Spoilers for Chapter 14 of The Mandalorian follow!
Last week’s episode of The Mandalorian was pivotal for the future of Star Wars to say the least. Ahsoka, one of the most beloved characters from the entire franchise, made her live-action debut and set a bar for more elements making the jump from animation. A precedent was set for whatever episode would come next. Funny enough, the show’s diligent fans were already preparing for more “filler” this week. And to top it off, many theories began to bubble about season two’s endgame (many of which were simply… predictable). The Mandalorian‘s worst habits stem from predictability, slapdashed progression, and a strong adherence to fan service. How do you follow last week’s nearly hour-long showcase in the face of these setbacks? Enter Chapter 14 and visionary director Robert Rodriguez.
The mind behind many impeccable classics (Spy Kids, Sin City, and more), Rodriguez has been long overdue for a jab at Star Wars. What’s been more long overdue though: a Latin filmmaker directing Star Wars in the mainstream. Chapter 14, subtitled The Tragedy, marks this stepping stone for the franchise. Rodriguez’s influence on cinema cannot be understated (just look at the recently formed #AlitaArmy) and out of everything season two has had to offer, it just feels so right that he got to take the reigns on this specific episode. Following Ahsoka’s instructions, Mando takes Grogu to the planet Tython in hopes of making contact with more Jedi from anywhere in the galaxy. The story opens there almost immediately (quite a shocker for weekly viewers) and Grogu begins to tap into the force on this supposed Jedi rock.
Considering this time period in the canon, only a few known Jedi could have answered this “call”, and thankfully none of them do just yet. Instead, another legacy character makes his way – one that has literally built a reputation solely on looking cool and selling toys. A promise finally fulfilled not only from the season premiere, but from decades of fan speculation. This is, of course, the return of Boba Fett, but more importantly, Prequel star Temuera Morrison finally makes his way physically playing the character. The moment Fett apologists have been trying to manifest for years is finally here, and it surprisingly isn’t by the books as it could have very easily been. Rodriguez puts more focus on a good old-fashioned Mando y Mando standoff over filling in Wookiepedia entries… and this couldn’t be more welcome. The Sarlacc? I hardly knew her.
Though this isn’t to say that creator Jon Favreau’s script doesn’t revel in Star Wars lore. Favreau has a habit of honoring Star Wars iconography, perhaps a little too much at times where it gets the spotlight over genuine character beats. Even though this habit has become a bit more noticeable lately, The Tragedy pulls an easy balance of acknowledging the past while creating something worthwhile in the present. Believe it or not, but they actually made Boba Fett more of a layered character. Not layered as in, “Oh, he’s gotten more bad*ss since the Sarlacc Pit” (even though he actually has), but layered as in, “Oh, right. This is an actual human being with complex emotions.” When you hand this over to a director like Rodriguez, you get moments of pure heart backed up by high-stake adrenaline.
The Tragedy in no way feels similar to any episode of the entire series thus far. The best entries of The Mandalorian are those that feel completely built by the hands of their creators. Peyton Reed, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Dave Filoni have made very distinct stamps on the show as of recent. Whatever one’s opinion on their individual episodes may be, they cannot deny how different they are from one another, both tonally and visually. In true Rodriguez fashion, The Tragedy carries a great sense of practicality with widespread, dynamic action. Things feel very real with life-like weight, something quite uncommon for Star Wars. The choice of lenses and camera movement juxtaposed with real sets create something that feels straight out of Battlefront. It might be uncanny for some viewers, and even if they come to dislike it, it’s still Rodriguez having a damn good time with little interference. This is exactly what Star Wars should be if it wants to last another decade. The boldest of voices given free reign to do whatever they want, however they want.
As thrilling as it all is, some dodgy CGI can’t go unnoticed. Certain effects are slightly off putting considering how high-quality The Mandalorian has been as a whole. Maybe these examples of CGI stick out more considering how practical the rest is? Ironically, spotty CGI can be forgiven here, because unlike the show’s reputation, The Tragedy is more about character-driven stakes than just how advanced of a tech demo it can be. What’s even more ironic is that all of this goodness is packed into the shortest episode of the season without it ever feeling rushed. Being more on the shorter side is not always bad; pacing is an essential filmmaking virtue! Would someone else have been able to pull off the most progressive episode of the season in the shortest amount of time? That’s a big maybe, but what really matters is that we got this delivered in Rodriguez’s unapologetic style.
Fans got a sense of what was coming weeks ago, and Chapter 14 of The Mandalorian still brought the goods with plenty of surprises on the side. Ming-Na Wen especially deserves a shout out, not only because she’s amazing, but she also elevates a role that could easily fall into Star Wars familiarity. Tight pacing, stellar action, and character complexity definitely make this one to remember. Boba Fett was always going to come back somehow under a new era of the brand. Just as many people who craved it couldn’t stand the idea of it. The fact that a filmmaker as outgoing as Robert Rodriguez got to lead such a huge moment and still make it feel fresh… the feeling can be overwhelming as a fan to say the least. Especially when the realization hits that a Latin filmmaker just created an exciting piece of television, that is also lead by a Latin star (Pedro Pascal). Keep moving forward Lucasfilm.