The Mandalorian’s latest episode seems to finally start connecting the dots on a tease the show made all the way back in its very first season. The series’ ties to the larger Star Wars universe have always been off and on, sometimes connecting as directly as you can get, and other times preferring references and Easter eggs. But “Chapter 23: The Spies” seems to hint that the whole thing is tied into the Skywalker saga pretty closely, or at least one character’s reappearance in that saga.
[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for The Mandalorian and Star Wars: Episode 9 - The Rise of Skywalker.]
The Mandalorian’s third season has brought us all over the galaxy in search of a home for Din Djarin and his wayward Mandalorian sect, but it turns out the most important developments for the Star Wars universe were happening on their homeworld of Mandalore the whole time.
The latest episode revealed that Moff Gideon, the antagonist of the show’s first two seasons, built a base on the abandoned, thought to be uninhabitable planet. Taking advantage of Mandalore’s infamous reserves of beskar, he has equipped a new variety of Stormtroopers with beskar armor, mirroring the strength of the Mandalorians’ own signature gear.
While there’s plenty of fighting to go along with Gideon’s return, that isn’t the most important thing that happens in this episode. That honor belongs to a conversation between Moff Gideon and some Imperial Warlords, including Captain Pellaeon and Commandant Brendol Hux — father of Armitage Hux from the sequel trilogy — who are seeking to build the First Order.
Gideon turns most of their conversation to Grand Admiral Thrawn, whose promised return to leadership has yet to materialize. But in talking, references are also made to Hux’s interest in cloning, and his work on something called “Project Necromancer.”
While none of the conversation sheds much light on either topic, the Project Necromancer name certainly seems to imply that this plot could be about bringing Palpatine back with cloning, which would explain why he’s around for The Rise of Skywalker. More importantly, this suggest that Thrawn might have played a key role in making it happen.
On top of the project’s name, there’s also the fact that cloning has always been an important, if very subtle, thread in The Mandalorian. Dr. Pershing, who got his own episode this season and gets name checked here, specialized in cloning — at least based on the Kaminoan patch on his uniform in the first season.
What’s more, he’s brought in another connection to the sequel trilogy, and to the eventual First Order regime: the Praetorian Guards. They show up in their traditional red robes, taking out Paz Vizsla (gone too soon) and closing out the episode. The elite guards were originally seen as bodyguards for Supreme Leader Snoke, and seem like yet another connection between Gideon and the Palpatine of it all, making his meeting at the top of the episode look like the next stage of an illustrious career of villainy for Gideon.
Of course, if Gideon is going to try to usurp Thrawn’s control of the Imperial Warlords and their remnant fleet, it certainly seems ill-advised. Based on what we’ve seen in The Mandalorian so far, Gideon loves to overstep his bounds, but is mostly good at tricking Mandalorians and not much else. Even more worryingly for the Mando villain, we know that Thrawn’s an important part of the future of the franchise. At last week’s Star Wars Celebration 2023 event, it was revealed that Thrawn will be a key part of Disney Plus’ Ahsoka series, and will be played by his animated series voice actor, Lars Mikkelsen. None of that spells good news for Gideon’s attempted power play in this week’s episode.
If that really is the purpose that Thrawn serves in the larger Star Wars story, it would make him the glue that patches up one of the series’ most bizarre events. Ever since Palpatine came back in Rise of Skywalker, his existence has been a meme, but perhaps with a bit of clever retconning from an even more clever Chiss Grand Admiral, we can figure out how exactly Palpatine returned.