Naturally, there are spoilers here.
Dave Filoni, protege of George Lucas and a shepherd of the future of Star Wars, wrote and directed the thirteenth chapter of The Mandalorian. In this episode, Din Djarin finally makes his way to the forest planet of Corvus and the city of Calodan, and it’s there that we meet a familiar face.
In the city of Calodan, former Jedi Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), has besieged a city controlled by an evil magistrate named Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), and her enforcer, Lang (Michael Biehn). She’s seeking information and Elsbeth won’t give it to her. When Djarin lands, he finds that Corvus isn’t much of a forest planet any longer, stripped of its verdancy. He goes into town looking for leads and Elsbeth offers him a staff of pure beskar if he kills the Jedi.
The Mandalorian makes no promises, but takes their information that leads him to Tano. She attacks him, but he’s able to declare a truce by dropping Bo Katan’s name and he’s allowed to state his purpose. Ahsoka is able to commune with the child and discovers that his name is Grogu. He was a youngling at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and had been trained under many Jedi masters. When Anakin Skywalker marched on the temple during Order 66, he was hidden and whisked away. His memory, though, fuzzy after that.
She refuses to train Grogu, however. While not mentioning that she’s no longer a Jedi, her reasoning is deeper than that. Grogu has formed too much of an attachment to Din Djarin and looks to him like a father. Ahsoka, implying the fate of Anakin Skywalker, says the danger in training a Force user with such attachments is too great. Din Djarin would be better off letting the Force fade from Grogu.
This doesn’t sit well with the Mandalorian and he tries striking a bargain with Ahsoka. He’ll help her take down the magistrate in Calodan to get the information she seeks as long as she takes Grogu on as his apprentice.
Together, they invade the city, take down Elsbeth and Lang, and liberate it. But Ahsoka reiterates that she cannot train him and suggests that he be taken to the Jedi Temple on Tython, and there Grogu can choose his own path. A Jedi might come looking for him or he might choose to stay with Din. But he’ll have that choice himself.
For Ahsoka’s part, it’s revealed what, or rather who, she’s seeking: Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Ahsoka and the Mandalorian go their separate ways. Din, heading to Tython, Ahsoka to continue her quest.
As Dave Filoni is a student of George Lucas, naturally, he’s a student of Akira Kurosawa as well, and he learned from both capably. The planet of Corvus is eerily reminiscent of the smoky forests in Throne of Blood where Toshiro Mifune’s character, General Washizu, encounters three magical witches who foretell their futures. The city of Calodan as well bears inspiration from Kurosawa, as do so many of the shots, specifically from Yojimbo. The story borrows from Yojimbo as well, casting the Mandalorian as Toshiro Mifune’s ronin who is able to play the villains into writing their own destruction.
There are other flourishes borrowed from the Japanese aesthetic of Kurosawa’s films as well. As Ahsoka appears in at the gates of Calodan, the wind picks up and her theme plays gently. Kurosawa was a master of wielding the wind, sun, and other elements to aid in telling his stories and Filoni learned well. The timeline of the episode is such that the light of day or night is utilized make the most of every scene. The most dramatic showdowns happen in the smoky sunset of Corvus. The most introspective moments happen at night where the characters can be silhouetted by the moon. It’s a small thing, but the time of day in a particular shot or sequence is not an accident.
Filoni also draws on other films as well. Michael Biehn hunting through Calodan for Ahsoka evokes his own scenes from Aliens, but the showdown also recalls his turn as Johnny Ringo in Tombstone. Ahsoka’s hunting of the guards at the beginning of the episode even get some very Sam Raimi-like quick, tracking POV shots, a’la Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn or Spider-Man 2.
There are some great moments of storytelling, too. Imbuing the gear shifter from season one with added importance here, creating realistic circumstances for Mando to have it on him, and then using it during Ahsoka’s test was just good writing. It’s symbolic of the choice that Grogu will likely make. Filoni takes this into the design as well. Everything on this world is dead, but when the gates open to Elsbeth’s sanctuary, it’s green and lush like the planet once was, a clear commentary on the nature of greed.
Filoni has grown as a live-action director since the first season and it shows. Everyone this season has been firing on all cylinders and he’s no exception.
One of the biggest questions I hoped this episode would answer is where in Ahsoka’s quest is this set on the timeline. I’m still not sure we have a clear answer, but there are certainly clues for which we can make some guesses.
As we see Ahsoka in the coda to Star Wars Rebels, she has passed through flame and shadow in her ordeals with Darth Vader and her exile on Malachor. Like Gandalf the Grey and his transformation to Gandalf the White, we see a visual representation of this in Ahsoka’s white robe. I doubt it’s a mistake then, that Filoni dresses her in gray here, showing us that she’s still on that journey, learning to be that person. Her montrals are also much, much shorter here than they are in the Rebels epilogue.
The clearest answer we have about what she’s up to, though, is when she finally defeats Elsbeth. the information she seeks are the whereabouts of Grand Admiral Thrawn. Clearly, she’s still on the quest. But this leads me to believe that Thrawn escaped the clutches of Ezra Bridger and is free in the galaxy and that Ezra might not have been found yet. Perhaps they don’t even know he’s alive. It makes sense that Ahsoka wouldn’t seek out Sabine for that part of the quest until she has more solid clues about those whereabouts.
Ahsoka is interesting in this episode in that she is not quite what would be expected. She’s rather vicious here and more eager to attack than I would have guessed. Though it’s consistent with her treatment of Imperials in Star Wars Rebels, which happened less than a decade ago, one would have thought she would be a little more diplomatic. On the other hand, she’s dealing with trained killers and those who would subjugate an entire population and decimate an entire planet.
What to Look Out For
There are a lot of cool things for Star Wars fans to pick up on here in this episode. Some add a lot of dimension to the story, others are just fun.
On the fun side, you have Tooka cats appearing in the streets of Calodan. These were introduced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and are just really big cats in Star Wars. They’re found all over the galaxy and are adorable. Another thing to spot is one of the droids in Calodan looks a lot like 8D8, which is the droid torturing a Gonk droid in Jabba’s Palace.
The HK-87 assassin droids in the employ of Morgan Elsbeth are from a long line of assassin droids in the HK series. HK stands for “Hunter Killer” and they have a long history in Star Wars Legends. In Legends and Knights of the Old Republic, HK-47 was built by Darth Revan to destroy Jedi after the end of the Mandalorian Wars. In the current canon, they’ve only really been mentioned obliquely. This is their first time on screen.
The other big mention here is Grand Admiral Thrawn. In the canon, Thrawn has not appeared this late in the timeline, though in the Legends stories, he came back to the galaxy after a long period away and tried reasserting the Empire in Timothy Zahn’s landmark books starting with Heir to the Empire. In the canon, he was last seen over Lothal, when Ezra Bridger lured him into a trap and had space-faring Purgills jump the two of them aboard the Star Destroyer Chimaera into the Unknown Regions of space. This took Ezra and Thrawn off the map prior to the Battle of Yavin, but it looks like he could very well have survived and come back. On Star Wars Rebels, he was voiced by Lars Mikkelson, a Danish actor who could very capably leap across to play the part, just as Katee Sackhoff made the leap for Bo-Katan.
The biggest clue we have for the future of The Mandalorian comes with Ahsoka’s mention of the planet Tython. This is not a new planet in Star Wars. Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra traveled to this ice world at one point and it was believed to be the home of one of the first Jedi temples. I wonder if this really could lead us to Luke Skywalker, who is also searching the galaxy in this part of the timeline for Jedi knowledge, temples and artifacts, as we’ve seen in games like Battlefront II and other ancillary storytelling. At the point where Ahsoka Tano isn’t off the table for live action, we should start preparing ourselves to expect anything.
This was an excellent episode of The Mandalorian, and probably the best Filoni has directed (this is his third episode overall). That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with any weirdness to it.
Rosario Dawson is quite capable in the role of Ahsoka, though it’s utterly bizarre to not hear Ashley Eckstein’s voice coming from the character. It helps to hear hints of Ahsoka’s theme, established by Kevin Kiner and translated here by Ludwig Göransson, to help make that tie between the properties. The music is beautiful and haunting. She works well enough and gets the cadence of how Ahsoka speaks down, even though the voice isn’t quite right. For Dawson, there are also the added complications of accusations of transphobia and out-and-out assault of a trans man. It seems as though many of the charges in the lawsuits brought against her and her family have been dropped and Dawson’s lawyers describe the accusations as “baseless,” but for many fans—especially trans fans I’ve spoken to—it still casts a pall on the triumphant return of a fan favorite character.
On the subject of Ludwig Göransson’s, this might be my favorite episode he’s scored so far. During the celebration of Calodan, he crafts a piece of music that feels like a mix between the Ewok celebration and the superior piece of music that replaced it in Return of the Jedi, but still somehow new and unique. It’s a really pleasing track.
And let’s be honest, this episode is the most adorable Grogu has ever been. Every time the Mandalorian says his name, his response is pure gold. Both the puppetry and the sound design is perfect.
This episode was emotional for longtime fans of the Star Wars television offerings, animated and otherwise, and all the more reason for those who haven’t watched those shows to catch up. Both Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels are streaming on Disney+ and the more we get into The Mandalorian, the more mandatory it feels for fans to view them. There’s definitely a case to be made that fans shouldn’t have to watch the cartoons to understand this show, but the deep lore of Star Wars is part of what makes it great for so many fans, too.
I highly recommend them.
Until next week!
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