Okay, stop The Mandalorian if you’ve heard this one before: There are these two scout troopers parked on a hill. The first one says to the second one, “What’ve you got in that bag?” Then the second one hits the bag and it’s pretty upsetting, really (if still kind of funny). “Redemption,” the first-season finale of The Mandalorian, opens with a scene we’ve never really seen in a live-action Star Wars project of any kind: a straight-up bit of comedy that toys with our expectations about what to expect from a Star Wars scene with some knowing winks about how the Star Wars universe usually works. Try as they might, they two troopers (voiced by Jason Sudeikis and Adam Pally) can’t hit a target that doesn’t seem that far away. Also, they seem pretty blasé about Moff Gideon wiping out dozens of their co-workers. After all, as one of them puts it, “These guys like to lay down the law when they first arrive into town. You know how it is.” This sort of thing just, you know, happens.
The scene feels this close to breaking the tone of the show, and it gets one of the series’ longest episodes off to a bit of a slow start. It’s also pretty delightful. On a weekly basis, this sort of Tarantino-inspired stormtroopers-just-shooting-the-breeze moment might grow tiresome. But it’s fun here, and as jaded as these two dopes seem, they quickly learn their stormtroopering skills have nothing on a reprogrammed IG droid with child protection on its mind.
The troopers do raise an interesting question, however: Why does Moff Gideon want the Child in the first place? The Client (RIP) preferred to acquire him alive but would have accepted him dead. Gideon, on the other hand, seems more interested in a living child than a dead one. It could connect to a theme that’s been running throughout the series, the notion that one’s environment shapes their character rather than their origins.
The nature versus nurture debate has played out in what we learned about the Mandalorian, who reveals this week that one becomes a Mandalorian by adopting a creed rather than by birth. (That might also explain why keeping their faces masked is such a priority. For all we know, the other Mandalorians might be Mon Calamari and Rodians underneath the helmets. With helmets on, they’re all the same.) It’s at the heart of IG-11’s arc as well. He’s not bad. He’s just programmed that way, and with care and change he can do a lot of good in the world. The Child, cute as he is, is also a creature of tremendous power that will only increase over time and whoever raises him will shape his character and determine how he uses that power. That look of wonder in the Child’s eyes as IG-11 kills and kills again is hilarious, but also a little chilling. He could be learning by observing. In the wrong hands, that power could be incredibly destructive.
For now, however, he’s pretty vulnerable, even in the arms of IG-11, who arrives in town just in time to mow down a bunch of stormtroopers. Even he’s no match, however, for an E-Web heavy repeating blaster, an incredibly powerful cannon-like gun that’s keeping the Mandalorian, Cara (a.k.a. “Carasynthia”) Dune, and Greef Karga pinned down with only a sewer grate representing a chance for escape. They hold their own in a blazing street fight initiated by IG-11’s arrival, then have to retreat to where they started.
That sequence sort of doubles the shape of the season. The Mandalorian’s first episode ended with the Mandalorian taking the Child into his care even though it means he’ll live as a fugitive. This eighth episode ends more or less the same way (albeit with a charge to find the Child’s people). But, as conventional wisdom goes, it’s the journey not the destination, and we’ve seen a lot over the course of this first season, and learned a lot as well.
This episode’s big reveals include Cara’s planet of origin, Alderaan, which would explain why the promise of killing Imperials made her so easy to recruit in the previous episodes. Sure, most former Republican Shock Troopers almost certainly hate the Empire and its remnants, but having your planet blown up undoubtedly intensifies that hate. We also learn more about our hero. The Mandalorian has a name: Din Djarin. But it’s a name he left behind a long time ago.
“Redemption” offers the most extensive flashback yet to his time as a child during the Purge, showing the young Mandalorian being stashed away from certain death by his doomed parents then rescued by a Mandalorian. It’s not an elaborate backstory, but it helps explain his commitment to the cause. (It also echoes Superman’s origin story, which found another echo this year in Watchmen. It must be the season.) It also helps explain his obligation to the Child, a foundling rescued by a Mandalorian, just as he was — an obligation built into his creed, as explained by the Mandalorian’s later conversation with the Armorer.
Also learned in the conversation with the Armorer: (1) She’s the sole survivor of an Imperial attack that’s wiped out the rest of their band of Mandalorians (even, presumably, the really big one), and (2) she recognizes the Child as a Jedi, even though Jedi have faded into near-legend for the Mandalorians. (That seems a bit off given the prominent role the Jedi played in the Star Wars universe just a generation ago, but it sort of makes sense if you think of the Mandalorians as an isolated Outer Rim culture living a furtive existence in places where news doesn’t travel fast. Sort of.) Whatever the old differences between the Mandalorians and the Jedi, the Armorer still makes the Mandalorian and the Child a clan of two, complete with their own Signet. “By Creed,” she tells him, “until it is of its age or reunited with its own kind, you are as its father.” If that wasn’t officially the premise of this series, it is now.
The Mandalorian’s origin story also fleshes out his hatred of droids, a hate that’s fully tested this episode thanks to IG-11, first when the reprogrammed nurse droid saves him from Moff Gideon–inflicted injuries, and sees his face in the process. (No shock, he looks like a sweaty Pedro Pascal.) By episode’s end, that hatred has been challenged again. At the end of a journey down a lava river — with some help from a ferry droid that appears to be a hybrid between an astromech droid and a gondolier — IG-11 sacrifices himself to save the Child and his friends. But before he can revert to the manufacturer’s protocol that will allow him to self-destruct, he receives the Mandalorian’s assurance he’ll take care of the Child. After calling the Mandalorian out on his bluff and pointing out that, yeah, actually he is sad at the thought of IG-11’s death, he gives the Child a little stroke on the ear, walks through burning lava to the end of the tunnel, then blows himself up, and an impressive number of stormtroopers with him. The title may still read “The Mandalorian,” but this episode really belongs to IG-11. (It’s also directed by the actor giving him his voice, Taika Waititi.)
One wild battle with Moff Gideon later — one that allows the Mandalorian to test out his new jetpack — and our hero and his adopted child are off to parts unknown while Greef Karga and Cara seem to be on their way to reestablishing Karga’s bounty-hunting business. It all plays a bit like the sequel-setting final scene of a movie, which, in some ways, it is. The Mandalorian has worked as an adventure-of-the-week episodic show, but these past two episodes have revealed those episodes as part of a grander design telling a cohesive story — one that’s neatly set up a second season while answering the question of whether a live-action Star Wars series could work. It can and did, in the process carving out live-action TV as a space that could feature the mythology (and production values) of Star Wars movies but tell stories that wouldn’t work in films. With luck, the Mandalorian and the Child are on their way to a happy ending — but one that hopefully won’t arrive too soon.
• This episode contains all kinds of intriguing references that never get fully explained: The Armorer mentions “The songs of eons past tell of Battles between Mandalore the Great and an order of sorcerers called Jedi.” Cara refers to a “Mind Flayer” that most consider just war propaganda. Gideon casually mentions the “Night of a Thousand Tears.” Will we learn what these are? Maybe. But it’s part of Star Wars tradition to make mention of events or people never fully explained for a long time, if ever. Older fans, for instance, had years to consider what the Clone Wars were all about.
• Once more, RIP IG-11: “That was a joke. It was meant to put you at ease.” He’ll be missed. (Ditto Kuiil, but we’ve had a week to get over that loss.)
• Not only is Moff Gideon not dead, he appears to have some kind of lightsaber. What are we dealing with here? And how did he slip through his apparent execution years ago?
• The Child can stop flame spewed from the weapon of an Incinerator Trooper. Is he getting more powerful or are we just learning the extent of his powers? Is he? Looks like we’ll have to tune in next season to find out.