In “The Believer,” Chapter 15 of Disney’s The Mandalorian, there’s a throwaway line that simply screams for further explanation.
It comes from Migs Mayfeld, played by actor Bill Burr, who makes a return appearance in the role that he had in season 1 — as a red-headed scoundrel, a gunman, and a skilled slicer. But, he’s also a former Imperial soldier, and that’s what makes him the perfect candidate to help Din Djarin get the information that he needs to track down Baby Yoda. Things go a bit off track, however, and ultimately Mando is just a bystander to Mayfeld’s high-stakes journey toward redemption.
That transformation begins with a nod to, of all things, 2017’s Electronic Arts shooter, Star Wars Battlefront 2.
[Ed note: What follows contains major spoilers for The Mandalorian season 2, episode 7, “The Believer.”]
The thread that this episode pulls at is a little-known event in galactic history known as Operation: Cinder. Those who never finished the single-player campaign in Battlefront 2 — or who never even started it — can be forgiven for not getting the reference, but it’s a historic low point for an already brutal regime.
When cornered by officer Valen Hess, and with Din stumbling over his assumed identity as an Imperial tank trooper, Mayfeld steps in.
“How about a toast to Operation: Cinder,” he says.
“Now there’s a man who know his history,” Hess drawls out, in a strangely Southern accent.
“Nah, I don’t just know it,” Mayfeld says. “I lived it.” And it’s likely that Din knows it too, because he starts frantically signalling to his ad hoc partner to shut the hell up.
Operation: Cinder was, more or less, Emperor Sheev Palpatine’s spiteful dying wish for revenge following the Battle of Endor — the resounding defeat that ends Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and the original trilogy. “In case of Emperor death, break glass.” Operation: Cinder was behind the glass.
Cinder wasn’t your usual military campaign. Instead, it was a terror operation that targeted several key locations, including Naboo. Multiple planets were indiscriminately assaulted with powerful orbital weapons. The attack on Vardos, the homeworld of protagonist Iden Versio (Janina Gavankar) looms large in Battlefront 2’s storyline. That’s where she and fellow commando Del Meeko, both members of the Empire’s elite Inferno Squad, make their own turn to the light side. They defect to the Rebellion after participating in the strike on Vardos. But their allegiance is only shifted after seeing first hand the cruelty that the Empire shows to the planet’s civilians — and their own comrades in arms.
Mayfeld’s gorge is rising, there at that table across from officer Hess, because Operation: Cinder also included the wholesale execution of many Imperial soldiers by their military’s own weapons. In effect, The Mandalorian’s writers are using his disillusionment and the deaths of his comrades, in furtherance of a terrorist attack on innocent civilians, as the turning point for him — the same as it was for Versio.
But the scene is also noteworthy in how it fully embraces a modern video game, wrapping its storyline fully into the larger Star Wars canon. EA and Disney may have had their disagreements about Battlefront 2 in the past — specifically about that game’s pre-release buzz as it applied to controversial microtransactions — but, when it comes to the lore, they are both in lockstep. The games EA has made (with oversight by the Lucasfilm story group, to be sure) are canonical, and can even serve as inspiration for high-profile series like The Mandalorian.
Who knows; maybe we’ll see a few more surprises, like last episode’s Dark Troopers, in the future. Dank farrik, does Disney has enough shows in the pipeline that it could use a healthy dose of inspiration to see them all through.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the character who defects with Iden Versio to the New Republic in Star Wars Battlefront 2. It is Del Meeko; their Inferno Squad teammate, Gideon Hask, follows orders to carry out Operation: Cinder.