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The Mandalorian gives Star Wars: Dark Forces fans new hope

Kyle ... are you out there ...

Grogu aka Baby Yoda looks up at an Imperial adversary in The Mandalorian Image: Lucasfilm Ltd.
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

The Mandalorian creator Jon Favreau and his phantom associate Dave Filoni have made it clear: There is no sector of the Star Wars galaxy to which they won’t go. From the very first episode, which answered an age-old, ice-cream-related Star Wars question to the introduction of Ahsoka Tano herself and the season 2 premiere’s overt reference to the awkward, bent-over way the old Boba Fett Kenner toy would shoot rockets, anything remotely beloved by longtime fans can (and probably will) make it into Disney Plus’ series. Even if lore was decommissioned after Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, there’s a chance that Favreau could recanonize characters and history for the new timeline, like Filoni did for Thrawn in Rebels (and again in Mandalorian).

So why not the rich text of a beloved Star Wars video game?

Clearly, there are “gamers” among The Mandalorian staff. Along with the Kenner toy reference in the season 2 premiere, the episode nodded to a side quest in the fan favorite, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Chapter 14, “The Tragedy,” has a more direct reference — and it will make Lucasarts devotees of the mid-’90s giddy as hell. And it didn’t even require MS-DOS!

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for The Mandalorian season 2, episode 6.]

The reference in question paid off the ending of episode 4, which revealed that Moff Gideon not only wielded the Darksaber, but had a mysterious, sophisticated new army of his own. We speculated at the time that the new form of troopers could be anything from a new clone army — Gideon is working with an ex-Kamino scientist, after all — to some new and improved take on the Death Trooper introduced in Rogue One. But the answer was somehow even nerdier, and perhaps obvious based on the Darth Vader look of the soldiers. As Gideon announces in Chapter 14, “The Tragedy,” these are the “Dark Troopers,” first introduced in the 1995 first-person shooter Star Wars: Dark Forces.

Screenshot from Limited Run Games’ reissue of Dark Forces
Screenshot from Limited Run Games’ reissue of Dark Forces
Image: Limited Run Games/Lucasarts

As a late-stage millennial, I have fond memories of smuggling the Dark Forces CD-ROM into school, camping out in the computer lab, and blasting away Dark Troopers instead of getting my required dose of natural vitamin D from the sun. This was the way. Turns out, I was not alone: Dark Forces and its sequels are regarded as some of the best Star Wars games of all time, giving players the early joy of throwing thermal detonators and slashing up baddies with lightsabers.

The in-game mythology was just enough to tickle a Star Wars movie-starved kid’s imagination. The “Dark Trooper Project” was spearheaded by General Rom Mohc, a weapon-obsessed officer who wanted to bring the power of the Death Star to Emperor Palpatine’s individual soldiers. A few variants of the Dark Trooper emerged from the game, ranging from beefed-up battle droids to exoskeleton-ish battle suits. Rom Mohc wears the Dark Trooper armor at the end of the game, as he must, because he was kind of a saggy old fart who needed something to become an End Boss.

Moff Gideon, in retrospect, is a polished, dapper version of General Rom Mohc — and he’s bringing the Empire back, baby! And Dark Troopers, which are robotic like in the game, are only part of the equation. As revealed in episode 4, there are still organic experiments in the works. Grogu (aka Baby Yoda) is “the donor.” We saw something fleshy floating in a tank earlier in the season. Future Snoke?

Dark Troopers in The Mandalorian Chapter 14 Image: Lucasfilm Ltd.

Though Dark Troopers rooted themselves in Star Wars game mythology, later appearing in everything from Star Wars Galaxies and the original Battlefront games, they don’t appear to be an integral part of Gideon’s master plan. But Favreau and Filoni’s inclusion of them as a nod to Dark Forces opens the door for a greater possibility: the return of Kyle Katarn.

Opposing General Rom Mohc was Kyle, a dashing, extremely ’90s Jedi we never saw in the movies. Hired by Mon Mothma to eradicate the Dark Troopers Project, the Force-wielding agent went toe-to-toe with the mechanical monsters and became a hero of the Rebel Alliance. He appeared in future installments of the Lucasarts first-person series, and even as he teetered toward the dark side — and even became Emperor in the alternate ending of Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2! — his record by the end of his canonical run was clean. Much like Dash Rendar from Shadow of the Empire, Kyle is a Star Wars character many dreamed of seeing done right in live-action but never in a million years thought would happen. So far they’re right.

But The Mandalorian and Grogu are looking for a Jedi, and with the introduction of Dark Troopers, there is a hope for an actual Kyle Katarn appearance. After the events of “The Jedi,” which tied the show to both Ahsoka’s journey and Thrawn, all signs point to the eventual inclusion of Star Wars: Rebels protagonist Ezra Bridger as the Jedi who assists in Baby Yoda’s training.

But ... Kyle ... he’s gotta be out there right? Kyle ... can you hear me ... the fans ... we’ve been waiting ... we haven’t forgotten you ... all those years we spent together blasting away Stormtroopers ...