Since it was such an annoyance with this episode in particular: spoiler warning for the season two finale of The Mandalorian.
I can’t accurately describe to anyone what it felt like seeing The Empire Strikes Back for the first time back in 1980. For me, it involved my parents driving us to the only mall theater in the state that was showing the movie on its premier night, then waiting in line for two hours. That was back when two hours felt like an eternity. Everyone in the theater was just losing their minds cheering and gasping and booing at every moment from the opening crawl, in response to every character appearance and dramatic reveal. By the end of the movie, I could already tell as a nine-year-old that it had been a transformative experience.
But the season 2 finale of The Mandalorian was kind of almost similar to that. Partly in the hype building up to it, partly in the feeling that everybody in the country was experiencing a Huge Cultural Event at the same time, but mostly in that feeling of simultaneous satisfaction and uncertainty. It was an excellent conclusion to the season, and I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen next.
Or if anything is going to happen next. I still can’t tell whether that was the end of the series.
For all I know, it was already announced in an interview, or a press event, or an investor call, or even an errant Tweet. But there’s something weirdly nostalgic and completely anti-2020 to just sit here not knowing. This series has played directly into my nostalgia from the start, and now it feels like meta-nostalgia. Having to wait a week to watch a new episode. Being completely surprised by what happens. Not knowing at all what’s going to happen next, or even whether the story’s going to continue. Seeing jarringly unconvincing CGI. It all feels like throwbacks to a simpler time.
Okay, so I wasn’t “completely surprised” by what happened. For one thing, both my fiancé and I had figured out who the mysterious Jedi was going to be, after seeing a tweet from Mark Hamill earlier in the day trying to be coy.1It was funny seeing a tweet from Mr Hamill today saying how proud he was that they’d kept his involvement a secret and managed to avoid spoilers for so long. I was like, Bitch, you’re the one who spoiled it! But honestly, that wasn’t that much of a surprise, since there were so few possibilities.
Really, everything that happened in the episode had a sense of inevitability to it. We’d seen Mando getting choked up at the thought of taking the child to contact the Jedi, in a scene that felt like dropping him off for his first day of school. He was trying to convince himself it was a good idea and that he’d be okay with separating. We’d seen him gradually get more comfortable with people seeing him without his helmet. We’d seen the crew infiltrate one Imperial base after another with little resistance, so it set us up for a climax that would be based more on character than on action.
That’s worth calling out: this was a pull-out-all-the-stops, got-to-get-the-team-back-together finale with a ton of great action moments, but the tension was always kept to fairly low stakes. Potential allies hated each other. The child was being threatened. Bo Katan had an unexpected reaction to Mando winning his fight. They even managed to make the big fight scene a one-on-one between Mando and a Dark Trooper, that was brilliant on multiple levels: direct, immediately readable tension during the fight itself, getting them out of the way while other concerns took precedence, then giving Luke Skywalker an opportunity to show off in combat.2That was a nice change, since Luke’s most significant fight scenes have pivoted around his decision not to fight. It feels like the makers of The Mandalorian are really invested in making Luke Skywalker and Boba Fett look like bad-asses again.
At this point, the series has kind of done everything it needed to do. Its main character has had a complete arc. The quest introduced in the first episode has been accomplished. It’s spun off at least three other series. There are some loose ends about the dark saber and the fate of Mandalore, but for anyone other than dedicated Clone Wars and Rebels nerds, that doesn’t seem as intriguing or compelling as a quest to get a force-sensitive child back to his people.
So the question is what is “The Book of Boba Fett,” promised in the post-credits sequence? Apart from a lead-in to an impossibly bad-ass image that, yet again, seemed to be made specifically to please the version of me from 1983? Boba Fett as anti-hero-with-honor crime boss could absolutely make for a good series. I’d especially like it if they made it like The Sopranos, with Ming-Na taking the Dr Melfi role. But is this another spin-off series? Or is it the next part of The Mandalorian, with the first two seasons being retro-actively titled “The Book of Din Djarin”? And presumably, a future season run being titled “The Book of Bo Katan.”
The more I think of it, the more that’s my favorite possibility, rather than Disney trying to run a Boba Fett and a Mandalorian series simultaneously. Give the existing characters a rest for a little bit, and let the series go off in a new direction. The Mandalorian has been near-flawless television as far as I’m concerned, but another season of the same format — a series of one-episode quests that culminate in gathering all the characters together for a final mission — would wear thin very quickly.
If you’d told me last Thursday that the season two finale of The Mandalorian could possibly be the series finale, I would’ve said that’s ridiculous, then thrown a tantrum, and then gone into a minor depressive episode. But after seeing it, I think I’d actually be fine if this were the end of this story. Especially since it seems all but inevitable for these characters to pop up in the various other Star Wars series.
Some other random observations:
- It’s a sign how impactful Return of the Jedi was on me that I actually yelled “No don’t stand there!” at the screen the second that Boba Fett stepped on the trap door in front of Jabba’s throne. That somehow made me as nervous as anything else in the entire episode.
- My first thought while watching the emotional conclusion was (like a lot of others, I’m sure) “Bye, Grogu, time to go get killed by Kylo Ren!” I saw a little bit of a recap on the great YouTube channel Star Wars Explained, in which hosts Alex and Mollie Damon remind us that that’s not due to happen for at least 20 years still, so it’s likely Grogu will be gone by then.
- Since “The Book of Boba Fett” is presumably based on Tattooine, they’ve responded to the complaint that Star Wars goes back to Tattooine too often, by making at least two series based on Tattooine. (The other is Obi-Wan Kenobi, unless the premise of that series has changed since I last heard). That’s a drag, but that last shot in Jabba’s palace, and the opportunity of more Cobb Vanth, make it more tolerable.
- I was relieved but also a little disappointed that Ming-Na Wen as Fennec Shan chose not to end the scene by throwing her head back and laughing like Salacious Crumb.
- The more I think back on The Mandalorian, the more I like the idea of breaking the series into “books,” because the series has been strongest when it’s experimented with new settings and slight changes in the format.
The thing that’s made this series work so well is the storytelling and, in my opinion, the fact that it’s being made by people who love Star Wars and are tapping directly into their nostalgia and teenage fantasies. That can still work — and frankly, has a better chance at longevity — than relying on Baby Yoda.