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TV Review: The Mandalorian S2E8 “Chapter 16: The Rescue”

After last week’s trash talk ending, the long-awaited showdown between Mando and Moff Gideon has come in The Mandalorian Season 2 finale “Chapter 16: The Rescue“. Director Peyton Reed and writer Jon Favreau conclude Mando and Grogu’s quest and father/son arc nicely while setting up some tensions for upcoming seasons thanks to the return of the Mandalorians Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) and Koska Reeves (Sasha Banks) and the general slipperiness of Moff Gideon. Honestly, Giancarlo Esposito’s performance is so damn entertaining as he projects menace and power while having multiple guns to his head and being in shackles. You can’t kill off a character like that yet, and The Mandalorian writers know that and show that he is even better as a master manipulator who knows everything about everyone than as a duelist.

“Chapter 16: The Rescue” opens with Slave I chasing an Imperial shuttle in flight. These ships both appeared in Return of the Jedi, and Reed and Favreau make multiple visual, verbal, and plot references to this film. This isn’t a bad thing though and comes across more as a leit-motif than fanservice with “side character” Mando (Even though Mandalorians have their own lore.) suddenly finding himself in the middle of an operatic adventure. The pursuit quickly ends in boarding with Cara Dune shooting an Imperial in the head when he taunts her about the destruction of Alderaan, and they find out the whereabouts of Grogu and Moff Gideon from Dr. Pershing, who has run experiments on the little guy to potentially clone him.

With the shuttle in hand, Boba Fett and Mando go to a bar on an refinery planet to recruit Bo-Katan and Koska to help them out. Like the previous episode in which “restore the glory of Mandalore” folks appeared, things are a bit tense between them with Bo-Katan not liking that a clone wears the armor of her people. However, they agree to join the team with the promise of getting Moff Gideon’s light cruiser after they rescue Grogu. Then, Bo-Katan goes into command mode (and Sackhoff channels a little bit of Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica) and sets up a plan where they will a fly the cruiser in the TIE fighter tube with Slave I giving chase. Then, the rest of the team will create a diversion and take the bridge of the ship while Mando stealthily recaptures Grogu. The one spanner in the works is the Dark Troopers, who kidnapped Grogu two episodes ago and are revealed by Dr. Pershing to be droids. Battle droids have definitely come a long way since the Trade Federation’s “Roger, roger” types in The Phantom Menace.

To start out, the plan goes off without a hitch, and Reed’s experience doing clever action sequences on the two Ant-Man really comes in handy as he homages the small ships take on the cruiser sequence in Return of the Jedi with Slave I taking out TIE fighters with the greatest of ease, and the best getaway driver/pilot Boba Fett taking his bow. Then, Fennec Shand, Cara, Bo-Katan, and Koska demonstrate their competence by running a gauntlet through the ship while Moff Gideon immediately calls on the Dark Troopers. Peyton Reed shoots a variety of action sequences from Ming-Na Wen demonstrating her chops and doing unarmed takedowns plus headshots as Fennec to Bo-Katan and Koska using their jetpacks to flank some hapless stormtroopers. While this is going on, Mando runs into the Dark Troopers’ cryo cells and gets physically knocked around by the one that escape his enclosure. However, his cleverness comes in handy, and he ends up besting the Dark Trooper by mixing a flamethrower with an oxygen tube and then a spear to the head while letting the rest

Mando makes it to the brig, and of course, runs into Moff Gideon holding the Darksaber over Grogu. They chat for a bit, and Gideon explains the Darksaber’s significance. (It’s basically the Excalibur of Mandalore.) Mando doesn’t care about the Darksaber and just wants Grogu so they decide to go their separate ways until, of course, Moff Gideon stabs in the back. What ensues is an epic Darksaber on Beskar spear duel with Pedro Pascal demonstrating the spear fighting moves he picked up while playing Oberyn Martell (RIP) in Game of Thrones. Because he’s a good guy, Mando disarms Gideon, puts him in chains, rescues Grogu, and hauls him up to the bridge where Moff Gideon is super-manipulative about the Darksaber. He basically says that Bo-Katan has to defeat Mando in combat to get the weapon and be a true candidate to the throne of Mandalore. While this is going on, the Dark Troopers come back from space, and Moff Gideon tries to escape and shoots at Bo-Katan, but is physically incapacitated by Cara Dune before he can put a bullet in his brain for the glory of the empire.

The Mandalorian Chapter 16: The Rescue

Even after this failure, Moff Gideon is still gloating about how he and Grogu will be the only ones to survive the Dark Trooper assault when a single X-Wing flies into the ship. Grogu’s little ears perk up, and he turns to the monster and watches a hooded figure with a lightsaber take out the Dark Troopers showing that his meditation on Tython paid off. Peyton Reed does an homage to the Darth Vader hallway scene in Rogue One by shooting a tight, close-up of the Jedi skillfully taking out the Dark Troopers. When the Jedi reaches the bridge, everyone except Mando is wary as he removes his hood and reveals himself to be none other, but Luke Skywalker (A CGI de-aged Mark Hamill). Luke, Grogu, and Mando have a chat with Grogu asking for Mando’s permission to go with him. In a touching moment, Mando removes his helmet and lets Grogu touch his face before he goes off to get training with Luke and R2-D2 in a reversal of his scenes with Yoda in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. This is the end of the episode, but there’s a cool post-credits scene where Boba Fett and Fennec raid Jabba the Hutt’s palace with Fett shooting Bib Fortuna in the head and then sitting on Jabba’s throne setting up a new show in December 2021 called the Book of Boba Fett.

“Chapter 16: The Rescue” is a really exciting ensemble action episode with Jon Favreau giving each member of Mando’s “impressive fire team” a different motivation for being on the mission while still having them be utter badasses except when Cara’s big gun jams. They end up rescuing Grogu and taking over Moff Gideon’s light cruiser, but Favreau makes it clear that they’re not all BFFs as evidenced by their different responses to Luke coming in at the end. (The Jedi are the ancient enemies of the Mandalorians.) Also, Boba Fett gets treated really badly by Bo-Katan and Koska at the bar, who are still doing the sales pitch about re-taking Mandalore, and thankfully, their self-interest and Mando’s intersect for this episode. In the bridge scene, Katee Sackhoff plays off Giancarlo Esposito really well when he talks about her actually having to defeat Mando in combat, and her usually confident, quippy self is quiet for once. There are whole plotlines waiting to happen in that silence.

Even though Luke Freaking Skywalker shows up, and for the first time in live action Star Wars, we get to see him in his prime and not as a learner or old man, it’s Giancarlo Esposito’s performance as Moff Gideon that will stick with me the most. From the get-go, there is a calmness to his line delivery as he overrides his flailing subordinates and sends out TIE fighters to fight Slave I. There’s a glimpse where you can tell that he knows the ship is pulling its punches, and that the Imperial shuttle isn’t a friendly so he immediately gives the order for the Dark Troopers. Even imprisoned, Moff Gideon is a matter of sowing discord between allies as evidenced by his earlier remarks about the Darksaber. Also, Esposito does a good job of making everything seem like it’s all part of the plan with Grogo being of no use to him because Gideon and his scientists already extracted a blood sample. He is best for now, but Jon Favreau and Peyton Reed understand they have an interesting villain on their hands: part fascist fanatic (“glory of the empire”/the almost suicide) and part cool chess player so they keep him alive for now.

I guess that it’s time to talk about the Luke Skywalker reveal. It definitely seems like a Deus Ex Machina because the episode has shown that without his Beskar that Mando would have been killed by one Dark Trooper (Who get a catchy dubstep theme from Ludwig Goransson), and he and his team would have been annihilated by a platoon. However, the scene is payoff for Grogu’s actions on Tython as well as his and Mando’s interactions with Ahsoka Tano with there needing to be some kind of Jedi or Jedi-adjacent character showing up for Grogu to choose to either train with the Force or just hang out with Mando some more. Plus there’s this season’s overarching plot of Mando returning Grogo to his people (While also kind of having a reunion with his too via Boba Fett, Koska, and Bo-Katan.) so there needed to be a reveal like this to have a satisfying end to his journey.

However, I have a slight criticism of Luke’s appearance in “Chapter 16: The Rescue” other than the wonkiness of the de-aging CGI. (It’s less creepy that bringing back the deceased Peter Cushing for Rogue One.) One of the great parts of The Mandalorian, especially in Season One, was that it was finally a Star Wars story not about the Skywalker line with Mando and Grogu going on Lone Wolf and Cub-style adventures around the galaxy and commenting on the post-Second Death Star destruction turmoil. However, Jon Favreau couldn’t help himself and connected Mando to this larger story and legacy, which is honestly par for the course with familiar Clone Wars and Original Trilogy characters like Bo-Katan, Ahsoka Tano, and Boba Fett popping up this season.

The Mandalorian Chapter 16: The Rescue

It definitely makes some of the fans happy, and it’s interesting to see the different flavors of Mandalorian when Mando, Fett, Bo-Katan, and Koska interact, but it also shows that Star Wars still isn’t 100% interested in getting out of this Skywalker shadow as shown by J.J. Abrams undoing all of Rian Johnson’s work to break the cycle of Hero’s Journey and just retell old stories in Rise of Skywalker. Thankfully, Favreau and his writing room are better storytellers than Abrams and set up the Luke reveal via Grogu’s actions and interactions in previous episodes instead of announcing Palpatine’s return via Fortnite. There is also a real sweetness to Grogu and Luke’s interactions with Peyton Reed shooting from Gogu’s POV as he meets and hits it off with R2-D2 as the astromech droid helps calm him and begin to heal his Purge-induced trauma. Of course, they have to be friends.

Speaking of friendship, Jon Favreau and Peyton Reed do make the cathartic move of having the last moments of the season finale be interactions between Mando and Grogu. There’s a minimal dialogue (“I’ll see you again” is nice.), and Reed squarely places the camera on Pedro Pascal’s helmetless face as he lets Grogu be one of the first people in years to touch his face because they’re really just a couple of foundlings out in a great, big galaxy. There’s a real sadness/your kid going off to college or some educational institution vibe to this scene, and it also shows that Mando has grown with a character as he has forsaken the apparently fanatical (According to Bo-Katan earlier this season.) ways of his Mandalorian offshoot to have a real connection with Grogu. He takes the helmet of his own free will instead of doing it for pragmatic reasons like in the previous episode, and it demonstrates real growth. I’m definitely going to miss Mando and Grogu’s interactions and hope they truly do get to meet again down the road.

“Chapter 16: The Rescue” has multiple fun setpieces from Mandalorian jetpack on stormtrooper action to Mando dueling both Moff Gideon and a Dark Trooper and finally, Luke Skywalker mowing down battle droids like his father before him in a similarly shot manner. However, its use of the Skywalker saga as a safety valve aside, it features an eye-catching and unsettling performance by Giancarlo Esposito as Moff Gideon, nails those emotional beats between Mando and Grogu even if they don’t share a lot of screen time, and wraps up his quest storyline in a satisfying way. Finally, it also sets up future tension between Mando and the other Mandalorians, and the episode’s stinger shows a tantalizing glimpse at Boba Fett and Fennec Shand starring in their own show.

Overall Verdict: 8.8

Hot Toys Reveals their 1:6 Scale Moff Gideon figure from The Mandalorian

You have something I want. You may think you have some idea of what you are in possession of, but you do not. In a few moments, it will be mine.” – Moff Gideon

Season two of The Mandalorian is heating up, and as fans eagerly await each new episode, Hot Toys have unveiled their first look at a 1:6 scale Moff Gideon figure inspired by the formidable Imperial Officer from the hit series.

Meticulously crafted and expertly designed to match Giancarlo Esposito’s appearance as Moff Gideon, this figure is a fine addition to any Star Wars collection.

The Moff Gideon 1:6 scale collectible figure is masterfully crafted to emulate Giancarlo Esposito as the sinister character in the acclaimed series.

Each Moff Gideon 1:6 scale collectible figure features:

  • A newly developed specially hand-painted head sculpt with highly-accurate facial expression, mustache. and detailed skin texture
  • A newly-developed 1:6 scale body with over 30 points of articulation
  • Multiple interchangeable gloved hands for a wide range of posing and display options
  • Moff Gideon’s imperial officer outfit combining tailored fabric and armor elements
  • A fabric cape
  • One Darksaber hilt with blade
  • One Darksaber blade in motion (attachable to the hilt)
  • One blaster pistol
  • A specially designed dynamic figure stand with Star Wars logo and character nameplate

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TV Review: The Mandalorian S2E6 “Chapter 14: The Tragedy”

THE MANDALORIAN S2E6 "CHAPTER 14: THE TRAGEDY"

After staging a cold open that is entirely Mando and Grogu being adorable and exuding father/son vibes as they descend upon the mysterious planet of Tython, you know that director Robert Rodriguez and writer Jon Favreau are ready to tear viewers apart in “Chapter 14: The Tragedy“. But, before getting to the super emotional bits, they tug on a plot thread from “The Marshal” with our old buddy, Slave I, careening through space as Grogu starts to commune with the force. Emerging from the Lego set I never got as a child is Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), the assassin from last season, who is back from the dead with the help of some cybernetics. In true Rodriguez style, this leads to a Mexican standoff with Fett wanting his Beskar armor back in return for helping Mando protect The Child from the other folks in the galaxy, who are out to get them.

And speaking of these folks, two shiploads of stormtroopers land on Tython, and the episode turns into a shoot ’em up. Mando is incapacitated for most of the fight as he keeps trying to run into the capital-F force field to nab Grogu so Fennec and Boba Fett do the lion’s share of the fighting. Robert Rodriguez digs into the oldest of action/Western tropes with two outlaws firing away against a neverending legion of feds as the stormtroopers bring in space-Gatling guns and rocket launchers to take them out so they can get to Grogu. Boba Fett wields a Fijian totokia in a series of brutal close combat sequences where he takes out all the pain that the Republic, Empire, Rebellion, and basically, the world has brought him on some hapless stormtroopers. Morrison plays the anguish-filled badass really well and his big return with his father’s Mandalorian armor is a true stand up and clap moment and guaranteed that Boba Fett will be venerated by yet another generation of Star Wars fans. I mean, his knee pads are a lethal weapon.

However, in this moment of triumph, Rodriguez and Jon Favreau pull an Empire Strikes Back and bring back Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) and his Darktroopers to snatch up Grogu, who is passed out after communing with the Force. They destroy the Razor Crest so Mando ends up hitching a ride with Fennec and Boba Fett, who have promised to keep Grogu safe, to Nevaro where he gets information from Cara Dune about the whereabouts of Season 1 character, Mayfeld, a former Imperial sharpshooter, who can help them find Moff Gideon and Grogu. A prison break could be on its way. (Or not because of the truncated, killer, no filler length of some of these episodes.)

I geeked out on Robert Rodriguez’s action filmmaking as his fights are more brutal and violent than anything seen in The Mandalorian this season thanks to Fennec’s dead eye accuracy and Boba Fett taking things real personal. However, he builds a real connection between Mando and Fett as family men, who adhere to a code of honor and make every word count. In another brilliant moment of intertextuality, Fett nearly quotes his father Jango’s famous line from Attack of the Clones, “I’m just a simple man trying to make my way in the universe.” There’s a little more weariness in his delivery than in the 2002 film, and when Mando and Boba Fett drop the weapons and actually communicate, they find common ground as a foundling and son/clone of a foundling. Mando immediately allows Fett to keep the Beskar and reminisces about Jango’s service during the Mandalorian Civil War. They have a lot of similarities, and Pedro Pascal and Temuera Morrison imbue their characters with a dry sense of humor that will fit nicely as they continue to travel together. I’m glad that Boba Fett’s appearance won’t just be a cameo and a one-off because Morrison explores different sides of the character like his utter look of fear when he flies the Slave I close to Gideon’s ship and realizes that his old employers, the Empire, are very much still in play years after the destruction of the second Death Star.

THE MANDALORIAN S2E6 "CHAPTER 14: THE TRAGEDY"

Visually, The Mandalorian is always a show that looks good and seamlessly feels like a part of the Star Wars universe even as Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni follow the rhythms of Golden Age of Television genre storytelling (Big Bad, monster/planet of the week) while paying homage and adding to a memorable piece of 20th and 21st century American mythmaking. Robert Rodriguez takes thing up a notch by blending his Mariachi-style filmmaking with Star Wars iconography like ships in flight, stormtroopers being bad shots, and even the Force. He sets most of the action on a rocky stretch of land perfect for big time heroics like Fennec shooting her cover so that it can wreak havoc on the legion of stormtroopers Raiders of the Lost Ark style, and then having Mando use his Beskar armor to take blaster bolts that would be the end of her. Obviously, the shoot outs look cool, especially when Boba Fett finally gets to do his thing, but it also creates a brothers and sister in arm kind of bond between Mando, Fennec, and Fett that makes their decision to travel together more organic.

Even though he still doesn’t get a lot of screen time, Giancarlo Esposito gets to show a little more range as Gideon in this episode as he plays a darker version of the doting dad and shows Grogu the Darksaber after he observes him Force-choking his stormtrooper guards. However, they have no real relationship even in master/apprentice way, and Grogu is instantly clapped into irons so he can be used in Dr. Pershing’s experiments. Favreau and Rodriguez aren’t afraid to tap into the darker side of Grogu and show that the trauma that Ahsoka Tano mentioned in the previous episode and lack of proper training has him using the Force in ways that no Jedi would. Through expressive puppetry and the physical acting and dialogue timing of Pedro Pascal as Mando plus those snatches of backstory last episode, Grogu has transformed from a MacGuffin into a fully fleshed out character. It’s a wise move for Jon Favreau to make him the emotional crux of The Mandalorian’s ongoing plot as goes into its final two episodes because Grogu’s relationship with Mando, not Favreau and Dave Filoni’s lore-welding and building is this show’s biggest strength and hook.

Full disclosure: I decided to do weekly reviews of The Mandalorian once it was announced that Robert Rodriguez would be directing an episode because I have a soft spot for auteur directors going into big shared universes/mythologies and putting their own visual stamp on it. He, Jon Favreau, and Temuera Morrison show once and for all that Boba Fett is an incredibly cool and compelling character while also nailing a big moment in the relationship between Mando and Grogu. Throw in some menacing baddies and gun battles with bite, and “Chapter 14: The Tragedy” continues The Mandalorian’s momentum as it reaches the conclusion of its second season.

Overall Verdict: 9.0

Harley Quinn Gets an Official Trailer

DC Universe has released the official trailer for the original series Harley Quinn, from Warner Bros. Animation. Harley Quinn premieres Friday, November 29, only on DC Universe.

Harley Quinn has finally broken things off once and for all with the Joker and attempts to make it on her own as the criminal Queenpin of Gotham City in this half-hour adult animated action-comedy series. The series features Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and a whole cast of heroes and villains, old and new, from the DC Universe.

Harley Quinn is produced by Ehsugadee Productions and Yes, Norman Productions in association with Warner Bros. Animation.

Executive producers are Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker, Kaley Cuoco, Dean Lorey, Sam Register.

Starring the voices of:

Kaley Cuoco as Harley Quinn
James Adomian as Bane
Jason Alexander as Sy Borgman
Diedrich Bader as Batman
Lake Bell as Poison Ivy
Briana Cuoco as Batgirl
Andy Daly as Two Face
Giancarlo Esposito as Lex Luthor
Ron Funches as King Shark
Tony Hale as Dr. Psycho, Felix Faust
Rahul Kohli as Scarecrow
Phil LaMarr as Jason Praxis, Black Manta
Vanessa Marshall as Wonder Woman, Giganta
Tisha Campbell Martin as Tawny Young
Christopher Meloni as Commissioner Gordon
Matt Oberg as Kite Man, KGBeast
Jim Rash as The Riddler
Will Sasso as Maxie Zeus
JB Smoove as Frank the Plant
Wanda Sykes as Queen of Fables
Alan Tudyk as The Joker, Clayface

Maze Runner: The Death Cure – Movie Review

maze runner death cure posterAt the end of the second Maze Runner movie, The Scorch Trials, there is a giant action sequence, a giant betrayal, and our heroes are left in an incredibly dire situation. I remember thinking, “Well, that movie wasn’t great, but I can’t wait to see the sequel.”

I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up quite so much.

The Maze Runner series has tried repeatedly to show it’s better than the ersatz generic-brand Hunger Games, and this final film in their trilogy does nothing to dispel that notion.

However, it’s not all bad. And Thomas Brodie-Sangster, always drastically underused in the last two films, gets all the due he needs in this movie. If you love Newt, get ready to love every second he’s on screen.

The rest of the film never quite takes off or coalesces into something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s also overly long and has one too many plot “twists” that are entirely too predictable.

Its supporting cast, however, are doing all they can. I already mentioned Sangster, but beyond him, Giancarlo Esposito also seems to relish his screentime, although he isn’t quite the unpredictable, resourceful scoundrel of Scorch Trials. Aiden Gillen really should’ve grown out a mustache for this role so he could twirl it with all the cartoonish villainy he is channeling here. And then Walton Goggins shows up for an all-too-brief cameo and steals every scene he’s in. It’s just not enough.

The problem, as with its predecessors, is the film is just a bit thin. Its attempts at dystopian social commentary fall flat, because there really isn’t much more to say beyond, “Yeah, having a giant corporation called WCKD (it sounds like “wicked”– we get it) control every aspect of medicine, police/military, etc during an apocalyptic plague is a bad way to run society.” When it’s not being overly blunt, it loses any sort of messaging in over the top, ridiculous action scenes.

Fans of this series will go see this conclusion and will likely be satisfied. This is definitely the best of the three Maze Runner films– but that is not saying much. With so many of the films nominated for multiple awards now being put more widely into theaters to capitalize on their nominations, you’d be much better off checking one of them out than this.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Batman: Assault on Arkham

Batman-Assault-on-ArkhamBatman, one of the world’s most valiant super heroes, faces a villainous squad of criminals in an epic battle of good vs. evil in the DC Universe Original Movie, Batman: Assault on Arkham. Set in the world of the best-selling Batman: Arkham video game series, this action-packed film takes place between the Batman: Arkham Origins and Batman: Arkham Asylum video games.

Gotham is in great danger when the government assembles a group of villains — code named the Suicide Squad — and forces them to break into Arkham Asylum to retrieve top secret information stolen by the Riddler. Things take a turn for the worse when one of the Squad members (Harley Quinn) frees the Joker, who is intent on blowing up Arkham Asylum and Gotham City. Batman must use his super hero wits and strength to thwart the wicked plans of the Joker and the Suicide Squad.

Batman: Assault on Arkham is interesting in that a good chunk of the movie doesn’t have Batman! The focus is really the Suicide Squad, and when they’re on screen the film sores in awesome. After the first five or ten minutes you’re sucked in, especially as each member is introduced. This is what I’d hope to see in DC’s live action films.

The characters are spot on, exactly as I’d expect them to be, with voice casting and acting that fits it all very well. The only negative thing is things sort of spiral in the film with more and more being piled on as far as characters and the chaos they deal with. It’s still a hell of a lot of fun.

Kevin Conroy voices Batman, and joins forces with several Hollywood greats to bring the legendary characters to life. Adding to the celebrity-laden cast is Neal McDonough as Deadshot, Troy Baker as Joker, Matthew Gray Gubler as Riddler, CCH Pounder as Amanda Waller, Greg Ellis as Captain Boomerang, and Giancarlo Esposito as Black Spider.

Batman: Assault on Arkham has tons of exciting enhanced content taking us in the strange world of Arkham Asylum, the story of Harley Quinn and what’s coming next in DC animated films.

Of all of DC’s animated films so far, this one has been my favorite, full of action, humor, and a solid grasp of the characters. I want more of this.

Direction: 8 Acting: 8.75 Plot: 8.75 Overall: 8.75