The Mandalorian season 3, episode 3 resurrects two recognizable faces from seasons past: Dr. Pershing, the Empire-affiliated clone scientist played by Omid Abtahi, and Elia Kane, a Moff Gideon crony. Their reappearances come fully loaded; “Chapter 19: The Convert” is The Mandalorian’s most political hour, and one of its messiest. Star Wars has never been more “I’m just asking questions!” than in Pershing’s peculiar redemption arc and Elia’s return, which seems poised to connect the Disney Plus show to the Star Wars sequel trilogy.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for all of The Mandalorian through “The Convert.”]
Last year’s Andor took Star Wars to its darkest corners, interrogating the morality of so-called heroes during a time of war and revealing the Empire’s most violent, authoritarian tactics. Between rebel terrorism and state-sponsored labor prisons, the galaxy far, far away looked grimmer than ever — and echoed the worst of our real world. “The Convert” finds The Mandalorian playing in a similar key, albeit one with a bit more tinfoil-hat energy than Andor creator Tony Gilroy’s trenchant commentary. It’s easy to imagine why Jon Favreau’s Star Wars series is trending this direction, knowing what we know about the sequel trilogy, but sandwiched between Din Djarin and Bo-Katan’s return to the Children of the Watch, we get the reframing of a wartime eugenicist as a heroic underdog and the New Republic as an overextended government prone to the same fascist impulses as the Empire. Interesting…
Star Wars is no longer as simple as “good versus evil.” It was, even if George Lucas spent years saying it was a deeper metaphor for the Vietnam War, but not anymore. Not after Lucas’ prequel trilogy, the Lucasfilm sequel trilogy, the many Star Wars cartoons, and a bevy of Disney Plus Star Wars series poking around the BBY/ABY timeline. Telling more and more stories in the universe demanded complexity and gray areas. Gilroy and his Andor season 1 collaborators seized the opportunity, taking the most unflinching look at “wartime” in Star Wars.
In that regard, I don’t blame Favreau and his co-writer Noah Kloor for wanting to do the same in The Mandalorian, even if the promise of the first two seasons was pulpier. As Din Djarin and Bo-Katan inch toward reclaiming Mandalore, there are bound to be some bursts of true terror as those in the orbit of the Great Purge reckon with the past. But “The Convert” feels lost in the fog of giving Star Wars greater meaning, and “explaining” how we got to the ridiculous arc of The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker.
After an action-packed opening with Din and Bo-Katan, “The Convert” reintroduces Dr. Pershing, last seen aiding Moff Gideon build a Dark Trooper fleet and holding Grogu hostage in The Mandalorian season 2 finale. In the season 3 timeline, Pershing’s on Coruscant, having defected to the New Republic in the name of science.
“I believe the pursuit of knowledge is the most noble thing a person can do,” he tells an audience of Coruscant elite. “Sadly, my research was twisted into something cruel and inhuman at the behest of a desperate individual intent on using cloning technology to secure more power for himself. But despite the shameful work of my past, I hope to help my New Republic in any way I can.”
The New Republic, it turns out, is carrying out a more mundane version of Operation Paperclip, the covert U.S. program that enlisted Nazi scientists to work on the Saturn space rockets. It’s unclear what the New Republic wants from Pershing, tossing him in a tech-adjacent data entry job, but the doctor still has his own eugenics dreams. As he outright tells a crowd during his TED Talk, his DNA-splicing experiments have the potential to save lives — if only the New Republic would reinvest. They won’t, but he discovers he has one major fan who will: Elia Kane, Moff Gideon’s reformed comms officer. Though she’s been rehabilitated, Elia still is still a Badass Rule-Breaker, and encourages Pershing to crack into an old Imperial dump to find a miniature lab in which to continue his work.
The story is thrilling in a vacuum — Favreau and Kloor whisk us back to yet another version of Coruscant, where one-percenters wear fake smiles like nothing happened and the Andor-style work pods are still in use — and with distance, Pershing’s quest in the name of science is sympathetic. But boy, he sure was a Nazi, wasn’t he? He was. He was a Nazi. He worked for “The Client” and then Moff Gideon even after the Empire had fallen. He stole and injected the Midichlorian-enriched blood of a baby into soldiers. Not great. There’s a reason the global population wasn’t happy when they eventually caught wind of the U.S. government working with so-called reformed Nazis. (It was because they were Nazis.)
The end of Pershing’s journey is quite shocking, literally. Though he and Elia successfully break into the Imperial junkyard, New Republic po-pos nail him in the act. Turns out Elia is actually more allegiant than she let on, and her entrapment plot was a test. Pershing failed. And the punishment for harboring dreams of science is a round in the New Republic’s rebranded mind flayer. The message is clear: Conform or die, doctor.
Lot going on here. Though the New Republic has been illustrated as a wobbly but effective replacement government in the aftermath of the Empire, the episode recasts it as a shady, message-controlling establishment. Realistic if you live in any country on planet Earth, but thematically icky when the little guy being squashed by the system is the Nazi who helped build an army of Force-wielding Wehrmacht.
“The Convert” creates the sensation of tumbling down into 4chan. The Nazi is good now? The noble authorities are villains? And there might be a Deep State lurking beneath the surface? If there’s a reason Favreau and Kloor have walked The Mandalorian into the minefield of grounded political gray zones, it seems to be in service of tying the Disney Plus show into the larger tapestry of Star Wars storytelling. While little is explicit in the end of the episode, the reemergence of cloning technology, combined with Elia’s sinister dead stare as she overflays Pershing, suggests that the drama could eventually explain how the First Order took shape on the Outer Rim, infiltrated the New Republic, and upended the universe.
Approximately 11 people were happy with how J.J. Abrams’ The Rise of Skywalker established the late-game reemergence of Emperor Palpatine as the product of Snoke-cloning and the Sith rituals of Exegol, but them’s the rules now. Though Pershing may be out of the picture, Elia seems well positioned to grab his research and run to the Outer Rim. The lore-tightening ends may justify the morality-tale-jargon means in Star Wars storytelling of late, but this departure from The Mandalorian’s entertainment MO feels startlingly out of whack.
There’s merit in wondering if the New Republic was the perfect fit for the galaxy. There’s intrigue in following Pershing’s path to assimilation, and the nuance of his goals. But collided together, it’s a weird exhortation on the individual versus the bureaucracy that’s antithetical to a lot of what Star Wars is all about. It’s not quite Randian, but it’s getting there.
Luckily, Din’s mission is simple. By the end of the hour, everyone can clap for Bo-Katan joining a death cult.