Warning: Spoilers for Season 2, Episode 4 of "The Mandalorian" below.
What everyone needs right now is a little escapism. We're all feeling a little stressed and a little sad, especially since the Thanksgiving holiday will be a somewhat subdued affair and "The Mandalorian" is exactly what should be prescribed to beat any burgeoning case of the blues. The second season of the Disney Plus "Star Wars" series has established itself, found its feet and is providing us with some thoroughly entertaining, up-beat sci-fi, without having its primary character blubbering in Every Single Episode.
Having a plausible story arc counts for a lot and of course and from a more mercenary, merchandising perspective, Disney has struck gold with Baby Yoda. (NASA even launched into space this week!) This week's installment, entitled "Chapter 12: The Siege," is an exciting 35 minute episode offering some amazing set piece action, a whole new dark side of the Empire, while still advancing the overall story a little bit as well. What more could you possibly ask for?
We start with a smile-inducing scene where the Mandalorian, a.k.a. Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) is trying to instruct Baby Yoda, a.k.a. the Child to fix some wiring in a hard-to-reach conduit. Following a variation on some classic red-wire/blue-wire shenanigans, he gives up and grumpily concludes that the Mon Calamari repair job on the Razor Crest is not going to be enough to get them to the city of Calodan on the forest planet of Corvus, which is where Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) told him he must seek out Ahsoka Tano, in last week's enthralling episode.
"I think we need to visit some friends for repairs," Djarin tells the Child. "How would you like to go back to Nevarro?" he asks. If the Child could properly understand what the Mandalorian was saying, it would probably not be too thrilled at the prospect, but as we're about to see, things have changed since we last visited this volcanic planet.
We cut to what appears to be the Armorer's former beskarworks in the one-time underground stronghold for the Mandalorians on Nevarro. A gang of Aqualish scavengers is picking the place clean as one hears a disturbance outside. The next thing we see is Cara Dune (Gina Carano) giving these posterior-faced plunderers a serious pummeling. It seems she has become a town marshal in Nevarro City. Roll opening credits.
The Mandalorian lands just outside the city limits and is greeted straightaway by Dune and Greef Karga (Carl Weathers — who also directed this episode). Both are delighted to see Djarin and the Child and it's immediately apparent that the Razor Crest is afflicted, so Karga promises he'll get his best people to (a human and a shifty-looking Mimbanese) to repair it.
Nevarro City certainly has been cleaned up. The last we saw it, Imperial Stormtroopers under the command of Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) were literally carving up the place with an E-Web heavy repeating blaster in the Season 1 finale and now it's a flourishing market town. In fact, the bar where Dune, Karga, Djarin and IG-11 were holding up has now been turned into a school.
The child is left there while the others find somewhere to talk business, much to the other children's curiosity. There's even a very young girl in the class who even looks like a young Rey from "The Force Awakens" no doubt thrown into the mix for some fun. However, the dates of the sequel trilogy and "The Mandalorian" don't make it possible otherwise Rey would be in her mid 30s when we first meet her. Perhaps it's more of a statement on hair fashion in the outer rim territories.
We go to Karga's office, where we see his receptionist is the Mythrol (Horatio Sanz), who Djarin froze in carbonite in the first episode of Season 1. Karga asks the Mandalorian for his help while he waits for his ship to be repaired. It seems there's a sizable Imperial base on the other side of the planet and despite supposedly having only a skeleton staff, if they can destroy this, then the Imperial presence on Nevarro will be gone forever.
Using the Mythrol's landspeeder, they approach the base from the bottom of the cavern that it sits atop of. According to Karga, it's powered by tapping into one of the planet's many underground volcanic lava flows, all they have to do is shut down the cooling system and shortly afterwards, everything will explode. Unable to open the access door at the cavern base, Djarin flies up to the overhanging landing pad situated at the top of the cavern and opens the door from there.
Imperial Stormtroopers are, to all intents and purposes, cannon fodder and can be used very easily to satisfy the slightly twisted side in all of us that enjoys seeing them meet their end in extremely unfortunate ways. And this episode contains some classics.
The other three ride the elevator up and join Djarin at the top, but he's expressing concern over their plan as he's already had to blast more Imperial troops than he was probably expecting. They carefully creep through the complex, passing an impressive array of Imperial hardware along the way, including speeder bikes and a mint condition Trexler Marauder, suggesting there may be more than a skeleton staff here. They reach the control room, incapacitate the guard and ascertain the location of their target.
Related: 'Star Wars'! 40 Surprising Facts from a Galaxy Far, Far Away
The controls to the cooling lines are an obvious nod to the tractor beam controls that Obi Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) must deactivate aboard the Death Star in "A New Hope" and with these shut down, only a matter of minutes remain before the base begins to self destruct. There's also wonderful throwaway remark by the Mythrol about there being no handrails, a health and safety issue that fans have commented on for decades.
They come across two Imperial technicians (wearing the same Clone Army Project emblem patch as Dr. Pershing that was first seen on clothing worn by the clones training on Kamino in "Attack of the Clones") who are frantically trying to purge all the data from their consoles. A firefight ensues at which point a member of the production crew can be spotted who clearly didn't think he was in shot and has already become famous on social media. The close quarters battle aboard the Imperial Gozanti freighter in last week's episode was very effective and this is more of the same and is equally as effective.
After clearing the area they turn to see a row of huge wall-mounted test tubes, like something out of "Alien: Resurrection" and inside seem to be disfigured humanoid forms. Everyone is … er, speechless, to say the least. "I thought you said this was a forward operating base," Dune says. "This is not a military operation … this is a lab."
Fiddling with the damaged control console, the Mythrol stumbles across an old recording: it's Dr. Pershing (Omid Abtahi). The four of them, still a little overwhelmed by what they're seeing and hearing listen to the message. "Replicated the results of the subsequent trials, which also resulted in catastrophic failure. There were promising effects for an entire fortnight, but then sadly, the body rejected the blood. I highly doubt we will find a donor with a higher M-count though. I recommend that we suspend all experimentation. I fear that the volunteer will meet the same regrettable fate if we proceed with the transfusion. Unfortunately, we have exhausted our initial supply of blood. The Child is small and I was only able to harvest a limited amount without killing him. If these experiments are to continue as requested, we would again require access to the donor. I will not disappoint you again, Moff Gideon."
And there it is. The unmistakable mention of that thing that divided fans 21 years ago, the determination that something quantifiable generates the Force — Midi-chlorians — introduced into "Star Wars" canon in "The Phantom Menace," which subsequently removed any notion of it simply being something mystical and magical that we just don't understand.
Djarin realizes that Gideon is still alive and therefore the Child is in danger at which point a squad of Imperial Stormtroopers arrives and opens fire. Dune suggests he jet back and they'll rendezvous in the city and like "King of the Rocketmen" off he goes. There are a lot of very subtle nods to previous "Star Wars" installments, particularly "A New Hope" as we've already mentioned, but it also extends to Stormtrooper dialogue, with lines like, "Alright men, load your weapons…"
The others have made their way back to the hangar bay and jump into the Trexler Marauder, naturally. What follows is a thrilling and thoroughly entertaining chase sequence as Imperial troops pursue on speeder bikes. But again, subtle improvements have been made in how we see them handled, more like motocross bikes and it works beautifully.
Between Dune's driving and Karga's shooting skills on the gun turret, the Imperial Biker Scouts are all dispensed with in a variety of gruesome ways. Next, a trio of Imperial TIE fighters is dispatched and it looks like our heroes are in trouble as they've left the protective cover of the canyon. That is until the Razor Crest appears, repaired and fully functional.
The following dogfight sequence is nothing short of gorgeous. Attention has been paid to every conceivable detail even down to wingtip vortices on the TIE fighters, airbrakes on the Razor Crest and the "fuselage camera" angle first used in "Top Gun" and then later in Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" and "Dunkirk."
The added entertainment of seeing the Child enjoying the dogfight like a kid on a rollercoaster is priceless. It even throws up a little bit afterwards, bless.
Despite the Imperial threat being eliminated, Djarin informs Karga that he has to keep moving, to avoid Gideon, and so the friends bid each other farewell, for now. Back in Nevarro City, Capt. Carson Teeva (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) is questioning Karga about recent events in a nice, continued portrayal of the New Republic pilots as officers of the law. Teva even offers Dune a role should she wish to return to active service.
And then, finally we get to the other big reveal of this episode (the first one being the laboratory). In an establishing shot akin to the opening sequence of "A New Hope" — and the subtle, continuing similarities between Moff Gideon and Darth Vader — we see an Arquitens-class command cruiser slowly glide over our heads. On board, a young Comms Officer (Katy O'Brian) talks to a hologram of that shifty-looking Mimbanese we saw earlier, who informs her that "the device" has been planted as she requested.
She reports to Gideon and tells him that the Mandalorian still has "the asset" and then the camera pans back to reveal rows on either side of the wall of black clad troopers in some sort of hibernation. And this has sent social media into a frenzy. Clearly they're being engineered and speculation suggests they are more than likely a form of Dark Trooper. These were advanced battle droids and infantry exoskeletons that featured heavy armor, powerful weapons and jump packs for increased flexibility and tactical advantage.
However, it's unlikely to be the DT-series sentry droid model and according to Twitter, if you watch the end of the episode with descriptive audio enabled, it describes them as "Dark Troopers," which means they'll probably require cloned soldiers inside, operating them.
They originated in the 1995 game "Dark Forces," which saw the Empire attempting to create a legion of deadly droid soldiers in the Dark Trooper project. Some variants even featured Beskar-beating, Force-wielding exoskeletons. The designs also influenced the Shadow Troopers in the "Force Unleashed" and "Battlefront" games.
This, together with what appears to be the failed attempts to deliberately create a subject strong in the Force, could very well indicate a link to future events in "Star Wars" history, like the cloning of the Emperor or the creation of Snoke. In any case, the Mandalorian is leading Gideon to the planet Corvus and Ahsoka Tano, one of the last Jedi left in the galaxy.
Favreau has said in the past that: "I'm trying to evoke the aesthetics of not just the original trilogy, but the first film. Not just the first film, but the first act of the first film. What was it like on Tatooine? What was going on in that cantina? That has fascinated me since I was a child, and I love the idea of the darker, freakier side of 'Star Wars,' the 'Mad Max' aspect of 'Star Wars.'"
If you're old enough to remember playing with the original Kenner "Star Wars" figures and vehicles when you were young (and of course completely unaware that if only we'd sacrificed our intellectual growth and kept them in the packaging, they'd be worth a fortune today) then you might also remember how our imaginations had to compensate for the fact that with our weekly allowance alone, we couldn't afford every vehicle or hundreds of Stormtroopers. In order to overcome this economic discrepancy, rearranged cushions on the sofa could become a secret Rebel base or a stack of empty shoeboxes could be an impenetrable Imperial fortress.
The adventures of our heroes that we created needed to be … scaled down just a little bit. Certainly no one owned 10 AT-ATs, so the annual wintertime recreations of the Battle of Hoth mainly involved made up stories of events that took place behind the scenes, requiring less financial outlay and only an active imagination. And right now at least, the feel of "The Mandalorian" is a little reminiscent of this; it's no doubt a deliberate move on Favreau's part … and it feels nice.
A couple of week's ago, we said this is the best episode of "The Mandalorian" yet. Then last week, we said, no, this is the best episode of "The Mandalorian" yet. Well, we're going to say it again: this is the best episode yet. And that tells you that it's going from strength to strength, improving upon itself week by week. Conversely, the other big sci-fi show currently airing is doing the exact opposite. It's clear to see that "The Mandalorian" is made by people who have an ongoing love affair with "Star Wars" and that makes it standout sci-fi.
"The Mandalorian" airs every Friday on Disney Plus. The first season of "The Mandalorian" is on Disney Plus, which is available for $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year in the US and in the U.K., it's £6 a month, or £60 a year. It's also available in Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, India, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, France and Japan.