The Mandalorian: 2.05 Chapter 13: The Jedi
The tremor in the Force you felt earlier was when millions of Star Wars fans cried out with joy as they got their first glimpse of Rosario Dawson portraying Ahsoka Tano in her live action debut. Ahsoka, the once padawan of Anakin Skywalker himself, has become a beloved character since her debut in the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars series. The second tremor you felt was when the whole of geekdom lost itself with the casual dropping of Baby Yoda's real name. The third, and admittedly smaller tremor, was from me when genre legend Michael Biehn showed up. Anyway you slice it that all makes for one absolutely fantastic episode of The Mandalorian.
Since Mandalore's rightful heir Bo-Katan told our hero that he needed to seek out the Jedi Ahsoka Tano, a couple of episodes ago, fans have been anxiously waiting for her arrival. Internet rumours had surfaced that Rosario Dawson had been cast and with the announcement that Dave Filoni was writing and directing the fifth episode, it seemed certain that this is where she would make her debut. Filoni has overseen all the animated Star Wars shows since Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Ahsoka is his creation. It is only fair that he gets to bring her to live action and he has done so in a truly spectacular way.
As is often the case the internet rumours were absolutely correct and Rosario Dawson takes over from voice actor Ashley Eckstein and breathes life into dual lightsaber wielding Jedi. I have long been a fan of Rosario Dawson and she does not disappoint here. She brings Ahsoka's warmth to scenes with Baby Yoda but also shows her warrior-side as she carves up her opponents with displays of staggering lightsaber skills. Filoni has written for and shaped Ahsoka's story for many years so it is probably of no surprise that he has produced once of best episodes of The Mandalorian yet.
When Din was told to look for the Jedi on the forest world of Corvus, I expected to see another lush green planet like Endor. Maybe it once was, but after being asset stripped by the Imperials, all that is left is an uninviting murky landscape of stunted and burnt trees. It's a different look for a Star Wars location and as soon as the action starts it's easy to see why they have gone in this direction. With Filoni's background in animation, he has quite the eye for what makes a good visual and as Ahsoka ignites her twin white lightsabers, piercing the misty gloom, you are treated to some of the best imagery seen in Star Wars for a long time.
It also helps that he is channeling legendary director Akira Kurosawa as Ahsoka stealthily hunts her quarry in a ninja like fashion. Star Wars has always worn its influences on its sleeve, Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress being a famous example often cited. The Mandalorian itself had Bryce Dallas Howard's directorial debut in its first season serving as a homage to Seven Samurai. The Jedi is full of visual flourishes paying tribute and culminates in a samurai style stand-off in a walled garden complete with ponds. Toshiro Mifune himself would not have looked out of place as Ahsoka duels with her enemy.
The antagonists this time out are an imperial magistrate Morgan Elsbeth, played by Diana Lee Inosanto, and her right hand man, Lang. It's always a thrill for me when Michael Biehn pops up in something. After leading man turns in The Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss, he seemed destined for cinema greatness but alas this did not come to be. When he does show up however, he always makes an impact, such as his scene stealing psychotic performance in Tombstone. He isn't given a great deal to do as Lang, but he does get to face off against Mando in a full on western duel, once again proving himself great at portraying duplicitous cheats.
Inosanto as Magistrate Elsbeth rules with an iron grip, subjugating the inhabitants of Corvus as only an Imperial officer can. She tasks Mando with killing Ahsoka, unaware that he has come to seek her out. For payment, she offers him a rather impressive looking spear made of solid Beskar. After Mando and Ahsoka team up to vanquish the Imperials it is this spear that Elsbeth must use in her duel with Ahsoka. This superbly choreographed Kurosawa inspired fight is intercut with Mando's gunslinger duel bringing the two main influences on Star Wars together in a beautiful fashion.
A big part of the episode is obviously the fact that the Force sensitive Baby Yoda is about to meet a bona fide Jedi. Not only that, but a Jedi that fought alongside the OG Yoda. Din's quest to return his ward to its own people takes a big step forward and we also get a lot of exposition on Baby Yoda's background. Most crucially is that after sitting quietly with him, while Mando paces back and forth in a subtly brilliant little scene, Ahsoka just casually reveals his name.
Yes, The Child AKA The Asset AKA Baby Yoda can henceforth be called by his actual name, Grogu. It turns out Grogu was raised in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and was spirited away after Order 66 brought about the decimation of the Jedi Order. After hiding his Force powers to keep himself safe, he is initially reluctant to demonstrate them for Ahsoka and in another heartwarming scene we get to witness the bond between himself and Mando as his father figure encourages him to show them what he is capable of. Just as you're preparing yourself for a good cry when Mando and Grogu must part ways, Ahsoka suggests another solution. It seems that due to his attachment to Mando she does not want to train Grogu, as she has seen this sort of bond lead to the Darkside. Her memories of Anakin and what he became lead her to refuse Mando's offer. Instead she gives him an alternative, another side quest if you will.
This is the only part of The Jedi that is annoying. The dialogue Ahsoka spouts as she tells Mando to go to an old Jedi temple and sit Grogu on some special stone that will send out a signal to any other Jedi, that exist feels ripped straight out of a video game. She literally sends him on another quest and also hands him the Beskar spear for his trouble. It's the one off note and makes it feel like you're playing Mandalorian The Game. A more subtle way of moving the plot again wouldn't have gone amiss.
It would be remiss of me if I didn't mention the fantastic music by Ludwig Goransson. It's surprising how much it has become a part of the identity of The Mandalorian, clearly recognisable, yet so different to the John Williams themes we have grown up with. When the main theme kicks in during action scenes it has incredible impact, much like when the familiar Star Wars theme occurs in the movies. After Star Wars being synonymous with John Williams for all these years I was genuinely surprised at how much a radically different approach has impressed me. Particularly nice is the reworking of Mando's theme as a more jubilant piece during the celebrations at the episodes climax. It has a feel much like that of the ewok celebrations from The Return of the Jedi. Most surprising for me is the fact that the theme tune of one of the most badass bounty hunters in the galaxy would be played on a recorder. Who knew?
The Jedi works as both a massive wave of fan-service for the hardcore Star Wars geeks and also as a thrilling episode for the more casual viewer. You get enough information about Ahsoka to understand all that occurs but the longtime fans also get an extra layer of interest. I would recommend seeking out the Ahsoka Tano-centric episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels if you haven't seen them. It'll probably come in handy with the way Star Wars appears to be heading. Their habit of just casually dropping names into the script that make fanboys and girls squeal with glee is incredible. This episode is no exception. Not content with just revealing Grogu's name, Filoni has one last tidbit for the fans as Ahsoka battles with the Imperial Magistrate. As she gains the upper hand she simply asks "Where is your master? Where is Grand Admiral Thrawn?", and just like that Star Wars fandom collectively lost its mind. If Rosario Dawson doesn't depict Ahsoka in a spin-off series where she hunts down Thrawn I'll eat my shiny Beskar hat.