Somehow, some way, Dave Filoni has been able to bring together Star Wars fans across generations like even George Lucas never could. Filoni got his start in Star Wars as director of 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated feature, and was a supervising director on that series before coming on as executive producer of Rebels—and eventually working side by side with Jon Favreau on The Mandalorian. Known as a “Lucas encyclopedia,” he has an ability to please old-timers who have adored the 1977 original since seeing it opening weekend, young bloods who grew up with The Clone Wars animated series and the prequels, the flame keepers who patiently waited years between Timothy Zahn novels and Dark Horse comic books throughout the ‘90s, and even lovers (and haters) of the divisive sequel trilogy. He makes it look all too easy, bringing fans the action, the mythology, and the characters that they long to see while injecting the Star Wars galaxy with worlds that are once familiar and are like nothing audiences have seen in the live-action films.
When The Mandalorian premiered, it was exciting to have a Star Wars adventure that made no mention of the Force, the Jedi, and didn’t even feature one lightsaber. And while that lasted all of one episode, Favreau and his team have expertly balanced Jedi mysticism with Mandalorian cultism, while paying credence to all of the non-believers, smugglers, scoundrels, and outlaws in between. The series has felt like it’s been spinning its wheels for the past few episodes—standard-issue dreary Empire bases, desert planets—and with gunfight after gunfight, a lightsaber seems oddly refreshing in the opening of the latest episode, “The Jedi.”
Those lightsabers are wielded by Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) in the flesh—mowing down gas-masked soldiers on the foggy, depleted forest planet Corvus as Magistrate Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) looks on with her right-hand man Lang (Michael Biehn). It’s a bold move to kickstart the episode, as the live-action debut of Ahsoka has had fans salivating for months like The Child eyeballing some tasty frog eggs. Ahsoka was introduced in 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars as a Padawan apprentice to Anakin Skywalker, and has since appeared in The Clone Wars animated series, Rebels, and as a vocal cameo in Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker. While her appearance may not carry as much weight for the casual Star Wars viewer, Ahsoka is undoubtedly an appealing character, and watching a rogue Jedi mow down the Magistrate’s troops with dual white lightsabers and her force abilities in a spooky wooded environment as winds howl is possibly the closest thing audiences will ever get to Star Wars slasher movie… except the killer is the hero.
When Mando ran across Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) earlier this season, the fellow Mandalorian told him where to find Ahsoka and suggested that she may be the Jedi he’s looking for to care for and train The Child. Upon landing on Corvus, Mando meets with Magistrate Elsbeth in her Asian-influenced compound reminiscent of the fortresses of Kurosawa and Shaw brothers epics: hanging lanterns, bonsai, a koi pond, a massive castle door, and prisoners restrained in electrified cages along the main drag like something Vlad The Impaler would utilize. The Magistrate makes a deal with Mando: eliminate Ahsoka, and she will pass on to him a staff made of pure beskar that has come into her possession. As a savvy samurai should, Mando decides to play both sides.
Upon meeting Ahsoka deep in the woods, the two engage in a brief battle, pulling out every trick in the book from Mando’s flamethrower to Ahsoka’s impressive force abilities, and Mando’s beskar armor proves impervious not only to laser blasts but to her dual sabers. Ahsoka speaks with The Child, revealing his name to be Grogu. He was raised in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and was hidden away after the Clone War. Mando is unaware of the Force, a nice throwback to the original film where it wasn’t as ubiquitous around the galaxy. She tests his Force abilities and explains to Mando that she cannot train him as she senses great fear in him. She adds, “I’ve seen what feelings do to a fully trained Jedi knight”—a reference to her former master, Anakin Skywalker. Mando strikes up a deal: he’ll help Ahsoka defeat the Magistrate if she will, in turn, take Grogu on as her Padawan.
Ahsoka reveals that the Magistrate’s people were killed off during the Clone Wars and she helped build the Imperial Starfleet by plundering worlds, explaining the desolate look of Corvus, its trees stripped of any greenery. The siege on the Magistrate’s fortresses is one part samurai flick and one part spaghetti Western, which is about as perfect a distillation of Star Wars as you can get. The duo storm the fortress walls as a massive gong alerts the Magistrate and her troops to the attack. While Mando has a showdown with Lang in the fortress’s common area, Ahsoka and the Magistrate do battle: lightsaber versus beskar staff. During their confrontation, Ahsoka reveals the information she’s been seeking from Elsbeth: The location of her Master, Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Grand Admiral Thrawn was introduced in Timothy Zahn’s 1991 novel Heir To The Empire, and while that book has since been regelated to the Star Wars Legends series, the character took on a new life in Filloni’s Rebels animated series where he had a run-in with Ahsoka Tano. This episode feels like a backdoor pilot for a series where the Jedi is hunting Thrawn, who disappeared with Rebels’ lead, Ezra Bridger.
After all is well again on Corvus, Ahsoka still refuses to take Grogu as her Padawan, but explains that there is a temple on Tython that has a strong connection to The Force. She continues that from there, Grogu may reach out with the Force and a Jedi may come searching for him. “There aren’t many Jedi left,” she adds. But we certainly know of one.
- The Magistrate’s troops recall my favorite Star Wars character designs, the ones that look like they were culled together from a bunch of junk in the Lucasfilm garage—and maybe an off-the-shelf Rick Baker mask.
- We could have used more development of the villagers that are under the Magistrate’s rule. There seems to be more going on here than the episode has time for.
- Terminator hero and action movie favorite Michael Biehn fighting alongside an HK! (Could that HK stand for “hunter-killer?”)
- This season has improved on the character of Mando, injecting him with more personality, which I imagine is hard to do when always wearing a helmet. His excitement at Grogu displaying his force abilities shows him at his most joyous. A proud papa, even.
- Beautifully composed shots by Filloni and cinematographer Baz Idoine.
- A more romantic score than in previous episodes, incorporating notes from “Binary Sunset” and “Yoda’s Theme” from the original films.
- Diana Lee Inosanto is the goddaughter of Bruce Lee and became known as the “Sensei To The Stars” training Melissa McCarthy and Aaron Eckhart amongst others.
- Hope to see the Magistrate and Lang again. Nobody is ever dead unless you see them die onscreen, and even that is questionable.
- The term “fan service” does a disservice to what The Mandalorian team is attempting to do in bridging the gap from cartoons to live-action films.
- Love it whenever a Star Wars character refers to lightsabers as “laser swords.”
- The lived-in world of Star Wars that was such a part of George Lucas’ original vision is on full display in this episode.
- Ahsoka was one of the first characters that Filoni designed, and viewers will be able to tell that he wanted to make this episode special. And he did.
- Star Wars has always had themes of family, be it by blood or surrogate, and the way the team on Mandalorian is building the relationship between Mando and Grogu is right in line with that.