Over the past couple decades, prolific New Zealand filmmaker and performer Taika Waititi has become known for his off-kilter sense of humor and whimsically sentimental tone, established across movies and television series such as What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Flight of the Conchords, Jojo Rabbit, and Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok. Now Waititi has stepped into the Star Wars universe with his double-duty take on the eighth and final episode of the Disney+ live-action series The Mandalorian— serving as both director and as recurring voice of the assassin-turned-nurse droid IG-11.
And while IG-11 is undeniably the real star of this episode, entitled “Chapter 8 – Redemption,” there are other factors at play here as well. Picking up where the previous installment left off, Moff Gideon (played by Giancarlo Esposito) has cornered the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal), Cara Dune (Gina Carano), and Greef Carga (Carl Weathers) in the cantina on Nevarro, and Baby Yoda– not his real name– has been swooped up by a couple ex-Imperial scout troopers on speeder bikes. The troopers, as poor at their jobs (and at handling their blasters) after the fall of the Empire as they were during its reign, decide to hang out and wait for further instructions. And then, of course, all hell breaks loose.
Taika’s influence is noticeably on display here, as the scout troopers’ off-handed conversation on the ridge immediately takes the series into a more playful direction, and this is the first episode that felt a little silly to me because of it. I don’t necessarily think that approach is a bad thing, but I think perhaps it would have worked better for earlier in the season rather than for the finale. “Redemption” is The Mandalorian’s longest and probably most impactful chapter from the perspective of a long-term narrative, but it does feel a little too light-hearted in parts thanks to that unmistakable Waititi touch. Were I series creator and showrunner Jon Favreau, I might have handed this episode over to Deborah Chow, Rick Famuyiwa, or even producer Dave Filoni, and let Taiki tackle one of the less-consequential standalone middle chapters.
Don’t get me wrong– I’m a big fan of the Kiwi auteur– and the parts of “Redemption” that work, work really well. There are a couple knock-down-drag-out action sequences, an extended flashback to the title character’s childhood rescue from Clone Wars-era super battle droids by the Mando Death Watch, and an eerie journey down a river of molten lava piloted by a memorably designed long-limbed astromech droid gondolier. We even finally see the Mandalorian without his helmet, witness a surprisingly touching resolution to his lifelong hatred of droids, and get confirmation of his actual name: Din Djarin, previously leaked by Pascal in an interview. My only issue is with the tongue-in-cheek nature of some of the dialogue and character interactions– all of which would feel perfectly in place in a Taika Waititi movie, but somehow don’t quite match tonally with what’s come before in The Mandalorian.
Still, this chapter provides a fairly satisfying resolution to the series’ first season-long arc and sets up what comes next: Djarin must help Baby Yoda find his true home, whether it’s with other members of his species or (as is more heavily implied) other Force-users. And Moff Gideon is sure to be hot on his trail with that certain specialized weapon-of-significant-origin. Overall, I thought this initial batch of episodes was great, if occasionally a little uneven– an admirable launch for another grand experiment in Star Wars history– the franchise’s first foray into live-action episodic storytelling on the small screen. Favreau, Filoni, and their collaborators should be proud of the new mythology and fresh characters they’re successfully injecting into this long-running epic. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what comes next.
The Mandalorian chapters 1 through 8 are now available to stream exclusively on Disney+.