“The Mandalorian: Chapter 8” Review!

The final episode of The Mandalorian‘s first season on Disney+ is quite appropriately titled Redemption – for not only does the title work in-universe, but it’s also an amusingly apt reflection on the fact that Redemption very literally redeems the slow-paced series’ many mishaps. The plot itself often seemed like an afterthought while Mando (Pedro Pascal) and his tiny, adorable sidekick Baby Yoda traveled the galaxy, stopping in at random planets to marvel at the visual spectacle and meet new friends – or enemies. But in the season finale, masterfully directed by Taika Waititi, the story is rich, thrilling, entertaining and emotional; the characters feel more fleshed-out than they have appeared previously; and, most importantly, Baby Yoda is the cutest we’ve seen him yet.

And that’s all I’ll say in the non-spoilers section. If you haven’t watched the episode yet, but plan to, then turn away now! SPOILERS AHEAD!

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The finale is chock-full of plot twists and gasp-out-loud revelations, but none more bewildering than the fact that Taika Waititi, who has never directed a Star Wars property previously, is somehow able to ease into the director’s chair for Redemption with all the graceful assurance of Dave Filoni, who at first glance would seem the natural choice to bring this series home to its epic (and thankfully, only temporary) conclusion. Waititi’s work here is surprisingly understated: you’d be hard-pressed to find any clues that this episode comes from the mind that brought you crazy, colorful comedies like Thor: Ragnarok or Jojo Rabbit (though it is amusingly unsurprising that the finale stars Waititi’s own character, assassin turned nurse droid IG-11, in a particularly prominent role). Obviously, directing a single good episode of TV doesn’t warrant immediately getting a three-picture deal with Lucasfilm, but hey, why not give Waititi a shot at his very own Star Wars trilogy?

Another surprise that boggled my mind, at least, was that Mandalorians are cool – for what I feel is the first time, despite everyone else in the world idolizing the very ground that Boba Fett walks upon. And one of the coolest things about them (apart from jetpacks and flamethrowers) is that they’re not a specific race of people, as Cara Dune (Gina Carano) reveals during an emotional moment in the episode: they’re a creed. Not only does it reinforce a particularly Rian Johnson theme in Disney’s Star Wars, that anyone can be a Mandalorian without having to have been born one, but it also makes the Mandalorians seem a lot more noble – in an extended flashback sequence which haunts our protagonist’s mind, we witness a squad of the flying, armored warriors acting as human shields for wounded refugees trying to escape from brutal droid-warfare: and it is revealed that during this battle, a young orphaned boy named Din Djarin was rescued by these Mandalorians and taken to safety with them – that boy was our very own “Mando”, whom I guess we can finally call Din Djarin? We’ve actually known that name for a while (Pedro Pascal ever-so-slightly spoiled it last month), but it’s only now canon, meaning I can only now use it. Yes, the Mandalorians are still vaguely cultish, and more than a little creepy, but at least they’re not solely defined by characters like Jango and Boba Fett anymore, or even just the term of “bounty hunter”. Djarin’s other biggest secret, his face, was also finally revealed in this episode…and, well, it’s Pedro Pascal’s face. I’m not entirely sure what we were all expecting, but honestly, that reveal was a bit underwhelming. It’s not like his face was even altered in any way: he didn’t have any scars or third-degree burns to speak of, no missing eyes or other distinguishing facial features. Not even a different hair color.

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Djarin’s secrets weren’t the only ones brought to light: IG-11 is revealed to have been entirely reformed by Kuiil’s repairs, riding in to rescue Baby Yoda from a couple of monstrous stormtroopers who amuse themselves by punching and mocking the adorable little infant – the droid then straps The Child into a baby-backpack and goes on a killing spree around Nevarro, mowing down stormtroopers. He later sacrifices himself to rescue the whole team, self-destructing and blowing an entire legion of enemies sky-high. Baby Yoda himself is given his own hero moment when he faces down a flamethrower-wielding stormtrooper and deflects the attacker’s fire back at him: there’s a couple more reveals about his character, but I need to address those separately. Then there’s Cara Dune, whose home planet is revealed to be Alderaan (Princess Leia’s planet, infamously blown to pieces by the Death Star in A New Hope), thus explaining her undying grudge against the Empire. Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) turns out to have been an ex-Imperial himself, though that big secret falls a little flat due to the fact that we barely even know Karga, and have always been on-the-fence about whether or not to trust him and his Bounty Hunters Guild, anyway.

The person doing a lot of this dramatic-revealing is none other than Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), who is being set up to be the series’ big bad, and Din Djarin’s arch-nemesis. Gideon toys with his victims as they shelter in the burnt-out rubble of Werner Herzog’s lair, spilling their secrets to the world and promising them tantalizingly good deals if they’ll only hand over Baby Yoda. We never do find out what Gideon or Herzog wanted with The Child (and, come to think of it, we never even found out Herzog’s character name or purpose in the story, before he was unceremoniously murdered in the assault on his hideout), but considering how despicably evil Gideon is revealed to be, I’m going to assume it’s not because either of them just wanted cuddles and hugs. Gideon is also shown to have an alarmingly dangerous arsenal: not only can his tiny little handgun pierce through beskar steel, but the Moff is also a trained TIE-fighter pilot capable of handling his own in a dogfight. Oh yeah, and he just so happens to be in possession of the one black lightsaber in the entire galaxy, no biggie.

The lightsaber in question, better known as the Darksaber, has never been seen in live-action before this day, though it was seen in the animated series, Star Wars Rebels, which gave us a couple clues about the saber’s history. It was crafted by Tarre Vizsla, the first Mandalorian Jedi, during the reign of the Old Republic, and has since meandered across the universe, through the hands of a number of notable peoples and individuals, including the belligerent Mandalorian Clan Vizsla (to whose ranks Din Djarin appears to belong), the legendary Sith Lord Darth Maul, and Nite Owls leader Bo-Katan, who was the last known person to wield the blade, almost a decade before we seen Moff Gideon crawl from the wreckage of his TIE-fighter with the weapon in hand. The Darksaber is something of a mystical item, bestowing upon its wielder the title of Mand’alor, or leader of the Mandalorians – Gideon certainly has a fascination with the religious order, having been personally involved with eradicating them during the Great Purge and keeping tabs on those who survived. And now that he’s back on his feet, we can safely assume Din Djarin and Baby Yoda won’t be safe from his murderous rage anytime soon.

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But for the moment, Din has a more urgent problem to worry about: while visiting his old friend The Armorer (Emily Swallow), he was gifted a number of odds-and-ends, including his very own jetpack, a personal sigil, and custody over Baby Yoda – which, apparently, is something that The Armorer can just hand out to anybody she feels like. But there’s a catch: while she tells Djarin to protect and train the baby (and even bestows upon them a title, the “Clan of Two”, which seems to hint at Star Wars’ common theme of duality), she also instructs him to seek out the child’s people – it’s not clearly indicated whether she’s referring specifically to Baby Yoda’s birth-family, or the Jedi in general, but it’s obvious that this will be a central plot-point in the series’ second season. But honestly, as much as we all want to see a whole planet of Baby Yodas, I think I’m just as excited to see The Child training as a Mandalorian – just so long as Din Djarin doesn’t try to make him wear a ridiculous helmet of his own: Baby Yoda’s adorable, expressive little puppet-face will not be hidden from the world, not if I and the internet have anything to say about the matter.

For the record, I think there’s a decent chance that we do actually see the home-planet of The Child’s species in The Mandalorian, and that the Jedi sage Yaddle will be revealed to be his mother. I know, I know, Yaddle is presumed dead – but there’s never been any conclusive evidence that that is the case, and honestly, she deserves so much more recognition than she gets. You know what, I’m just gonna say it: I think Yaddle is a better character than Yoda. Come at me, Yoda stans!

We’ve been left with a number of pressing questions from the season finale, but a bunch of mysteries have also been resolved, and we’ve left Din Djarin and Baby Yoda in a good place, all things considered. What did you think of the finale? Are you excited for Season 2? Share your thoughts and theories in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 9/10

“The Mandalorian: Chapter 7” Review!

Minor SPOILERS For Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Ahead!

The penultimate installment in The Mandalorian‘s (sometimes) epic journey dropped last Wednesday, so as to avoid having to compete with Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker‘s Friday release date, but I am only just getting around to reviewing the suspenseful episode today. And I’m pleased to announce that, while the series has moved too slowly up until now, director Deborah Chow once again manages to send a jolt of tension into the story’s creaking mechanics just in time for the season finale.

The episode opens with The Mandalorian (voiced by Pedro Pascal: it was revealed recently that Pascal himself only occasionally portrays the masked and armored mercenary physically) receiving an urgent message telling him to return to the city of Nevarro with his precious cargo, the adorable Baby Yoda. But Mando, still finding time for detours in all the chaos and fast-paced action, first makes brief stops to two other planets to recruit former ally Cara Dune (Gina Carano) as additional muscle, and blurg-herder Kuiil (Nick Nolte) as a babysitter for The Child. But things don’t go entirely according to plan, and everything that happens next is one big spoiler – and for once, I actually mean that. This episode actually does have some twists and turns, and one shocking cliffhanger ending.

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The first big surprise comes when Baby Yoda uses the Force to try and choke Cara Dune as she arm-wrestles the Mandalorian on his ship. The action is undeniably defensive on the Baby’s part, as he was obviously just trying to protect Mando from what he thought was real physical harm, but it still leaves the audience reeling: yes, Baby Yoda is capable of actually killing someone with the Force already, and isn’t afraid to use his powers. Not much later, he uses the Force to heal a wound dealt to Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) in a battle with giant bats. This is even more alarming than the Force-choke incident – Baby Yoda is one of only two (possibly three) characters in the current Star Wars canon to possess Force-healing abilities, the other(s?) being revealed in Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker. That would seem to suggest that Baby Yoda is very powerful and very unique, and it’s no wonder that the Empire wants him – we just don’t know what they plan to do with him.

But we will find out soon enough: after entering Nevarro and finding the city overrun with ex-Imperial stormtroopers, Mando, Karga and Dune come face-to-face with Werner Herzog’s mysterious character, still known only as The Client, while Kuiil takes Baby Yoda and rides as fast as possible back to the Mandalorian’s ship. But while Mando’s plan initially seems to be successful, as he guns down an entire squadron of stormtroopers and seemingly kills Herzog’s character, Kuiil isn’t so lucky. Stormtroopers intercept the mustachioed alien’s communications with Mando and hunt him down even as he tries to escape: the episode leaves us with a heartbreaking final shot of Kuiil’s tiny body, still smoking from a fatal laser blast, lying just a few feet from the spaceship. And Baby Yoda? The stormtroopers have him in their grasp.

Mando and his little team aren’t in great shape either, going into the finale. Their story leaves off with them barricaded inside Herzog’s lair, while dozens of stormtroopers surround them on all sides – far more than the “four” bodyguards that Karga had warned them about going into the mission. And that’s not even the worst of it: arriving in a majestic Imperial TIE-fighter, resplendent in military uniform, is Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) a new character to the Star Wars universe, but not wholly unfamiliar either: A New Hope introduced fans to Peter Cushing as the menacing Grand Moff Tarkin, commander of the first Death Star, and there have been a couple other “Moffs” here and there, grand or otherwise. Gideon, with his battalion of special death-troopers, certainly looks like one of the ex-Empire’s most senior officials. Whatever he is, his intentions are clear: he wants Baby Yoda, and, knowing the Moffs, he’s probably prepared to blow up the entire city of Nevarro to get his hands on the adorable little creature – I mean, can we blame him? Poor guy’s probably been scouring the internet for good-quality Baby Yoda plushies and has finally snapped and gone after the real deal. That’s a perfectly legitimate villain origin story.

Other highlights from the tense episode include the return of IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi), the assassin droid whom Mando slew in the very first episode. Kuiil reveals that he found and repaired the droid, and that the former bounty hunter no longer remembers his past life of brutality and violence, and is now a willing servant, farmhand and waiter. But the droid’s eerie interactions with his killer suggest that maybe IG-11 is just waiting for his chance to strike.

As we wait for the eighth and final episode in the series, I think it’s about time we started considering how many of our pressing questions can logically be answered in a forty-minute finale: will we learn who Baby Yoda is, and what the Empire wants with him? Will we learn anything about the state of the Empire at this point in time, and will it help to clarify certain elements of The Rise Of Skywalker? Will more of the Mandalorian’s former friends and enemies make an appearance one last time, or will it just be him, Dune, Karga and Yoda against the world? Will Mando remove his mask, give us a hint of his shadowy backstory, or explain why he hates droids so much? Was it Moff Gideon who approached Fennec Shand’s body on the sands of Tatooine in Episode 5, or was that another, as yet unknown character? We’ve got a lot of questions, and Episode 7, aptly titled The Reckoning, has only added more to the mix.

Fingers crossed that the finale can answer at least a couple of them.

Episode Rating: 8/10

“Free Guy” Trailer Review!

A lot of people thought Ryan Reynolds’s signature brand of crazy, edgy, meta humor would be suffocated under the Disney label, but the first trailer for his comedy action movie Free Guy proves that Reynolds isn’t going to be easily dissuaded from doing whatever he wants – including poking fun at the Mouse House in the first few moments of the trailer: the opening title cards read “From the studio that brought you Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, followed after a beat by “Twice”). And from there on out, Free Guy looks like a wildly fun, unabashedly ridiculous movie that fans of Reynolds will love.

Reynolds plays an NPC (non-playable character) named Guy, trying to live his life in the background of a gigantic, action-packed video game filled with explosions, car/motorcycle/helicopter/fighter plane crashes, and daily heists and hostage crises at the bank where he works. But one day, he can’t take it anymore, and sets out to change his tiresome routine by becoming the hero of his virtual reality. So basically this movie is what would happen if Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph and 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool had a baby – or rather, it is what happens when Disney and 20th Century Fox merge and start making movies together.

The trailer looks comedic and entertaining in a 90’s sort of way, with catchy music, bright colors, and a familiar cast of characters. It looks fun: nothing more, nothing less. I had been expecting something a little more unpredictable, but what we’ve got looks good enough for right now.

Trailer Rating: 6.9/10

“The Mandalorian: Chapter 1” Review!

The first segment of Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni’s The Mandalorian is an intriguing introduction to a darker, grittier corner of the Star Wars universe, doing a whole lot of worldbuilding, establishing a compelling mystery spanning several planets, and leaving viewers with plenty of questions.

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Set sometime after the fall of the Empire in The Return Of The Jedi, the series presents us with a region of deep space that seems unaffected by the peace and prosperity we saw blossom across the universe in Jedi‘s celebratory finale. The aliens and humans we encounter in the pilot episode are barely scraping by, surviving only by hunting down their enemies and killing them – or hiring others to do so. The nameless protagonist played by Pedro Pascal, known only as the Mandalorian (or “Mando”, as he is disparagingly called in one space cantina), is supposedly one of the most legendary bounty hunters in the parsec, though he does surprisingly little to earn that reputation in this episode: the action sequences are few and far between, and the big battle at the end of the episode is really just a whole bunch of red laser-bolts dancing wildly across the screen, leaving the Mandalorian himself with little room to prove his own tactical or military prowess. His uncomfortably awkward encounter with an alien monster named a Blurrg undermines the character even further. As of right now, I can’t understand why everyone is so terrified of the Mandalorian, or how he has somehow established such command in the bounty hunter guild he works with – but his ally, the hunter droid IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi), while undeniably more malevolent, is even more clumsy, so perhaps this is a trait shared by all of Star Wars‘ bounty hunters – even the mighty Boba Fett fell into a Sarlac pit, after all.

It’s an unpleasant reality, but Pascal’s Mandalorian is simply not as interesting as some of his co-stars in the first episode, who receive far less screentime but far more personality and character. Even the Armorer, a female Mandalorian who designs a shoulder pauldron for the Mandalorian (I get that they’re a secretive people, but names would be really helpful right about now), is marginally more interesting than him: Mandalorian culture in general is something that I’d love to see explored in greater depth as the series progresses – though at present, there’s a much greater mystery unfolding, one which definitely takes precedence over “why are shoulder-pads so important to the Mandalorians?”

Werner Herzog plays the Mandalorian’s nameless client, who appears to be a survivor of the Empire’s demise: he commands a host of trigger-happy stormtroopers, and is working closely with a suspiciously enthusiastic scientist named Dr. Pershing (Omid Abtahi). The two men employ the Mandalorian to hunt down a dangerous target on the other side of the galaxy, though neither is willing to give many details about their prey – save that Pershing wants it alive at all costs. We’ve known for quite some time that this series could give us crucial details about how the fallen Empire rebuilt itself into the First Order that currently threatens Rey and the Resistance: if I had to make a guess at this early stage, I would assume that Pershing and his mysterious friend have something to do with that. And I’ve even got the beginnings of an idea as to why that might be, but it requires us to get into spoiler territory – so without further ado, here’s your SPOILER WARNING!

At the end of the episode, after the Mandalorian and IG-11 have broken into an alien base on a desert planet, they come face to face with the unidentified asset they’ve been hunting via tracking fob. And while some of us might have been expecting their target to be a prominent Star Wars character such as Obi-Wan Kenobi or Princess Leia, they are instead greeted by…a tiny floating cradle. It would have been absolutely outstanding if the cradle’s occupant had turned out to be baby Rey, but no…

It’s baby Yoda.

Now, The Mandalorian takes place after Yoda’s death, so obviously this isn’t the Jedi Master himself – which means there are only a couple of reasons why this character would even be introduced, and why the Empire would be so desperate to hunt him/her down and capture him/her. It could be that Baby Yoda is a completely unrelated member of the Jedi’s same species (which, let’s face it, isn’t likely). It’s possible that Baby Yoda is Yoda’s child, which is at least theoretically plausible. But I happen to think this baby is none other than Yoda’s clone: an infant messiah who the Empire might want to capture for two reasons – firstly, because letting it live isn’t exactly Imperial protocol; and secondly, most importantly, because at this point in the Star Wars timeline, with the Empire collapsing into ruin across the galaxy, with the forces of evil on the run, the Sith Lords are desperate for something to restore their greatness and glory. What better way to do so than to bring back Emperor Palpatine himself – something we know will happen in The Rise Of Skywalker – through use of cloning technology? Why else would a scientist be so desperate to get his hands on the seemingly harmless child? Why else, unless he wanted to study the secrets of cloning and use that technology to resurrect the Emperor?

But the Empire didn’t count on Pedro Pascal’s Mandalorian being a kind-hearted softie who can’t bring himself to hurt the baby when he confronts it – even killing (or at the very least injuring) IG-11 when the droid tries to “terminate” Baby Yoda. The episode ends with a powerful shot of Baby Yoda holding the Mandalorian’s hand, staring up at him with adorably naive eyes and making cute cooing noises. I don’t know what to expect from Episode 2, but somehow I don’t think that the Mandalorian will be responsible for taking the baby back to the Imperial baddies.

Aside from Baby Yoda, the episode’s finale leaves us with a couple of big questions. Is IG-11 really dead? Will the Mandalorian be able to escape with Baby Yoda? – his Ugnaught guide Kuiil (Nick Nolte) was adamant that people who enter the desert don’t come back alive, but the Mandalorian seems to have taken care of all of the infant’s alien guardians pretty easily. As for the Mandalorian himself, who is he? Glimpses of his backstory as a war refugee played in a montage while the Armorer was designing his shoulder-pad, so it looks like Pascal’s character might have had a tragic past during the Clone Wars.

When all is said and done, the series’ pilot episode is merely good – with hints and teases of better material down the road. At the very least, it’s worth watching for Ludwig Göransson’s beautiful score, which sounds almost more fantasy than sci-fi. And with characters like Ming Na-Wen’s assassin Fennec Shand yet to appear onscreen, there’s plenty to look forward to in later episodes.

Episode Review: 7/10

“The Mandalorian” Trailer Review!

The Mandalorian, which is being hailed as a “visionary” new chapter in the Star Wars saga, has a lot of responsibility on its caped shoulders: as the flagship original series for Disney+, it needs to pull in viewers fast, and hold their attention across a span of several weeks. Does its second – and presumably final – trailer succeed in attracting customers to the new streaming platform?

Well….

I’ll say this: if you were already hooked by The Mandalorian after the first trailer, I assume this trailer will pique your interest even further. But this isn’t the type of trailer that tries to expand the prospective demographic; it doesn’t reach out to a new target audience or even tease any big reveals that could entice general audiences. No, if you like Star Wars – you’re going to have to watch this show. If not…well, I guess there’s always that Lady & The Tramp remake.

Even for Star Wars fans, this trailer doesn’t really have a whole lot to say: it’s mostly just quick glimpses of hand-to-hand action and a couple of important-looking-people walking around, zooming across the desert on little hoverbikes, etc. Nothing too revolutionary. It does promise a bit of backstory for the First Order, and it shows us what the galaxy was like in the days after the return of the Jedi (based on the trailers, I’d say it seems to be relatively the same as it always was, except without nearly as many storm-troopers – since a lot of them have seemingly been killed by the native populations of the planets they subjugated, and have had their heads mounted on spears. Yep, this is just your average family-friendly Star Wars adventure!)

But maybe that’s all on purpose. Rumors say that The Mandalorian is loaded with spoilers, so much so that Disney won’t even be showing episodes of the series to the press before its premiere on Disney+ launch day, November 12th. Perhaps we’ve seen so little because there’s so much that can’t be shown yet. Fingers crossed, right?

So what do you think of the trailer? Share your own thoughts in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 5.9/10