[Editors note: this review contains spoilers for The Mandalorian]
I’ll get this out of the way now – I’m not calling him ‘Grogu.’ The Slice’s official position on the title of Baby Yoda will forever remain ‘Baby Yoda.’ Until the name grows on me. Which probably won’t be long. But I feel like this is a classic example of a show taking an action that they probably didn’t want to take, out of annoyance at fan reception. I bet the whole online Baby Yoda christening annoyed everyone at Lucasfilm who were very content forever designating him ‘the Child’, so they decided to slap on a cute but unnecessary name. People don’t need names in this show! I can’t even remember the Mandalorian’s real name off the top of my head.
I’m starting off with a nitpicky gripe, because apart from one other aspect, it’s the only one I have for the whole episode. Holy shit. ‘The Jedi’ is almost everything I want from the series, wrapped up in 45 minutes of pure Star Wars bliss. It marries the sci-fi grounding of its technical future with a return to its fantastical samurai roots that George Lucas balanced so perfectly in the original. It uses this dichotomy to continue a familiar SW argument with results just as thrilling and emotive as it’s ever been – the endless, bloody struggle between the past and the future, and how it weighs like a nightmare on the minds of its survivors. And it does this while propelling the plot forward in mysterious, satisfying ways, even though it is still loathe to let characters stay around longer than an episode. But I’m fine with that, because when AHSOKA TANO!!!! returns this good, maybe an episode is all she needed (there’s no way of getting around this episode without spoilers).
They flaunt her immediately, in a murky, creepy opening that shows how terrifying it probably is to be on the receiving end of a Jedi attack, which we don’t usually see. And then she’s at the gates of an Imperial-hijacked city where she generously gives the entire legion a day to surrender before she makes them. Reader, believe me when I say that I just absolutely grinned my face off when Ahsoka appeared in all her live-action, Rosario Dawson glory – perfectly emulating the animated character we’ve been connected to for years whilst bridging the gap perfectly. Dawson herself is an inspired choice – having publicly campaigned herself to get the part, it turns out to be confidently great.
She’s obviously not the same person we’ve seen for the most part; instead of a peppy child in the Golden Age of the Republic, she’s much older, much wearier, much more broken-hearted; still haunted from the friend she couldn’t save. The spirit is still there somewhat – emerging in a grin at a feeble trap, or a look of wonder that harkens back to her childhood, but it’s covered in armour that grants her return less of a homecoming, and more of a bittersweet reconciliation. It’s lovely to see writer/director Dave Filoni bring to life the animated character he helped create more than a decade ago in The Clone Wars, in a way that pushes her beyond what we’re familiar seeing.
And she’s more than a match for our Mandalorian (this is called The Mandalorian, remember), who turns up to find her and deliver Baby Yoda to a Jedi. After an obligatory but awesome fight, we get invaluable backstory on the Child – a name, for one (disgusting). We also find out (what many people might have suspected) that he was a survivor of Episode III’s Jedi purge, led by a turned Anakin. The thing is a living reminder of the darkest moment of Ahsoka’s former master’s life, which might be part of her reluctance to be the one to train him. But the other reason is one of the weaker parts of the episode, and one of the weaker parts of extended Star Wars lore in general.
Ahsoka balks at Mando’s requests to train the Child, on the grounds that the two of them are too emotionally connected to each other for it to work properly. Even after the previous moment where she enlists that very connection to allow Baby Yoda to test his powers (Mando’s “Great job, buddy!” is lovely), she is tied to the Jedi ways of seeing emotion as an unnecessary hindrance. She alludes directly to Anakin “I’ve seen what emotions do to the best of us.” I mean, screw this! The only way that Luke and co. win in the original trilogy is through their love, the strength of their bond that keeps them going throughout the pain along the way.
Luke refusing to see Vader as a machine or monster, but as his father who he can’t help but love despite everything, is how he wins. So to turn around, starting with the much-maligned prequels, and say that the heroes’ love and affection for each other is ultimately a weakness, flies in the face of everything that truly matters in the series. The prequels end with Anakin becoming Darth Vader because he fell in love! Every time this theme is brought up, I’m unsure if it’s a critique of this worldview or an endorsement of it, but either way I don’t like it coming up in the series.
But I digress; that’s a personal thing about the series for me. In terms of the episode itself… its brilliant. It’s shot with power and skill that even by this series’ high standards manages to pack a punch. The samurai aesthetic works wonders, and the way it reimagines and recontextualises the power of a Jedi from the perspective of a protagonist mostly confined to blasters is stunning. The standout scene of the episode’s climactic fight isn’t the fight itself between Ahsoka and the Imperial Magistrate, but on the outskirts where the Mandalorian and an Imperial henchman stand around and wait, and listen, unable to contest the real power here. In a show that often fetishizes Mando’s badassery and skill, it’s always engaging when it zooms out and expands its horizons beyond one gunslinger.
And once again, I’ll be inconsistent in my views on the show. I’m extremely glad that things more or less stayed the same again, because the build-up to what could have been a farewell between the Child and the Mandalorian at the end, was killing me. Ahsoka deciding to let them travel on together is a massive relief – and it’s still in service of story, since she’s given them more tantalising reveals as to where their journey’s taking them. I’m pretty sure I know who we could be seeing next week, and the reveal that Thrawn is alive and kicking is sure to be something. And Ahsoka’s little smile at the end, seeing them off, could be an acknowledgement of a reminder, of how important an emotional connection is; especially their connection, which is the only thing keeping them alive. It’s a smile at a new hope.
R.I.P David Prowse,
The Mandalorian is streaming every Friday from Disney+