in retrospect to have had two purposes. The first, obviously, was to set up Greef changing sides. The second, though, was to prime Star Wars folks with the idea that the Force can heal grievous injuries. As movie/TV franchise crossovers go, it was an effectively subtle one.
“Redemption,” like last week’s “The Reckoning,” was a more complex piece of business than most of what the series was attempting this season. It had to bring closure for a lot of characters — some killed off, like IG-11 and the Client and Kuiil, or the majority of the Mandalorians; others, like Cara and Greef and the Armorer, written out for now. It had to more fully tell the Superman-esque origin of Mando — whose real name is revealed to be Din Djarin — and even find an excuse to show his face without breaking his oath. As a finale, it had to top all of the action from the previous installments, while also setting our heroes off in a new direction that makes a second season feel worthwhile.
And it succeeded on pretty much every level.
Start with the action. Obviously, this show can’t compete with the scale of the set pieces in any of the movies. But the Mandalorian production team makes a little seem like a lot. The compositions and edits render the action clear and fluid, so that it doesn’t matter if it’s only our heroes shooting it out with a couple dozen stormtroopers. It’s just exciting to see even this minimal amount of combat. And the climax, with Mando on his new jetpack trying to take down Moff Gideon’s TIE fighter, wound up turning the series’ modesty to its advantage. As the sequence began, with Gideon shooting at Mando and Cara and Greef, my Star Wars-obsessive son asked, “What’s the big deal? It’s just one TIE fighter?” By the end, he was jumping up and down on the couch, because Favreau and company had completely recontextualized one of the franchise’s most familiar props. When it’s TIE fighters against an X-Wing or the Millennium Falcon, they don’t seem like much. But even a single fighter can seem terrifying when it’s going up against people without their own ship.
The action sequences also served as a reminder that the storytellers know exactly when and how to let Baby Yoda use the Force. It exhausts the kid each time, so it’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card for every tight spot the good guys find themselves in. And the series rarely uses it in an episode’s climactic battle. So it’s impressive here to see Baby Yoda rise to his full (if still extremely small and adorable) height to foil the flamethrower stormtrooper sent to burn them out of the cantina. But that happens pretty early in the episode, and there are several narrow escapes to follow that require other methods of problem-solving, from IG-11 finally using its self-destruct system to Mando with the jetpack and explosive charges.
IG-11 was at the center of payoffs to two notable running gags: Mando’s face, and Mando’s hatred of droids. The glimpse of Pedro Pascal, his mustachioed mug(*) covered in blood and sweat, was a clever way for the show to sidestep its own rules about the helmet. As IG-11 points out, it is not a living thing, and therefore Mando is allowed to show his face in its presence without losing his status as a Mandalorian. That in turn allowed the show to finally say, “Yes, that is really Pedro Pascal under there — except for all the times when it’s his stunt double,” even as he gets to keep wearing the iconic helmet most of the time. But the reveal would have been more impressive if it had been in a context where Mando had to emote something beyond relief at not dying. Both the earlier moment where Mando offers to sacrifice himself while Cara takes care of Baby Yoda, and the later one where he pleads with IG-11 to not self-destruct, would have been more effective had Pascal’s face been on display. But the rules back the series into a corner where, at least for now, he can’t take the thing off except when he’s alone or with a droid. I’m still not sure the helmet is cool enough to be worth this much trouble, but it was good just to see him at all.
(*) Why would a man who never takes off his helmet in front of other people bother grooming his facial hair? Obviously, the answer is, “Because Pedro Pascal wears a mustache.” But it still looked odd in this context.
And the farewell to IG-11 was just lovely. The flashback gives us one theory for Mando’s droid hatred — his parents and home were wiped out by Imperial droids — but regardless of the reason, his antipathy toward machines in general and this one in particular was very well established across the season. So for Mando to plead, with such vulnerability and pain relative to his normally neutral speaking voice, for this droid to spare its own life, hit home.
IG-11 is one of many noble beings who sacrifice themselves on Baby Yoda’s behalf. (Admit it: You’d probably do the same for the little guy at this point, wouldn’t you?) Kuiil gets a proper burial, and a visit to the culvert reveals that most of the other Mandalorians died in the aftermath of their rescue of Mando in the third episode. The Armorer survives the one (extremely badass) encounter we see her have with the stormtroopers, and it’s possible others escaped earlier. But for now, Mando is essentially the last member of his creed. (The Mandalorian aren’t a race, as Cara points out. They were all foundlings once.) The Armorer becomes the first character on the show to overtly namecheck the Jedi, who once fought against her people, and the end result is an funhouse mirror reflection of Obi-Wan and Luke at the end of Revenge of the Sith: Mando is left standing after most of his once-revered peers have been wiped out, and now he is responsible for the safety and security of a child with a powerful tie to the Force. And the season’s concluding scene — Gideon cutting his way out of his ruined fighter with a black light saber, which, combined with his black armor, suggests he’s a Sith(*) — gives our hero a new nemesis to stay on the run from.
(*) UPDATE: Or maybe not. Others have pointed out to me that what Gideon is using is actually a Darksaber, a weapon used by the Mandalorian themselves, which was introduced in the Filoni-run Clone Wars series (which I’ve never seen).
The basic structure of Season Two will be about the same as this one, but at least now Mando will be running towards something (the kid’s home world, wherever that is) as much as he’s running away from Moff Gideon and whatever’s left of the Empire. It’s enough of a change to keep all the things about the show that worked, while still freshening things up so we don’t risk getting repetitive.
I cannot wait to see the next stage of this thing, and am so glad to close out 2019 with a good Star Wars-related feeling.
Some other thoughts:
* Between this show and Watchmen, it’s been a very good fall and early winter for TV series riffing on baby Kal-El’s escape from Krypton. (Though there’s also a Terminator “Come with me if you want to live” vibe to young Din Djarin being pulled out of his hiding spot by a Mandalorian.)
* The episode opens with what’s essentially a Star Wars comedy sketch, as the two scout Troopers — voiced by Jason Sudeikis and Adam Pally — bicker over which of them gets to see Baby Yoda, while struggling to hit a nearby, extremely stationary target. This show has done a nice job of taking most of the Star Wars universe very seriously while finding ways to have fun at the expense of aspects (awful stormtrooper marskmanship, Jar-Jar Binks) that everyone in fandom makes fun of already.
* The jetpack sequence was also smart in how it showed Mando being very much a rookie with — as the Armorer calls it — the Rising Phoenix. He knows enough to be able to get within grappling range of Gideon’s ship, and later to have a clumsy but safe landing, and that’s about it. I imagine one of the recurring threads of Season Two will be Mando slowly but surely mastering his new toy.
* Nineteen years pass between Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: A New Hope, about four between A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, and about five between Jedi and the events of this show. The prequels suggest that the Jedi were a very big deal in the days of the Republic, yet almost no one — including Cara Dune, who fought with the Rebellion (after the Death Star blew up her home planet of Alderaan, no less) — seems to have heard of them or the Force? That would be like no one today having any idea who Madonna was — if there were several dozen of her and they served as a global peacekeeping force to boot.
* No payoff yet to the figure who approached Fennec Shand’s body in the Tatooine episode. Something else to find out about next season.
* Finally, it may be unavoidable once you cast Giancarlo Esposito, but a few of the Moff Gideon scenes felt very much like Gus Fring’s Greatest Hits. First, there was Gideon stepping out into the field of blaster fire, like Gus once did against a sniper. And, of course, there’s Gideon realizing he’s about to be in the middle of an explosion. It’s just too bad he couldn’t straighten his TIE fighter afterwards.