Saturday, June 15, 2024

The Mandalorian Drowns Me in Sorrow, Surprises, and Ahsoka Tano

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So, last week I had some opinions about casting choices in The Mandalorian and how they may affect my enjoyment of the show. In fact, I specifically brought up the character who dominates “The Jedi” from scene one. Rosario Dawson’s live-action Ahsoka Tano shows up right away and outside of a scene sending Mando after her, practically never leaves. The Mandalorian knew what people wanted and wasted no time giving it to us.

Turns out this decision was not just a good understanding of when and where to bring characters in, but a sneaksies hobbitses trick to mask the much larger surprises to come. Also turns out that a potentially crappy person did not come close to affecting my enjoyment of this fantastic episode.

the mandalorian ahsoka fight

We might as well start with old Snips herself, who very much drives the episode forward and dominates the screen. Dawson does well at pulling off Ahsoka’s demeanor and attitude (though you should consult Gretchen’s piece, since she is more of an expert), with my only complaint being the somewhat minor nitpick that she does not wield her lightsabers the correct way until the very end or fight with Ahsoka’s agile, bouncy energy. This is the downfall of adapting an animated character to live-action though, and not worth really complaining about.

It was especially hard to complain because of how damn good Ahsoka fit into live-action and was such a badass. “The Jedi” goes for many different vibes throughout the episode, from Batman Begins-like stalking and elimination scenes to a final duel ripped straight out of Kill Bill. The Mandalorian has never lacked for style but this was an exceptional example of the show’s style at its best.

Much like Bo-Katan’s appearance earlier this season, Ahsoka’s goal here feels very much like a tease towards a greater plot, and I have no idea whether The Mandalorian intends to follow through. This almost felt like a soft pilot for an Ahsoka spin-off. She has arrived on the planet Corvus seeking the whereabouts of Grand Admiral Thrawn from an apprentice of his who has control of a town there. It’s all so far beyond the plot scope of The Mandalorian and is an explicit sequel plot thread to Star Wars Rebels. I find it hard to believe that there is not some larger separate show Disney hopes to create from all this.

Frankly, I’m all for it.

Mando assists Ahsoka in assaulting the town and getting this information, for the price of having Ahsoka train Baby Yoda. First Ahsoka spends time alone with Baby Yoda, and from this time alone comes the most information we have received yet about the cuddly green pile of cooing, and the biggest revelations of the episode.

We find out that his name is Grogu (a terrible name that I hate but I digress), and that he was raised at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant until an unknown savior took him away during the slaughter at the temple led by Anakin. I assume we will find out who rescued Grogu eventually, though you must wonder what Jedi survived to pull this off during Order 66. There is a good chance it was someone unknown or minor rather than the big names like Mace Windu being thrown around.

Baby Yoda has often existed as a marketing tool for The Mandalorian. He is the cute little mascot to attract people to the show. He is absolutely adorable but tends not to be much of an actual character. This is not a complaint, per se, because the show is called The Mandalorian and Grogu is a baby. Your options are limited with character development for so young a child, let alone a puppet.

This episode changed this a bit by delving into Grogu’s history and truly diving into the effect that history had on the poor child. It was a damn near perfect follow-up to last week’s revelation about the experiments being done on him in Moff Gideon’s lab. He has been through some truly terrible trauma that cause Ahsoka to hesitate to train him in the Force.

(Yeah, don’t get me started on the subtle Anakin comment.)

Now that we have so much new backstory and context for Grogu’s life so far, it bathes many previous episodes in a new light. I’m excited to go back and view the character’s decisions in this light. His attachment to Mando makes so much more sense.

the mandalorian grogu
Pictured: My heart breaking

With Ahsoka so unwilling to train Baby Yoda, she now set Mando on a path towards Tython to hopefully create a connection to a Jedi who may be willing to train the kid. Will this lead towards another surprise guest for The Mandalorian? Well, they have kept a decent bit secret so far this season so who knows? This is more likely to lead to a showdown with Moff Gideon on Tython than another Jedi, I think, but then I thought Gideon would show up this week as well.

Whatever happens, there is no doubt that for all the excitement of the background lore and story, the core of this show is the bond between Mando and Grogu.

“The Jedi” was a surprisingly emotional episode because it fully understands the heart at the core of the show. It knew when to slow down and focus on the people who invest us in the show. A good episode about Ahsoka Tano became a great episode because of those scenes where Baby Yoda is vulnerable, physically and emotionally exhausted, and absolutely terrified of the world around him. It became great because of scenes like Mando returning to his ship after helping Ahsoka with her mission, ready to hand his ward over and hating every second of it. You could feel the sorrow radiating off the poor guy, and it was a phenomenal piece of direction and acting through body language.

Even on the happier side of things, just look at the reaction when Mando uses Grogu’s name. The bond between these two has never been more believable than it was here, and Grogu has never been more of a character.

There are some understandable worries about the future of The Mandalorian due to season 2’s expansion into the larger conflicts of the Star Wars galaxy. You hope that the show does not lose sight of the dynamic at its heart or become a show where Mando plays second fiddle to larger conflicts led by characters like Bo-Katan and Ahsoka. There is so, so much going on and I can see why fans fear those plot threads overwhelming the show.

I feel precisely the opposite. “The Jedi” was an example of why I have no fear of The Mandalorian losing its way. It turned an episode hyped up for Ahsoka Tano, and that centered the “monster-of-the-week” story on her, and turned it into a heartbreaking look into the past of one of its two main characters. Whatever happens around them, Mando and Grogu will be the most important part of the show. I think you can always count on that, even if we end up with Bo-Katan helping them stop Moff Gideon until Ahsoka swoops in to save the day.

Are we heading that way? I have no idea, but season 2 has done nothing but give me reasons to trust whatever direction The Mandalorian goes.

Images Courtesy of Disney

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