[Editors note: this review contains spoilers for The Mandalorian]
As soon as the episode title was revealed to be ‘The Tragedy’ I knew we were in trouble. It’s a sign of how invested I am in the show that I can get emotionally unsettled by a mere title drop, but here we are. New Star Wars content began to roll out again when I was 14, so I never had to grow up and get over this. And thank god, because I’m not getting over this episode for a while.
I talked a while back about how well The Mandalorian blurs the line technically between mere cinema and television – and this feels like one of those high-stakes mid-film action scenes that get real plot developments moving for the final act. This episode is more or less a single, extended sequence in 30 brisk, riveting minutes – and of course the one with the most plot development happens to be the shortest.
But I’m not complaining that much, because this week was another doozy. This episode is absolutely barebones in terms of what happens – Mando and Baby Yoda (still not calling him that) go to another planet to send out a signal of sorts, meet up with A certain bounty hunter, get into an ambush with the full fury of the shadows of the Empire, before the Child (*sniffs*) gets (*single tear*) kidnapped (*breaks down crying*). All that in 30 minutes.
But what a thirty minutes it is. This one would have been fun for me anyway, since today’s planet of the week is Tython, which is also the starter Jedi planet on the Star Wars: The Old Republic game I sunk many hours into in my childhood (hell, I was playing it last week). Nostalgia aside, it looks so much like the game omg. It’s allegedly the location of the first Jedi temple, and filled with a mysticism and spirituality that is reflected really well in the way ‘The Tragedy’ is shot by cinematographer David Klein – beautiful greens and lush sun rays permeating everywhere. The stormtroopers’ unwelcome visit feels less like the assault it is, and more of a desecration of something truly sacred.
Anyway, to backtrack even more, they’re here to place Baby Yoda on a seeing stone of sorts, on instruction from Ahsoka to hopefully connect with a Jedi who’ll come and help out. But the poor child only gets a few moments into his mindfulness exercise (Mando saying things like “Does this look Jedi to you?” is hilarious in how he has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about) before a very recognisable ship lands nearby.
Oh my god, seeing Slave 1 in live action again made me giggle. I know I’m not a child anymore but it just felt so good to see it again. And of course, as promised months ago (there’s a lot of payoffs in this episode, FINALLY!), who steps out of it but a weary, unmasked Boba Fett, with a voice that still gives me chills. Returning actor Temuera Morrison does a fab job of balancing the legend with the reality here. He’s not the detached bounty hunter we knew – the mask is off, the anger and loss in his eyes clear to see. He’s here for his armour, that Mando won off Timothy Olyphant in the opening – and aided by fellow bounty hunter Fennec from Season 1 (deep cut; I had no remembrance of who she was without a google).
And then, if it wasn’t already a busy day for Mando, the Empire pops in for a bit of a catchup and a shootup, finally deploying those Dark Troopers as the world’s scariest babysitters to get the Child, just as a forcefield appears over him while he tries to connect to the Jedi. This is where plot goes out the window and it basically becomes a very exciting game of Battlefront – it’s so simple but it works. There’s a desperation to this battle that could only come with the comparatively smaller stakes that The Mandalorian has comfortably embedded into its wheelhouse – protect this child from all harm.
To sum it up; Robert Rodriguez, take a bow. He’s self-effacingly referred to himself as a ‘last-minute replacement’ but if that’s true, who did they get beforehand? Jesus? The direction in this episode is an absolute knockout. Rodriguez’s command of space, terrain and blocking has always been stellar despite the quality of his films having a consistent inconsistency, but the beauty of this episode (and the show in general for the filmmakers that they bring on) is how he’s allowed to focus and centralise all his many gifts into one outstanding sequence. And who else can now say that they brought Boba Fett back to life? This is Fett as we were always promised, never shown but always seductively alluded to in live-action – the choreography of his systemic dismantling of an entire regiment is jaw-droppingly fun.
But Rodriguez never lets it descend into mindlessness. Pulling the same trick Carl Weathers did two weeks ago, Mando is once again taken out of most of the action, having knocked himself out trying to retrieve Baby Yoda from his Jedi shield. This is probably so he doesn’t get in the way of the pure unadulterated fan service of having BOBA FETT go to town on some fools, but the stakes are still there. All the action aside, the best moments in the episode are when Mando achingly tries to get the Child to safety, putting himself in intense pain every single try. There’s so much going on here – Mando’s now-instinctual dad-antics (still adorable when he tries to continue the ball training in the opening), a truly Herculean example of how far he’d go for him – and a heartbreaking relinquishing of power of sorts, giving up this being he loves so much to the higher power of his destiny.
Also, I don’t know how much I’ve brought up Ludwig Göransson’s composing work – I’ve just taken it as a given that everyone knows how much it rules – but while his more beat-y, pulsating music might be more recognisably his style (especially with the pleasurable assault on the ears that Tenet was in the summer), it’s his highly expressive, emotive cues between Mando and Baby Yoda that for me represent the apex of his talent. The way he articulates the Mandalorian’s failure to protect his child (and his ship – RIP to a real one) into music, is priceless. He’s such a gift to this series.
Look, this is probably nostalgia blinding me a little bit. This probably comes off as the review of a hyperactive child, excited at watching action figures smash together. But things like this are still able to reduce me to a child – not in naiveté or ignorance but in wonder and awe and longing. I just care so much, dammit! It’s a silly little space adventure at heart, but it always manages to feel like so much more. I love this show very much. Do not hurt that child, Fring.
The Mandalorian is streaming every Friday on Disney+