When I wandered into Chicago’s Wintrust Arena earlier this year for Star Wars Celebration, Clone Wars and Rebels creator Dave Filoni was there with something to sell. The Mandalorian, he explained, would be a a traditional, episodic Western starring an enigmatic man dressed up like Boba Fett. It promised to fill in the 25-year gap between Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. The fanboys and girls in the audience — including a sizeable contingent dressed like Mandalorians themselves — ate it up.
Despite expectations, The Mandalorian delivered. The show is nearly pitch perfect, with fascinating characters and just the right amount of fan service tucked into the corners. But, after episode 7, it all seems like a very big wind up. Now it’s up to the writers and showrunners to make the real pitch in episode 8.
Will Filoni and Jon Favreau’s story be a mini-series, a one-and-done blink of the eye? Or will it lean into its potential to be a long-tailed serial drama? The Mandalorian Episode 7 explores the complicated political landscape of a post-Empire world with decades worth of potential backstory leading up to the birth of the Resistance. But the series itself could just as easily pull up short, delivering half-truths that leave viewers just as unsatisfied as the modern trilogy.
[Ed. note: What follows contains spoilers for episode 7 of The Mandalorian.]
The first half of episode 7, titled “The Reckoning,” begins with a message from Greef Karga (Carl Weathers). After Mando blasted his way out of town in episode 3, what remains of the Imperial presence on Nevarro has been doubled. The main city is on lockdown, and the business of the mercenary guild has ground to a halt. Greef offers a scheme that is very clearly a trap, but one that he promises will bring about the death of the Client (Werner Herzog) and hopefully free Mando and the Child to move on.
To cover his back, Mando collects all the allies that we’ve met so far. First comes Cara Dune (Gina Carano), the ex-Rebel commando. Then there’s Kuiil (Nick Nolte), the handy Ugnaught. Finally, there’s IG-11 (Taika Waititi), the bounty hunting droid that Kuiil has rebuilt and raised in the months since Mando took him down in episode 1. All told, it’s a formidable force that lands ready to take on the worst that the galaxy can throw at them.
There are setbacks, of course. In the middle of the episode Greef is wounded in a bizarre encounter with a pack of pterodactyl-sized flying predators. His only salvation is the Child, who uses his Force powers to heal him. But, finally, the makeshift plan comes together. Mando pretends to be Greef’s prisoner to get close to the Client. When Werner Herzog turns his back, he slips off his binders. Greef passes him a blaster, and he lines up his shot.
That’s when all hell breaks loose.
The wall caves in under a sustained volley of blaster fire, revealing a squad of Death Troopers who kill the Client in the blink of an eye. That’s when the big reveal comes. Mando and his friends aren’t up against some small-time thug with immaculate diction and a gorgeous German accent. They’re up against Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), and a full company or more of fresh Stormtroopers in gleaming white plate.
The episode ends on a cliffhanger, with the Child is scooped up by a scout trooper on a speeder bike. We’re left anticipating episode 8, and the fallout of the standoff between Mando and the Moff.
But I’m left lingering on the image of Kuiil dead in the dirt next to his smoking mount. So much was revealed about his character; how he was sold into virtual slavery to the Empire; how he repaid his debt through servitude; how he built a life as a moisture farmer on a remote world; and, later, how he came to see the Mandalorian as his salvation. What does it all mean for the little people left scattered around the universe?
Whatever happens, The Mandalorian has rewarded my expectations. The pitch that Filoni made way back in April still holds true. Following the end of the Empire in Return of the Jedi, the galaxy is suffering from a power vacuum. The New Republic is in control, but its reach is limited. Powerful thugs and warlords are all left vying for control, and men like Client are just the middle management. What we’re seeing here is a sorting out of who is the most powerful, and Mando and his team, for all their skill, are very much at the bottom of that heap.
If Gideon is able to muster this many troops under his banner, that must mean he has resources that span multiple systems. There must be a whole network of Imperial remnants, drifting along without Palpatine’s leadership. But what are their goals in hunting the Child, and how did they come by the means to mount such an offensive on Nevarro?
The series feels like Star Wars, but it’s telling a story all its own, from a perspective that we’ve never seen before. Filoni’s salesmanship was solid. But it still remains to be seen how they choose to leave it in episode 8. The Child could get rescued, and ultimately join the unlikely team of Mando, Cara, and IG-11. Or it could remain in the custody of the Empire, a wrinkly green damsel to serve as the focus of the in-production season 2.
Essentially, we’re either seeing the beginning of a long-running series that dives deep into the machinations of this landscape, or we’re just witnessing the set-up for the tidy end of The Mandalorian. Here’s hoping that episode 8 gets a happy ending. With luck, the episode that premiers on Dec. 27 will be the precursor of a show that will be around for many years to come.