Spoilers for Chapter 13 of The Mandalorian follow!
Chapter 13 of The Mandalorian marks the return and live-action debut of fan-favorite character Ahsoka Tano. While many have been eagerly anticipating her arrival since casting rumors surfaced months back, there has no doubt been a level of hesitation as to how well she would not only make the transition to live-action, but also blend into the series and its ongoing narrative. The latest episode, subtitled The Jedi, stumbles a bit, but largely makes a step in the right direction – at least for those familiar with Anakin Skywalker’s former padawan.
The biggest shortcomings come as a result of its nature as a mid-season entry for a more expansive, compact show where episodes serve larger thematic purposes than their seemingly simple, standalone adventures. Ahsoka’s role feels exciting yet inconsequential, something that exists only in passing and will only stand out to those who had a preconceived connection to the character. This wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if she served a more significant, fitting narrative purpose in the story of The Mandalorian. Instead, she mostly just acts as a vessel for information and quest-giving.
All around, writer-director Dave Filoni seems to find a much better stride here than in The Gunslinger, his debut outing as a live-action director from the first season. The Jedi finds itself balancing two distinct genres surprisingly well, matching an uncannily Kurosawa-inspired samurai atmosphere with parts of a Hollywood Western. This, of course, is nothing new to Star Wars, but The Jedi is perhaps the most on the nose it has ever felt – for better or worse. Aided by its shockingly high-quality production design, moody cinematography, and grounded visual effects, this episode feels far more cinematic and movie-like than most previous entries. The barren, desolate landscape of Corvus helps to create an unsettling tone that carries through a number of the action-packed set pieces. With shadows and fog concealing characters and their surroundings, the heightened tension feels almost horror-ish, steeped in even more thrilling surprise than Din Djarin’s run-in with the spider creatures in Chapter 10.
With the introduction of Ahsoka and her signature fighting style, the thrills in this episode do feel particularly unique. A hefty helping of hasty cuts and camera movement give on-screen life to Force-imbued acrobatics, and dual-wielding lightsaber action is in no short supply. Diana Lee Inosanto plays an intimidating magistrate wielding weapons forged from beskar – a quality that immediately calls into question the nature of her livelihood and power, if such wasn’t already questionable from the restrained civilians of Corvus. While Inosanto spends much of her screen time opposite Rosario Dawson’s Ahsoka, Pedro Pascal is matched up against an armed guard played by the great Michael Biehn. While the former pair exudes a chemistry more akin to that from samurai films, Pascal and Biehn deliver banter and yet another blaster stand-off in pure Western style.
From the surface, there isn’t much to complain about here. The episode is nothing but entertaining, and live-action Ahsoka is something that everyone can find some level of enjoyment in – especially the fleeting moments where Dawson manages to capture Ashley Eckstein’s vocal quirks. In fact, many people will likely praise Chapter 13 highly among the best installments of Star Wars television. With that, I cannot quite agree.
At first, it is difficult to describe the feeling of this episode, but it’s unmistakably very different from any other in the series, even production design aside. Seeing lightsabers in live-action outside of the main films does that. But the tonal and overall inconsistencies within the show’s focus extends far beyond just the fact that we now have Force powered characters with sabers. The best way to describe it, it seems, is as a Rebels x Mandalorian crossover event; one which barely has any consequence to either story, and exists only to have the characters interact. We barely spend enough time with Mando to feel any significant level of growth, and newcomers will feel incredibly alienated from spending so much of the runtime with Ahsoka being driven by goals that are not explained – and do not matter (as far as we know) to the ongoing narrative of The Mandalorian.
The show serves as an excellent outlet for one-off character introductions, but to have Ahsoka join the ensemble for what amounts to nothing more than an extended cameo with little impact is insulting to fans and consumers of genuinely well-crafted stories. So far this season, each episode has built upon a thematic ethos that Din Djarin is becoming a better person and less adherent to the strict dogmas of his Mandalorian ways. He helps the Frog Lady despite denouncing himself as a charity taxi service, and he recognizes Bo-Katan and Cobb Vanth as brave warriors despite their differing beliefs. The Jedi‘s only real relevant internal conflict for Din is that of realizing his connection and bond to the Child, who we learn is actually named… Grogu? For some reason? This kind of character development for Mando doesn’t quite stick, as there’s only one moment of real emotion towards the end that is quickly cut short. Sure, more consequences of this realization will set in later this season, but the lack of any real distinct change in character leaves Ahsoka’s comments about Grogu’s dependence feeling hollow.
As of now, we are still set to potentially find more Jedi in the future, and Din is still intent upon his quest to have Grogu trained in the Force – the status quo has barely changed, even if his internal conflict has begun… with three episodes left in the season. Going forward, The Mandalorian can take one of two routes. With three episodes left, it feels essential to have a big climactic build up to a strong finale, but Chapter 13 does not open the doors to that kind of storytelling. With a farewell to Ahsoka, the show could potentially be closing its opportunities for compelling stories about the Jedi Order that feel ripe in terms of their relation to Din’s character growth as a religious zealot. For all we know, we could be headed back to another barren outer rim planet to help distressed citizens from some variably serialized threat.
That said, these smaller outings are generally those most successful in characterizing Mando for the larger extravaganzas. Rick Famuyiwa’s The Child from season one is a great example of more complex storytelling that is relatively low scale when compared to the other big blaster shootouts. The show seems to have trouble balancing spectacle and script, depth and action – something that stems from a somewhat disjointed writers’ room. Where each episode feels so uniquely distinct from the last in terms of the writer and directorial voice, this problem is yet to be confronted in any meaningful way and at this rate, likely won’t be anytime soon.
You cannot help but reflect upon this episode and view it as a sort of microcosm of where The Mandalorian is headed. This season has been a montage of cameos and guest appearances; even where many held deeper thematic purpose, it’s still somewhat worrying as to what this signals for the future of a show that was once advertised as a detached spin-off.
Even then, things can be fun to tie together. Where Ahsoka’s character growth has led her to remove herself from the title of Jedi, it felt surprising and disappointing that it didn’t even earn a passing mention that she left the Order. She could very well serve as a parallel for Din’s growth beyond the restraints of the Death Watch, who Bo-Katan credited for Mando’s helmet-wearing ideology, and yet she only functioned as a way to learn Grogu’s name and that he loves Mando a little too much to be a future Jedi. Aside from those two plot points, Chapter 13 was basically a backdoor pilot for whatever Filoni has up his sleeve to follow up Rebels.