This Star Wars: The Mandalorian review contains spoilers.
The Mandalorian Season 2 Episode 8
The core of The Mandalorian has always been the connection between Din Djarin and Grogu. After the first live-action Star Wars TV offering proved in its first season that a story about a faceless Mandalorian could have so much heart (something I hope remains true in the many upcoming shows), that connection became even more vital to the storytelling in the second outing. Instead of the twisted family relationships between the Skywalkers, Din and Grogu were a found family dream, propelling the Child into households everywhere. Unfortunately, at the end of season two, Din and the Child’s heartfelt connection doesn’t quite feel as central as it should.
This isn’t the smartest show in the streaming world, but it is still one of the most fun. Din finds the location of Moff Gideon and the captured baby with the help of Boba Fett, Fennec Shand, Bo-Katan Kryze, and her lieutenant Koska Reeves. Their two-pronged rescue mission goes surprisingly well, the squad of Mandalorians and Din himself taking out stormtroopers, dark troopers, and finally, Moff Gideon. But when Din delivers Gideon alive to his allies, it’s clear this is only less than half of the former ISB agent’s plan.
Gideon tries to turn Din and Bo-Katan against one another, using his knowledge of Mandalorian tradition to initiate a fight. To truly gain the throne, he says, Bo-Katan has to win the darksaber from Din in battle. It’s both a keen portrayal of the nature of power (someone always must be humbled, especially according to an Imperial who thinks of all of the good guys as “savages”) and a classic manipulative villain. Although Gideon’s plan is clear, it doesn’t work. Eucatastrophe appears in the form of Luke Skywalker, who in the best Jedi fashion, breaks all the rules to save the day.
Din’s hard choices — whether to give Grogu to the Jedi, whether to let Bo-Katan kill Moff Gideon, what happens now that she has to, by tradition, take the darksaber from him by force — take a back seat. Instead, the energy of the final minutes is sapped by a cool but uncanny Luke, Mark Hamill’s welcome presence digitally de-aged far enough that he sometimes looks like his sketchy Battlefront avatar. That game keeps ahold of its medal as the best inter-trilogy appearance of Luke, too. Where his dialogue in the game emphasizes his kindness, on the show he’s first a warrior and then a plot device, interchangeable with the general concept of a Jedi.
Not to say I don’t want to see more Luke, but that bit of fan service sprinkled this episode with sugar when I wanted more substance. Frankly, I didn’t find the CGI appearance too off-putting on its own, although it’s even worse when Luke turns away from the camera toward the end. Luke’s voice doesn’t sound the same anymore, and his eyes don’t have the same spark. I wonder if it would have been better or worse to have cast fan favorite Sebastian Stan or another look-alike. The ambiguity itself speaks volumes.
Luke’s presence is clearly a case of Jedi ex machina, but I was so delighted to see him that I can’t present that as an entirely bad thing (there’s even a bit of “we called it” pleasure in there). But as elsewhere in the episode, the build-up goes on a bit too long compared to the payoff. Luke’s dialogue is sparse and lacks emotion. As usual, the music does a lot of work here, diverting from the Star Wars method of leitmotif to give Luke a new, mystical and melancholic introduction.
Even the long-awaited fight between Moff Gideon and Din was more setup than payoff. Surely some of the time spent reminding us the beskar steel was strong, crafting a meticulous order of operations for how tough various types of metals and glass were, could have been traded for a more dramatic setting than a single hallway. The darksaber fight was cool, with the blade setting the wall on fire and Din using some impressive footwork, but the combat didn’t travel, didn’t tell its own story with acts and beats the way the best Star Wars duels do.
I’m also torn on the fight scenes with the infiltration team. More often than not I ended up wondering whether the cool stunts were going to get the good guys killed, their eagerness to get up close and punch seemingly unnecessary and unsafe when the stormtroopers have blasters. But at the same time, it was great fun to see a team succeed with such competence, the good guys well matched with the bad. It was especially exciting because it’s a team of almost all Mandalorians and all women, armored and weighty. Moments like Cara Dune’s gun jamming reminds us Star Wars is a janky universe, its heroes subject to inconveniences as well as epic stakes.
Like last episode, the relationship between Din and the Child drives the titular Mandalorian’s every action. His love for the baby is the whole reason he puts himself in so much danger, goes to such physically taxing lengths. But they don’t actually interact very much in the end. Even the baby plaintively reaching for Din while handcuffed doesn’t reach the tear-jerking emotions of the scene where Din laughs just seeing Grogu responding to his name. The emotional connection between the two has been well established already, but this is the finale: it shouldn’t coast on the good will from the rest of the season but should make the connection even stronger so it can twist the knife even further later.
The very beginning promised some neat characterization between the good guys. There’s a lot to say about the relationship between Bo-Katan and the other Mandalorians. The scene where she and Boba meet is delightfully prickly, everyone willing to fight at the drop of a hat. Bo-Katan dismisses Boba as a clone. Boba, perhaps comforted by Din’s quick acceptance, resents her self-proclaimed right to the contested throne. Koska being so willing to fight on her leader’s behalf gave some great heat to the scene. I love the idea that the two groups have such a deep fissure between them since it illustrates exactly what Bo-Katan is trying to unite, how hard that will be, and why not all Mandalorians might agree with her. It’s also just fun, a sort of Chekhov’s gun of that many people in Mandalorian armor being in the same dingy room together.
There was plenty to love in this episode. I gasped out loud when Moff Gideon nearly shot himself, winced when it looked like the dark trooper would smash Din’s helmet in, and felt that old, old love for Star Wars when it became clear the X-wing held no ordinary pilot. Seeing Luke in the flesh was a delight despite the flaws, reminding me of how much I love the central fantasy of Return of the Jedi: a super-powered nice person can save the day on both strength and kindness. Bo-Katan, Fennec, and Cara were wonderfully cool and central, too. Din showing Grogu his face was touching and long-awaited.
But Din letting the Jedi — any Jedi, but especially one he doesn’t know — walk away with the baby feels wrong. Maybe next season, we’ll see a repeat of the show’s beginning: Din having second thoughts and going to retrieve his son again. The tease at the end of the episode suggests a lot more Boba Fett in season three, a not unwelcome prospect due to Temuera Morrison’s good performance and one that might have made filming during the pandemic more feasible. But I’m left lukewarm about this episode. Even as it wowed with individual moments, the arc of “The Rescue” overall drifted too far from Din and Grogu. Surely some of the time devoted to build-up, shiny plot threads, and cameos could have been traded for a little more time with the iconic duo.