Let’s calmly talk about what happened on The Mandalorian season 2 finale. Warning: There are mixed emotions.
Over two seasons, The Mandalorian settled into a sweet spot in Star Wars canon that the sequel trilogy was never in a position to find. Whereas J.J. Abrams, perhaps taking orders from bosses above him, built the introduction of new heroes around nostalgia for original trilogy characters, Jon Favreau’s Disney Plus series saw Star Wars as an ethos. The spirit of the franchise came alive in sets, wacky alien puppets, vehicles, and a shared history. The show didn’t need to center on Boba Fett during his Vader-serving years because Din Djarin looked the part, and had his own baggage. The show didn’t need Yoda because it had “Baby Yoda.” Clone Wars creator Dave Filoni roping in Bo-Katan and Ahsoka tested the limits of fan service, but The Mandalorian gave them proper introductions and at the end of the day the animated characters aren’t emblematic of the Star Wars monolith. George Lucas’ creations would always reign supreme.
Lucas took flack during the prequel trilogy years for his insistence that his galaxy was suffocatingly small. Anakin Skywalker built C-3PO! Boba’s dad was the model for the Republic’s clone army! He nearly put a young Han Solo in Revenge of the Sith, but even that was a bit much. So from the start, The Mandalorian seemed keenly aware of that error, willing to travel back to key locales and interact with chiseled-in history, but still prove that there was a world beyond the Skywalker Saga. There was an obvious love for ’50s-style, adventure-of-the-week Westerns baked into the early episodes, and even as Mando and Grogu brushed up against Star Wars lore in season 2, their relationship and arc were central. Favreau got us to fall in love with brand-new Star Wars characters. That was the magic of Star Wars recaptured in modern times. Director Peyton Reed brings so much of that to “The Rescue.”
So what the hell was up with the ending of The Mandalorian season 2? Why did that happen?
[Ed. note: This post contains major spoilers for The Mandalorian Chapter 16: The Rescue.]
The final 40 minutes of The Mandalorian season 2 were wildly entertaining. After obtaining Moff Gideon’s location from an Imperial cafeteria kiosk (?), Din Djarin, Boba Fett, and Fennec Shand head back to Trask to group with Bo-Katan and her Mandalore cohorts. It’s on: Together they’ll break into Gideon’s ship, rescue Grogu, and in Bo-Katan’s case, steal back the Darksaber.
The plan nearly goes off without a hitch. Reed delivers a rousing mini-space battle between Slave I and a few TIE fighters that once again emphasizes how Boba Fett is an actual beast, not just one we made up in our imaginations after watching Empire Strikes Back. Bo-Katan crash lands a T-4a shuttle into an Imperial hangar, then — that must be a new record — four gun-toting women of Star Wars go into full Rebel assault mode as they take out Stormtroopers by the dozen. Sasha Banks’ Koska Reeves performs a jetpack jump kick and busts out the Smackdown moves in the span of 10 minutes. I could not be more excited for The Rangers of the New Republic, which I can only hope involves this crew going full John Wick on a weekly basis.
Season 2 gave Din plenty of fight scenes for his highlight reel, but he still gets his moment in “The Rescue,” too. Running under the cover of his rowdier crew, the Mandalorian seeks out Grogu only to encounter a fleet of Dark Troopers. The droid assassins are true edgelord shit, sporting the kind of glowing red eyes and pounding fists that a 6-year-old would whip up with crayons. The Beskar armor saves Din’s life yet again, resisting a comically severe beating from an escaped Dark Trooper. After dispensing with the battalion using a weirdly placed vacuum to space, Din finds Gideon holding his lil’ Baby Yoda hostage, and two go at it.
The episode is swift. After securing the Moff, the Mandalorian reunites with Bo-Katan, Koska, and Cara Dune on the bridge of the Imperial vessel. But, what’s this? There are a whole 10 minutes left? In one final twist, the ejected Dark Toopers return to reclaim the ship and eliminate the squad. Luckily, a Deus Ex Jedi cuts the plan short. We knew some Force-wielder would eventually enter the picture — rational people suspected Ezra Bridger after Ahsoka namechecked Grand Admiral Thrawn in episode 5, while less rational people were really pulling for a Kyle Katarn appearance — but few believed Favreau and the Lucasfilm team would really do what they did. Not after everything else.
But they did it. Luke Skywalker made his first appearance in The Mandalorian.
And not the grizzly, broken version we saw in The Last Jedi. This was a Return of the Jedi-era, ripped-from-the-covers-of-Expanded-Universe-novels, mid-30s Luke, slicing and dicing Dark Troopers in a way that was basically impossible back in the 1980s. Technology made it possible: The physical lightsaber-wielding Luke was played by Max Lloyd-Jones, who previously performance-captured one of the apes in the new Planet of the Apes films, and Lola VFX, the company behind de-aging effects on many of the Marvel movies, handled the recreation of Mark Hamill’s period-appropriate look. The effect looks about as good as Leia at the end of Rogue One, which is to say, top of the line. My issue isn’t with keeping actors of any age stretchable for any IP-demanding purpose into the future. It’s that The Mandalorian does not need Luke Skywalker.
Favreau and his collaborators give EU readers from 1983 a true gift in the form of Adventuring Jedi Luke. Like Ahsoka coming into live-action, it’s a moment that Star Wars fans never thought possible, a dream conjured by comic books and novels, but nothing more. Perhaps Favreau’s ultimate goal for The Mandalorian is to fulfill every Star Wars wish, to truly service fans rather than transport them. That’s fine — but it’s not where the show started.
The Mandalorian is actually about something: a lost soul, brought up in a religion that’s eroded his emotions and now donning Mandalorian armor, who’s found new meaning in a paternal relationship with the most promising being in the universe. What they’ve forged over 16 episodes is palpable; Chapter 15, “The Believer” written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa, was the strongest example of just how introspective and emotional the bounty hunter has become. And in the finale, they share a moment that’s quite beautiful and melancholic. After rescuing Grogu from being turned into clone juice, Din cradles The Child in his arms. Grogu reaches out and touches his surrogate father’s helmet — let me see your face, it says silently. Din, against all vows, gives him that satisfaction. The audience is still catching its breath because LUKE SKYWALKER JUST SHOWED UP. Just as Din gets a little misty-eyed, R2-D2 rolls in beepin’ and boopin’ and stealin’ the spotlight.
While bringing Luke into the fold tracks with the current timeline and lore — we know he’ll set up a Jedi training camp in the near future — bringing him into the show is like coming upon a black hole. There’s no escape. We’ve passed the #fan event horizon, and the effect is immediate. In The Mandalorian, the Luke moment eclipses what feels like the end of the Din-Grogu saga (or at least the last time we’ll see them together for a long while, since next December we’re getting The Book of Boba Fett). I would argue the sequel trilogy had a similar, but inverse problem: After the nostalgia bomb of The Force Awakens, Rian Johnson had to step in to make Skywalker function in this universe. His way in was to make the character a real, messy human, which turned the triumphant coda of The Force Awakens into a wry joke and his final showdown with Kylo Ren an exhilarating, religious moment. As good as The Last Jedi is, it’s actually a bad sequel to The Force Awakens (and The Rise of Skywalker, which feels compelled to squeeze in Skywalker a third time, is a bad sequel to both movies). The ramifications of Johnson’s way of making sense of Luke have been clogging up the Star Wars conversation works for years.
Will Luke be back for The Mandalorian season 3? Did Moff Gideon’s vial of Grogu blood make it back to the Empire, forcing Din to track down a bunch of Baby Yoda Clones that’ll fill the gap of the actual Child-in-training? Does it not matter because Din is wielding the Darksaber and might have to reclaim Mandalore now? Who knows — but it’s all wound together. There are no pocket space in the universe where characters’ lives can play out without being part of the grander narrative. Star Wars is still the Skywalker Saga, for some reason.
There’s no “right” way to make a Star Wars show, but there are traps. Dave Filoni figured this out: The Clone Wars could go hog-wild turning the maligned prequel movie mythology into captivating drama, while Rebels found obvious room for encounters with Original Trilogy faces in the context of the war. But none of those cameos were changing the dynamics of the core characters or the core mission of the show. This is different. A CG version of Luke Skywalker now plays a fundamental role in the future of The Mandalorian. It’s hard to imagine we’ll see much more of him. But he’ll be everywhere now, and Favreau will have to one-up himself for the fans. The thing is, Din and Grogu were enough.