Like I wrote in my review last week, I was able to allow myself to have fun with the sixth episode of The Mandalorian’s third season (“Guns for Hire”), though if you’ve been paying attention to overall fan response to that installment on social media it has been pretty mixed.
Thankfully, when I sat down at the advance fan screening of this week’s new episode “Chapter 23 – The Spies,” at Star Wars Celebration Europe on Friday, I was treated to something that should hopefully have most of The Mandalorian’s fanbase back on the same page.
“The Spies” begins on Coruscant, where we see Elia Kane (played by Katy M. O’Brian) covertly shuffling into a dark alley, where she meets up with an Imperial Probe Droid that transmits her holosignal to the evil warlord Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), who is hiding out in an undisclosed location after escaping from New Republic custody. After a briefing in which Gideon learns about the continued Mandalorian threat, he strolls down a long hallway lined with jet-troopers and participates in another holo-conference, this time with the other scattered warlords ruling over the galaxy’s surviving Imperial remnant. Here, we discover that Gideon isn’t necessarily onboard with the idea of handing everything over to Grand Admiral Thrawn, who remains offscreen for the time being– though we do see his second-in-command Captain Pellaeon (character actor Xander Berkeley from Terminator 2: Judgment Day), another popular carry-over character from the old Star Wars Expanded Universe days. Anyway, Gideon promises to handle the Mandalorians, and then after the opening titles we cut back to Nevarro, where Bo-Katan Kryze’s (Katee Sackhoff) fleet returns with the other faction led by Axe Woves (Simon Kassianides). There’s some tension between the two groups at first, but the Armorer (Emily Swallow) settles thing down and then Bo-Katan announces that it’s time the various Mando sects team up to retake their devastated home planet of Mandalore.
Now’s the point in “The Spies” where we get some welcome comic relief in an otherwise very self-serious episode– though it never crosses the line into feeling overly goofy like in “Guns for Hire.” Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) welcomes the Mandalorians to their new homestead on Nevarro, and then brings Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) back to his High Magistrate office to present them with a gift– the reconstituted droid body of IG-11, renamed as IG-12, which can now be driven like a mech suit by the 50-something-year-old Force-wielding infant formerly known as The Child. Of course this is a very funny idea, made even more hilarious by Grogu’s additional new ability to press buttons indicating “yes” or “no” in Taika Waititi’s voice, but it’s also super cool and I seriously can’t wait to get my hands on the toy version as soon as Hasbro gets around to making it. So Din’s not entirely thrilled with this idea, but Grogu naturally takes to it pretty quickly, and soon everybody is on their way to Mandalore. There, the combined teams of Bo-Katan’s and the Armorer’s Mando warriors drop down onto the planet’s surface and begin looking around, soon finding themselves in the presence of a third group, who evidently survived the Empire’s purge of the planet. These newly introduced Mandos lead our heroes to the Great Forge, though they’re briefly waylaid by a giant ankylosaur-looking monster that I don’t think is intended to be the Mythosaur (how many dinosaurs live on this planet exactly?). Then we arrive at the Forge only to find that Moff Gideon’s forces have made Mandalore their own personal base, and that Gideon has built himself a new suit of Dark Trooper armor, complete with a shiny new helmet that recalls the period when Maul ruled the planet.
One big, exciting, knock-down-drag-out action scene later and Din Djarin is captured by Imperial jet-troopers, followed by poor Paz Vizsla (voiced by series creator Jon Favreau and embodied on-set by Tait Fletcher) meeting his end at the hands of some nasty Praetorian Guards (see Star Wars: The Last Jedi for more action with them). This is where we cut to credits, and oh boy, what an episode. I don’t mind The Mandalorian veering off to experiment with other genres during the middle of the season as much as some other fans seem to, but it sure is nice to see it return to form with such a strong entry as it builds to next week’s season finale. This installment really had everything– emotional character beats, thrilling action, genuinely funny humor– and ended on a “how are they possibly going to wrap up this arc in one episode?” cliffhanger that has me chomping at the bit for next Wednesday to get here already. Director Rick Famuyiwa has proven time and again at this point that he knows what makes this series tick, and in his new role as both executive producer and director of several episodes this season, he has absolutely earned his seat neck to Favreau and their fellow executive producer Dave Filoni. The biggest question we’re left with at the conclusion of this hour is: “Who are the spies referred to in the episode’s title?” Certainly Elia Kane qualifies as one, but we can’t count her as plural. My money’s on those extra Mandos who showed up out of nowhere, though I’ve predicted numerous times in the past that there’s another shoe left to drop with the Armorer. I suppose we’ll find out the truth in another seven days.
The third-season finale of The Mandalorian will be released next Wednesday, exclusively via Disney+.