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.
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.
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