Given how little we’ve learned about The Child up until now, it seemed possible — likely, even — that The Mandalorian would keep withholding his backstory indefinitely, dropping nuggets of information now and again but withholding most of the key details (like The Child’s proper name). Prior to “Chapter 13: The Jedi,” viewers knew The Child’s age, the planet on which Mando found him, the fact that the Imperial remnants led by Moff Gideon wanted his blood for some dark purpose, and that he had some powers. Oh, and that he tried to eat everything. This week, however, we get a flood of new information, all of it wrapped inside a compact, visually striking, samurai movie-inspired story that makes the strongest connections yet between this series and the animated Star Wars series for which The Mandalorian executive producer Dave Filoni served as a major creative force.
Filoni serves as writer and director of “The Jedi,” which opens with a rare extended sequence in which Mando and the Child play no role. Two episodes ago, Mando was told to go to a planet called Calodan to look for Ahsoka Tano, but our heroes are nowhere to be seen in the opening scenes. Instead, “The Jedi” introduces the Jedi that gives the episode its title, Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), who’s in the process of fighting a bunch of heavily armed scouts in a misty forest. She’s outnumbered and outgunned. Her enemies don’t stand a chance.
At least her enemies on the ground don’t stand a chance. The intimidating magistrate (Diana Lee Inosanto) commanding those scouts from high atop a wall surrounding a nearby town, however, remains another story. Her name, we’ll learn later, is Morgan Elsbeth, and she and Ahsoka Tano seem to have a history. And though Tano displays incredible skills fighting with two lightsabers and gets the better of Elsbeth’s foot soldiers, Elsbeth has other advantages, like a fortress, a couple of droid assassins, a deep reserve of troops, and a right-hand man named Lang (Michael Biehn) with a seriously scary grimace. So why is Tano messing around with her in the first place? She wants information. But Elsbeth has leverage in the form of prisoners and a demonstrated willingness to execute them to keep Tano at bay. Tano may be a ruthless fighter, but she’s still a Jedi and can’t bring herself to see innocent blood shed. Looks like they’re at a stalemate.
Enter: The Mandalorian and the Child, both looking better rested and readier for adventure than they have for a few episodes. And why not? They’ve got a fully repaired Razor Crest and a new sense of purpose now that Mando has a name and location he believes will bring him closer to completing his mission of placing the Child in a loving Jedi home where he can be raised right. And given the way the Child is now using his Force powers to steal the Razor Crest control knob with which he’s been obsessed for so long, maybe he won’t even miss the little guy.
It’s not quite that simple, however. On Calodan they find a town living in fear and citizens afraid even to talk to outsiders. They have good reason to be scared. They live in poverty and under the threat of violence thanks to Elsbeth’s iron hand. And, lest they forget it, Elsbeth has posted three prisoners in electric constraints just outside her citadel. This is not a nice place to visit and you definitely wouldn’t want to live there.
Inside the fortress Mando finds Elsbeth living in luxury just a few feet (and a heavy wall) away from those she oppresses. She has a deal for him: take out Tano and in return she’ll give him a spear made of pure beskar. We can’t actually see Mando’s eyes light up from behind his mask, but it’s safe to assume they do. He’d never work for Elsbeth, but he’s not above pretending to get what he wants. Leading Elsbeth to believe he’s taken the job without explicitly committing to killing Tano, Mando heads into the woods after a terse exchange with Lang. “What is that thing?,” his new acquaintance asks. When Mando replies he keeps “it” around for luck Lang tells him he’ll need it where he’s heading.
He would, too, if he truly wanted to take out Tano. After engaging in an obligatory (but extremely well-staged) tussle, the Jedi and the bounty hunter realize they’re both on the same side of this struggle. Then the Mandalorian learns a lot about his charge all at once. The Child’s real name is Grogu. The Child even pricks up his ears and coos when Mando calls him by that name. And though Tano can’t speak to him directly, they can feel each other’s thoughts. The Child, er, Grogu grew up on Coruscant in the Jedi temple where “many Masters trained him over the years.” When Coruscant went sideways at the end of the Clone Wars, Grogu was spirited away to safety.
That’s a lot of backstory to reveal all at once for a character previously shrouded in darkness, but The Mandalorian stops well short of filling in all the Grogu blanks. His memory “becomes… dark” after he was taken from the Jedi temple. And Tano has no idea what race he belongs to, having previously only met one other being who resembles him, a Jedi Master named Yoda. The memory of Yoda makes her smile, but she follows it up with some bad news the next day. As powerful as Grogu is, he remains undisciplined and unfocused, having hidden his abilities to survive. Not only can she not train him in the ways of the Force, his fear and anger makes him vulnerable to the sort of emotions that can corrupt a Jedi, and Tano’s seen what can happen when a Jedi surrenders to such feelings. (She doesn’t say the name “Anakin,” but his memory clearly haunts her.) It’s better just to let his abilities fade. Further complicating matters, it’s Grogu’s attachment to Mando that’s stoking those dark feelings.
That exchange quietly ups the stakes for the whole series: What if Grogu breaks bad? Sure, he’s adorable but he’s also willful and possesses a moral compass that whirls all over the place. If he’s hungry, he steals food or, worse yet, eats the nice eggs treasured by the Frog Lady. A creature that powerful could do some real harm if he set his mind to it.
That’s a problem for the future, however. For now, it’s time to take out Elsbeth. And though Mando has been on Tano’s side from the start, she explains why Elsbeth is even worse than the small-town warlord she appears to be. After losing her people in the Clone Wars, Elsbeth threw in with the Empire and helped build the Imperial Starfleet. She has a lot of blood on her hands and, Tano suspects, has maintained her connection to some shady Imperial characters. The two of them obviously need to take her out. “A Mandalorian and a Jedi?,” Mando says. “They’ll never see it coming.”
And they don’t. Tano battles her way into the fortress and uses a piece of Mando’s armor to suggest he’s dead. Then she reminds Elsbeth she can make all this go away if Elsbeth reveals the location of her master. Tano won’t say that master’s name, however, until later in the episode, after the ensuing skirmish prompts Mando to make his entrance and leads to Tano and Elsbeth squaring off inside the fortress while Mando and Lang do the same outside the wall. Neither of the bad guys prevails, and while there’s no ambiguity around Lang’s fate — he ends up dead on the street after trying to double-cross Mando — it’s not clear what happens to Elsbeth after Tano asks her the location of the enemy she’s hunting, Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Does Elsbeth tell her? Is she still alive? That remains unclear at the episode’s end. But at least Calodan looks likely to have a brighter future under the command of a new governor (a man who’s helped Mando and Tano out throughout the episode). And there’s at least some hope that Grogu will get the training he needs. If Mando takes him to a ruined temple on Tython it might prompt one of the few remaining Jedi to show up and offer assistance. “Then Grogu may choose his path,” Tano says. What path he’ll choose, however, remains one mystery The Mandalorian likely won’t answer for a while.
• The name Grand Admiral Thrawn has a long history in the Star Wars universe. Created by novelist Timothy Zahn in the 1991 novel Heir to the Empire, he’s one of the few major extended universe elements to be brought back into the canon after the Disney purchase. Whether he makes an appearance on The Mandalorian remains to be seen. But doesn’t it almost seem like this episode could be setting up a Ahsoka Tano spin-off?
• Maybe that’s because Rosario Dawson is so good as Tano. Beyond that, Morgan Elsbeth makes for a pretty compelling villain. She’s well played by Diana Lee Inosanto, who has had a long, interesting history alternating acting roles with stunt work and serving as a martial arts trainer. (In many ways she’s carrying on the family business. Her father, Dan Inosanto, trained with Bruce Lee.) It’s great to see Michael Biehn as Lang, too, but his character seems to have met his end.
• The Mandalorian always looks good, but Filoni really outdoes himself with this episode with its memorable action sequences and striking compositions, like Tano and Grogu framed against the moon. Calodan’s a memorable location, too. The barren forest and ever present mist create a mysterious atmosphere only enriched by details like the large, cattle-like creatures we only see from a distance and in shadows. There’s probably no compelling story reason for Mando to return to Calodan, but it would be nice to see it again.
• Other nice bits of staging: the way Mando and Lang listen to the battle between Elsbeth and Tano and figure out the victor by sound alone, and the shots of Tano fighting in a haze with only her lightsabers visible.
• So… Grogu. It seems we’re now to call The Child Grogu. (The episode’s subtitles even switch to that name after it’s been revealed.) That’s less awkward than The Child and more accurate than Baby Yoda. But where did the name come from? Its two syllables resemble Yoda’s name. Did he name Grogu?
• So what, if any, Jedi will show up on Tython? And, given that there are so few, will they have any connection to what Luke and Leia have been up to since the fall of the Empire? Could that provide a tighter connection to Mando’s adventures in the Outer Rim and the rise (and fairly rapid fall) of the New Republic?