It’s a hell of a thing to be upstaged by your own knockoff. When The Mandalorian premiered, the whole premise was, “What if Boba Fett, but maybe less of a bastard?” Nothing that happened to Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) couldn’t have happened to Boba Fett if they chose to use him, but Lucasfilm decided to introduce someone technically new, and after two seasons, the Mandalorian (with plenty of help from Global Muppet Sensation Grogu) is a beloved character. And now, going ahead with the idea of Boba Fett who is also a little less of a bastard can’t catch the same heat as his protégé. But it’s not the switch in protagonists that makes “The Return Of The Mandalorian” the most entertaining episode of the series so far. It’s that a whole bunch of fun stuff happened. It had actual new locations! Lots of dynamic fight scenes! Amy Sedaris! It showed a playfulness and versatility that so far, The Book Of Boba Fett has shown in the margins, but never fully folded into the series.
“The Return Of The Mandalorian,” as evident by the name, is less an episode of The Book Of Boba Fett than a prelude episode for The Mandalorian season three. When those few brief Ennio Morricone-esque notes of the Mando theme appeared in last week’s episode, speculation immediately began about a guest appearance. But I don’t think anyone expected the episode to start with Djarin from the first scene and stay with him for the duration. The only connective tissue to the show on the title card takes place within the last few minutes of an hour-long episode, and the titular character himself doesn’t appear once.
Most of it is spent cleaning up the aftermath of the Mandalorian season-two finale, when Grogu was taken away by PlayStation 2 Luke Skywalker, and a now directionless Djarin has to decide how he wants to continue forward. It’s a dense, lore-heavy episode, expounding on a lot of the granular details of the Mandalorians as established in the Clone Wars cartoon. While it stands to reason the Venn overlap between Mandalorian and Boba Fett viewers is a near-perfect circle, if you don’t watch the former, you may wonder why an episode is dedicating so much time to discussing the governing philosophy of a planet you’ve never seen, and if you don’t watch the latter, there are a lot of details you’ll be missing when season three of The Mandalorian does arrive. And just as season two of The Mandalorian was crammed with spin-off characters (including Boba Fett), it shows how Star Wars is molding itself into the Marvel narrative approach, where a story also has to double as a vehicle for another emerging or concurrent title.
As for the episode itself, “Return Of The Mandalorian” starts off strong with a nasty throwdown in a meat-packing plant. The tension between Djarin and Bo-Katan over ownership of the darksaber that percolated in the finale of The Mandalorian remains unresolved, as the artifact still remains in Djarin’s ownership. It’s a powerful, but unwieldy weapon, and in the process of chopping up his opponents like so much, well, meat, Djarin slices up his own thigh. He pursued this bounty for information that leads him underneath the ring world where the last few Mandalorians gathering together again to rebuild their ranks.
I love how much Star Wars loves bridges. Overpasses, catwalks, platforms, you name it. If it’s a thin expanse of material that forces combatants onto a two-dimensional plane idea for dueling, Star Wars is there for it and I am too. I rambled a bit last week about how Star Wars is at heart more of fantasy than sci-fi, but that aspect has been minimalized. One of the few reliable manifestations of this idea is in the spaces characters inhabit. There are lots of jokes about the lack of guardrails in the Star Wars universe, but that’s because they’re emotional places, not practical ones. Treacherous, fairy tale spires and paths suspended over lava, or nothingness, or hungry dragons. Star Wars environments are so cool precisely because they’re treacherous and impractical.
And here, perched at the end of one of these unstable platforms is the Armorer, last seen fending off a bunch of remnant Stormtroopers below Nevarro. I am an absolute sucker for this character and confess to being ecstatic that she’s still alive. That kind of no-nonsense warrior-monk who ably uses her unwieldy smithing tools in combat is the kind of thing I could watch all day. That said, I do think it’s a shame that she wanted to melt down the beskar spear Djarin received from Ahsoka. It’s a graceful clean design, and offers a nice bit of visual contrast in melee fights from lightsabers and darksabers and all tint and shade of sabers in-between. But if it has to be destroyed, it may as well be to make something for lil’ Grogu.
We don’t actually see the final product before it’s wrapped up in a little bindle tied up with Yoda ears, but if the stray links that fell across the floor give any clue, it’s going to be Frodo Baggins-style chain shirt. Djarin desperately wants to visit Grogu again, and he counters the Armorer’s argument that the Jedi exist without ties that the foundling was a Mandalorian first, and solidarity is their creed. In more immediate concerns, big ol’ beefy guy Paz Vizsla still hasn’t worked out his grudge against Djarin, and decides, despite there being a modest three Mandalorians left, that it’s a good time for a duel to the death. Djarin wins, but due to some esoteric religious rule that seemingly only exists because the coolest thing about Mandalorians is their helmets, he can’t lead the clans until he purifies himself on Mandalore. Which I’m sure will happen, despite Djarin showing initially that he was completely uninterested in the obligations of owning the darksaber.
How satisfying is it to see a Star Wars character taking public transportation? So much of the movies revolve around characters and their personal bad-ass ships that you rarely see the hoi polloi who have to schlep across the stars in a cosmic Greyhound. And the problem with being a mysterious, badass loner is if your vehicle should happen to get blown apart, you’ve got no one to call to hitch a ride. So Djarin heads back to Tatooine to visit his pal and ours, Peli Motto. Amy Sedaris is a national treasure and Star Wars is lucky to have her. While the obligations of the show curb her most grotesque impulses, she’s still able to infuse her character with sufficient amounts of her signature weirdness. She dated a Jawa! Motto has found a replacement ship for Djarin, a far sleeker vehicle than his bulkier, utilitarian Razor Crest.
One of the unequivocal successes of the Prequel trilogy was the art direction. The art deco-infused designs influenced by the Flash Gordon serials Lucas originally wanted to adapt expanded on the look of the universe while still feeling connected. The spritely, dragonfly-esque Naboo Starfighter is indeed a cool looking ship, and it’s mystique was only improved hearing Motto expound on what a great piece of hand-made, pre-Empire craftsmanship it was. It made the craft seem sufficiently special, and the montage sequence where Djarin, Motto, and her gang of droids kit the ship out was a lot of fun. Motto even removed the astromech droid port and replaced it with a perfectly Grogu-sized seat. And no sooner is the ship ready to go then, oh yeah, one of the show’s main characters pops on by looking for help. Reintroducing Djarin back into Boba Fett’s world strengthens the relationship between the two, and after this series wraps up, it’ll be interesting to see if Fett and Shand will have anything else to offer in future shows.
- This episode was directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, and boy does it show. She’s proven to have a great eye for Star Wars. I especially appreciate her eye for allowing smaller character moments.
- Here’s a clip of Amy Sedaris I’m sharing from her brief appearance on Broad City for no other reason than it’s hilarious.
- That flashback scene to the destruction of Mandalore with the K-2SO’s and Imperial Probe Droids sure gave off a Terminator vibe, huh?
- There’s always been a lot of speculation as to just what Jawas look like under those robes, with the common assumption that they’re rodents of some sort. They are definitely furry, as Motto will be happy to tell you, and apparently have long incisors as well. Sad that those two couldn’t work it out.
- Djarin took his modified N-1 out for a spin on the old podracing circuit. Lots of callbacks to the prequel era this episode from a stewardship that otherwise seems pretty intent on ignoring it.
- The Armorer alludes to the Empire only reigning for 30 years, and how short that is in comparison to other galactic entities. Just a point of interest given the discussion on how big the Empire remains to our experiences with Star Wars in comparison to how short it actually was.