Writer/director Dave Filoni begins “The Jedi,” the fifth episode of the second season of The Mandalorian on a dark, bare landscape with trees and walled city. Dystopia is in the air, for sure. And, then, instead of holding her back for a teaser at the end of the episode, Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) emerges from the darkness dual-wielding lightsabers and takes down the goons of the magistrate Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto). It’s one of many beautifully choreographed action sequences in “The Jedi” and a worthy live-action introduction for this popular character from Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The scene also sets the episode’s stakes: either Ahsoka Tano leaves Corvus, or Elsbeth will start executing her own people that she tortures in front of her own bonsai tree/koi pond sanctuary.
Of course, Mando and The Child are utterly unaware of the situation on Corvus when they land in the middle of the aforementioned woods with giant creatures idly grazing around them. They get some tense questions at the city gate (Mando smartly conceals The Child/treats him like a pet.), don’t get any answers or conversation at all from the inhabitants of Corvus, and are finally brought before Elsbeth, who offers Mando a staff of pure Beskar to kill Ahsoka Tano and gives him her coordinates. Mando and Ahsoka Tano have a short fight, but she immediately knows that The Child is Force-sensitive and communicates with him telepathically in a touching silent sequence. She also learns his real name, Grogu, and a bit of backstory, including that he was trained on the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, escaped after the Great Purge, and has been wandering the galaxy and suppressing his true origins ever since.
The next day, Ahsoka Tano tests Grogu in his Force abilities, but he is held back by his anger, pain, and attachment to Mando, who uses a part of his ship to coax him to use his telekinesis. Because of all these factors, Ahsoka Tano refuses to train Grogu, but ever the deal-maker, Mando gets her to change her mind if he helps her liberate Corvus from Morgan Elsbeth and her hired gun, Lang (Michael Biehn). This leads to some great stealth action, a heavy dose of anti-fascism, and a thrilling duel between a Beskar staff-wielding Elsbeth and Ahsoka Tano. Inosanto is a highly-skilled martial artist and Bruce Lee’s granddaughter so her stances and moves are fluid and realistic.
Because she is his own co-creation and also integral to the overarching plot of The Mandalorian, Dave Filoni spends a lot of time with Ahsoka Tano, and she even gets her own mini-storyline apart from Mando and The Child that features yet another a nerdy Easter Egg and makes it seem like “The Jedi” is a backdoor pilot for a show with her as protagonist. Dawson plays Ahsoka Tano with a fierceness and also a sense of sad nobility as she is one of the last Jedi in the universe and had to watch her mentor, Anakin Skywalker, go to the Dark Side. Anakin’s name is never mentioned in the episode, but every time she mentions “anger” and “attachment” in the context of Grogu, you can tell that it’s not the usual Jedi line. She wants Grogu to have a good, long life and not follow the road down to the Dark Side. Maybe, he just wants to be a cute kid and not the next hope of the Jedi as one of only three members of Yoda’s (He finally gets a name drop.) species that have appeared in Star Wars canon.
Even though Ahsoka Tano (and honestly Morgan Elsbeth) steal the show, I love the character work that Filoni does with Mando in “The Jedi”. Every named character thinks that he will act according to traditional ways/factions, but he surprises them. Morgan Elsbeth gives him a little speech about the traditional rivalry between Mandalore and the Jedi and thinks that will sway him to work for her, but in actuality, he’s smuggling a little Jedi under his cloak. Later, in the episode, Lang sees him as a fellow gunslinger, appeals to his pragmatism to abandon a lost cause, and go home. However, this doesn’t work on Mando, who as we’ve seen throughout The Mandalorian, is an altruistic person, especially in regards to his relationship with Grogu. Filoni takes time to show Mando free the prisoners with the help of the old magistrate and make sure that they’re safe inside before he begins his fight with Lang while Ahsoka Tano duels with Elsbeth.
Mando isn’t a traditional hero, but he helps those who he feels are exploited by the very complicated post-fall of the Second Death Star society. However, with the torture and executions, Elsbeth is a pretty obvious baddie and a total fascist and war profiteer, who was able to afford her pure Beskar staff thanks to exploiting planets to make ships for the Imperial fleet. Seeing Ahsoka Tano kick her ass is quite satisfying, and there is real tension in the fight scene as Elsbeth disarms her and even gets a staff to her throat. Tano and Mando really have to use tactics to retake the city like the old faking his death so he sneak in and occupy the assassin droids and other goons while she quickly infiltrates Elsbeth’s sanctuary.
“The Jedi” really feels a lot like classic Star Wars with a plot about resistance against an authoritarian government with a side dish of fate, destiny, free will, and all that other stuff. But, maybe, Grogu has (silently) experienced so much trauma in his life that he doesn’t want to follow the traditional, Joseph Campbell monomythic path. Thankfully, Ahsoka Tano has experienced similar trauma over the years, and because of this and the bond she can see between Grogu and Mando, she reneges on her promise while giving them intel on a planet where Grogu can choose his fate once and for all. On the surface, it seems like a cop out to have Ahsoka Tano show up, be cool, and not end up training Grogu, but it’s grounded in her character and her experiences even if it continues The Mandalorian‘s RPG plot structure.
Finally, it would be a big omission to not praise the visuals and shot choices of director Dave Filoni and cinematographer Baz Idoine (He did second unit work on Rogue One.), who make Corvus an utterly hopeless and closed off place with its light brown, smoky color palette. Whenever Ahsoka Tano’s lightsabers ignite, it’s like just a glimpse of hope, and Filoni and Idoine linger on the post-liberation celebration like it’s a mini-version of the big one at the end of The Return of Jedi. The mist combined with the training that Ahsoka Tano does with Grogu also create shades of Dagobah and Empire Strikes Back where Luke Skywalker faced his own doubts and didn’t respond to Yoda’s teaching very well. These little visual and sound cues have been a fun part of The Mandalorian Season 2 as the different writers and directors have used them to comment on Mando and Grogu’s journey, not just as fanboy Easter Eggs.
With its insights into Grogu’s emotions and backstory, a fierce, yet vulnerable performance from Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano, and operatic storytelling from writer/director Dave Filoni, “The Jedi” is the strongest hour of The Mandalorian Season 2 yet even with an ending that’s a little rocky. It puts the to-this-point self-contained relationship between Mando and Grogu in the context of the larger Star Wars mythos as well as being a crowd-pleasing good versus evil story with unlikely heroes, who traditionally would hate each other’s guts.
Overall Verdict: 8.8