Talk about saving the best 'til last. Finally, the positive elements of Disney's new Star Wars series "The Mandalorian" are beginning to outnumber the negative ... and it's great to see.
After what we can only assume is at least a couple of months on the run, trying to find work that wasn't associated with the Guild — with varying degrees of success — the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) is on the bridge of the Razor Crest when he receives a holomail message from Greef Karga (Carl Weathers). The bounty hunter is clearly screening his calls.
Karga explains that things have changed on Nevarro since the bounty hunter departed in the spectacular firefight that drew in the other underground Mandalorian warriors who lived there. The Client (Werner Herzog) remains on the planet and has reinforced his ranks with more former Imperial troops, which has impeded the livelihood of the Guild. He proposes that the Mandalorian return to Nevarro and assassinate the Client, that way no one else will come after the quarry (the Child, or "baby Yoda") and in return Karga will pay him a generous sum and clear the Mandalorian's name with the Guild.
It's dangerous and smells like a trap already. The Mandalorian sits back in his chair and mulls it over. You can almost hear him pondering the proposal in his mind. It's high risk, but high reward. He leans forward, punches coordinates into the navi-computer and goes to lightspeed.
More effectively than any previous installment, this nicely sets up the forthcoming drama, and thankfully this episode doesn't fail to make the most of it.
We see the Razor Crest cruising through the skies of a lush, verdant world and it looks familiar — hang on — and before the Razor Crest has even touched down, we know what his plan is.
Cut to large wooden hut where former Rebel Alliance shocktrooper and all-round hard-nut Cara Dune (Gina Carano) is engaging in a fight for money. A well-built Dathomirian 1.5 times her size is at the other end of an electrified link that joins them, and they're smashing seven bells out of each other. A large crowd has encircled them, shouting and enthusiastically waving money above their heads.
Enjoying herself far too much, she overpowers him and he concedes defeat. Walking around the crowd, gathering her winnings, she spies the Mandalorian. They sit and he explains the job. She's not even remotely interested, despite the large reward on offer. That is, until the Mandalorian tells her that the target is a former Imperial officer.
"I'm in," she says, without hesitation. And the plan begins to take shape.
There's a great moment where the disgruntled Dathomirian walks past and puts the money he lost on the table. "Come back soon," Dune grins at him.
Leaving the planet Sorgan behind, the two go over some of the finer points of the plan, like selecting the most suitable weapons. Baby Yoda chooses this moment to start playing around with the controls of the ship and giggling in such a cute and adorable way, that only he can. After regaining control, both Dune and the Mandalorian agree they need someone they can trust to look over the Child.
The Razor Crest flies to a baron, desert-looking planet and cruises over a low-lying mountain range. A nice, upward facing point-of-view shot of the ship landing doesn't give away where he is just yet First thoughts run to hangar 34 in Mos Eisley and perhaps Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris), but no ... a nice surprise awaits; the Mandalorian has returned instead to the planet Arvala-7 to seek the assistance of Kuiil, the honorable Ugnaught (voiced by Nick Nolte).
They sit in his tent and talk until they're interrupted by IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi) who enters and offers them tea! Naturally, the Mandalorian and Dune freak out and point their blasters at it, but Kuiil calms them down and explains that he's been reprogrammed.
At this point we go to a montage sequence that shows how Kuiil salvaged the deactivated IG-series assassin droid from the scene of the massacre at the settlement where the Mandalorian first rescued baby Yoda. We see a lengthy repair process and even how Kuiil had to retrain the droid. And here's our only grumble with this episode; you can see where the writers were trying to go with this, but it's unnecessary, feels out of place and goes on for far too long.
Moreover, it might jar less if earlier in the series, the Mandalorian and Kuiil hadn't managed to effectively rebuild the Razor Crest virtually overnight. It seems to take an age to retrain (rather than simply reprogram) a droid, but rebuilding a vintage, light speed-capable craft and making it space worthy again is a breeze. (Fixing airtight seals, repairing the avionics, the hyperdrive and sub-light engines, navi-computer, weapons, hydraulics, the onboard carbon freezing chamber ... important stuff like that.)
Reluctantly, the Mandalorian accepts it. Kuiil asks him, "Do you trust me?" The bounty hunter replies, yes. "Then trust my work," Kuiil says and the Ugnaught agrees to help the Mandalorian.
Kuiil is without a doubt a highlight of this show. Not only is his character quirky and interesting, but the facial expressions are perfect and the animatronic control is incredible. His responses are well observed and beautifully portrayed.
The four of them, plus three Blurrgs, set course for Nevarro. Along the way, the Mandalorian and Dune are having a fun arm wrestling contest. Baby Yoda looks on and evidently believes the Mandalorian is in danger, so ... he begins to Force choke Dune! Naturally, everyone freaks out and the Mandalorian yells at the cute and adorable child to stop. "We're friends!" he shrieks.
It becomes clear that this is no ordinary cute and adorable baby, and as Kuiil says, this event — together with what happened when the Mandalorian was nearly killed by the Mudhorn on Nevarro — "Now makes more sense."
"What it is, I do not know. But what it does ... this, I've heard rumors of," he says.
They reach Nevarro and Karga is there to greet them with three goons. The Razor Crest has landed a day's walk from the city, so they set off to cover as much distance as possible before nightfall. IG-11 remains on the ship and the others, together with baby Yoda begin the journey, riding on the Blurrgs they bought with them.
We cut to see everyone sitting around a brightly burning campfire, cooking a recently caught indigenous animal, although there's an awkward silence and only the crackle of the fire can be heard. The Mandalorian wants to go over the plan one more time, and Karga seems to have a misplaced abundance of confidence. "Trust me, nothing could go wrong," he says, smiling.
Then, like something straight out of "Pitch Black," a giant winged creature swoops from the sky, out of the darkness, and using its razor-sharp talons, grabs the food that Karga is eating. Panic and confusion erupt, everyone scrambles for their blasters and they shoot blindly into the night. It's quickly apparent there's more than one of these winged predators. One of them sinks its claws into a poor Blurrg and carries it off into the night with a distraught Kuiil crying out after it.
Everyone is shooting in all directions, and even Dune with her heavy blaster can't seem to hit anything. Another swoops in and takes one of Karga's hired goons (a Wilhelm scream here would've been the icing on the cake) and then one tries to claw Karga himself.
One grabs another Blurrg and Dune manages to blast kill it, but not before the poor biped is mortally wounded. It's pure pandemonium. The Mandalorian dispatches another with his flamethrower and eventually, thankfully, the remaining creatures retreat. However, Karga is in trouble. His wound is severe and the poison is spreading fast through his body. Dune tries to do the best she can with a medkit ... and then baby Yoda waddles forward.
In the second demonstration of his abilities in this episode, baby Yoda places his cute and adorable little hand on Karga's wounded leg and Force heals him. That shuts everybody up.
We cut to the morning and the group, minus one goon and two Blurrgs, stand atop a hill, looking down on the city below. Without warning, Karga blasts the other two goons and explains that it was indeed a trap ... however, the events of the previous night have convinced him to do the right thing. They formulate a new plan where Kuiil will return to the Razor Crest with baby Yoda and Dune and Karga will present the handcuffed Mandalorian to the Client with an empty hover-carriage at which point the bounty hunter will kill him.
They meet in the same bar that Karga used to meet the Mandalorian in and there's no one there except a RA-7 protocol droid tending bar. Herzog is magnificent in delivering his evil monologue and many of the lines you'll recognize from being used in previous trailers. Everything seems to be going to plan, except there are a lot more Imperial troops in the bar than either Dune, Karga or the Mandalorian were expecting. Just as the Client demands to see the Child, a Stormtrooper approaches and whispers something in his ear. It seems there is a call that he absolutely must take.
He walks over to the bar and we see a hologram of Giancarlo Esposito's ex-Imperial character, Moff Gideon. Meanwhile, under the table, the Mandalorian has discreetly taken his cuffs off and unholstered his blaster. Gideon asks if the Client has actually seen the Child. "He is sleeping," he replies.
"You may want to check again," Gideon says while simultaneously making a subtle motion with his hand.
All of a sudden, the exterior wall seems to explode and the room is being riddled with heavy blaster fire. The Client gets hit immediately, and that's the end of him. Even the Imperial troops are getting mercilessly mown down. Karga, Dune and the Mandalorian dive for cover and crouch behind pillars in the hope they might offer some protection.
The Mandalorian screams into his comlink to Kuiil and tells him they're pinned down and he must get the Child back to the safety of the Razor Crest as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the communication is intercepted by two Imperial Biker Scouts who immediately race to intercept the Ugnaught.
The blaster fire stops, and we see a line of Imperial Death Troopers together with a few conventional troops standing with their weapons pointed at the building. It's great to see the Death Troopers making an appearance and fleshing out their place in Galactic history since their introduction in "Rogue One," a relatively new addition to the saga.
As if matters weren't dire enough already, a K79-S80 Imperial Troop Transport then arrives, and 20 to 30 more Imperial Stormtroopers pour out and take up position, with their blasters pointed at the smoldering remains of the bar. This is a great Easter egg, as the Imperial Troop Transport was part of the early Kenner "Star Wars" toy lineup in 1978, as any "Star Wars" fan whose age starts with a "4" will tell you. (It was also the first "Star Wars" toy released that didn't first appear in a film.) And while they've made appearances in "Star Wars Rebels" and various books and games, they've never before been seen in live action.
Meanwhile, the Biker Scouts continue to close on Kuiil who is still racing to get to the safety of the Razor Crest, which is now within sight.
Things continue to worsen for our troubled trio, as out of the sky comes a TIE fighter. It looks like a standard Imperial starfighter, but as it descends, the solar energy collectors fold in half along the horizontal axis (a little like the TIE Advanced v1), allowing the cockpit to be closer to the ground and the pilot to exit without needing a hangar rack.
The pilot is Moff Gideon, finally making his long-awaited appearance, and Esposito plays the role to perfection.
"You have something I want," he bellows. "You may think you have some idea of what you're in possession of, but you do not. In a few moments ... it will be mine."
The Mandalorian screams into his comlink again and again, but there's no reply.
Then we see baby Yoda lying on the ground, and he's quickly scooped up by a Biker Scout. But as the camera slowly pans back, we also see Kuiil's Blurrg lying motionless on its side, and finally we see Kuiil himself ... also motionless on the ground, just feet away from the ramp of the Razor Crest, with what looks like smoke rising up from his body.
It's a truly tragic moment, and even the closing credits music has been changed to reflect that. All in all, it sets up a thrilling conclusion, which unfortunately we'll have to wait over a week for.
The final episode of "The Mandalorian" will air on Disney Plus Dec. 27.
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