Well, that was pretty awesome.
"The Rescue" completes an arc of The Mandalorian so definitively and satisfyingly that it could simultaneously serve as a series finale and a backdoor pilot for multiple spinoff series. It may do the second of those things, but since it won't be doing the first, that means a third season of this series will have to include a fair amount of reinvention by giving Din Djarin a new purpose.
Season two of The Mandalorian slowly but surely charted the course of this series from a frontier space western to the driving force behind the future of the entire Star Wars franchise. Disney is going all-in on Star Wars streaming shows on Disney+ (with the announcement of nearly a dozen Star Wars streaming projects in the coming years), and The Mandalorian this season has steadily been building a launchpad for several of those projects. (A great post-credits tag at the end of this episode shows Boba Fett and Fennec Shand storming the palace formerly known as Jabba's, shooting all the guards and its recognizable girth-expanded owner, then Boba sitting in the boss' chair, with a title card promising us The Book of Boba Fett in December 2021.)
But I'm getting ahead of myself, because "The Rescue" first ties up many of the pieces that have been set up for us this season (while leaving open a number of others), and does so in a genuinely thrilling and suspenseful action-packed manner.
Like every episode in this series, the storytelling is lean, simple, straightforward, and efficient: We have a daring plan to get onto Gideon's ship, and our heroes must get to the bridge and take it over while Djarin must get to the brig to rescue Grogu. Mando first recruits the help of Mandalorians Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) and Koska Reeves (Mercedes Varnado). Along with Cara Dune (Gina Carano) and Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), we have a Dirty Half-Dozen with a righteous cause.
There are complications, of course. Yes, taking out a battalion of stormtroopers is as all-too-easy as usual. (These guys are underskilled and underequipped; my wife asked what good their armor is if it doesn't stop them from getting shot. The answer, of course, is that they're stormtroopers; their purpose is to be mowed down.) But Gideon has the dark troopers, who are kind of like ultra-advanced, superior ED-209s: implacable, evil-looking, and very strong and well armored. Mando goes up against one of them and his hands very full. And Gideon has dozens of them. (Even flushing them all into space doesn't stop them, as they use their thrusters to simply reboard the ship.)
We have a showdown between Gideon, with the Darksaber, and Mando, with his beskar staff. Mando wins, but in a way that adds a new wrinkle to things and works as Gideon's unintended Plan B: Mando has defeated the man who wielded the Darksaber — but that's exactly what Bo-Katan had come here to do. With Mando having defeated Gideon, Bo-Katan now has to defeat Mando in order to claim the Darksaber for herself in her mission to retake Mandalore. (That's not dealt with here, but is clearly grist for season three.)
I was surprised how much suspense this episode was actually able to build. Although logic dictates the title character can't die, we now have a larger group of people beyond the title character to worry about. Ultimately, everyone ends up on the bridge trapped as the dark troopers close in. The dark troopers' near-indestructibility and the way they're prepared to keep pounding the door with their steel fists until it finally caves in had me wondering just how our heroes were going to escape their inescapable box.
Answer: Grogu's call is answered with the arrival of a lone X-wing fighter, and a black-robed Jedi wielding a green lightsaber, who slices through the dark troopers in a badass force-of-nature sequence reminiscent of Vader's unstoppable assault at the end of Rogue One. It reminds you just what the Jedi are capable of when they want something. Given the timeframe, this Jedi could only logically and sensibly be Luke Skywalker, but the willingness of the writers to Go There allow the dots to be connected and explicitly bridge the original trilogy to this show, which will presumably bridge it to the sequel trilogy.
The CGI version of Luke — Mark Hamill's young face plastered onto an apparent stand-in's body — is excessively wooden and unemotional (if it were a real performance, I would call it a bad one that would be right at home in the prequel trilogy), but the illusion is good enough to sell the idea here and satisfyingly deliver the fan service. (And, hey, look: R2!) More importantly, this fulfills Mando's mission to find a Jedi who can adopt Grogu.
That's right — Baby Yoda is going away with Luke. Kudos to the writers for not drawing this arc out any longer and following the story to its logical conclusion. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to get the feels for Djarin removing his helmet to let Grogu see his face for the first time, in order to say goodbye.
So in this episode, they set up the next chapter in the Darksaber saga, rescue Grogu, defeat Moff Gideon (who remains alive and available for season three), set up Boba and Fennec for their reign on Tatooine, and say goodbye to Grogu by handing him off to the most central figure in the history of Star Wars. And they do all the fun sci-fi action this show usually does. That's a lot of stuff, all in 45 minutes.
The Mandalorian started as one man on the frontier, doing obscure western things. That quickly expanded this season. With the exception of perhaps "The Passenger," very little plot this season went to waste and most of it came together in this episode.
When The Mandalorian premiered I wasn't sure if it could escape the feeling of "it's just TV" while playing second fiddle to whatever the film franchise was doing. Now I see that not only can this production stand up to the standards of feature films, but the scope of its storytelling can deliver that sense of epic space opera as well. And with more hours. A real coup would be if this series could go back to doing its own thing on its own terms next season, now that it has paved the way for all the things that are coming in the Extended Disney+ Universe. As fun as this show can be doing big Star Wars stuff, it still has the ability to do its own thing next season — maybe even more so, if that's what it wants to do.
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