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.
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