Television

The Mandalorian, Not The Rise of Skywalker, Is the Future of Star Wars

Carl Weathers holds his hand to the elbow of a masked Pedro Pascal.
Carl Weathers and Pedro Pascal in The Mandalorian. Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Studios

The Mandalorian finale opens with nearly three minutes of stormtroopers just … hanging out. Not important stormtroopers with secret backstories or hidden powers, mind you. Just a couple of bored, faceless nobodies (with the voices of Jason Sudeikis and Adam Pally) chatting about the downsides of working for an organization where commanders regularly shoot their own men and showing off that famously terrible stormtrooper aim. If not for one of the scouts periodically smacking a certain alien baby concealed in his bag, you’d think you were watching a Saturday Night Live sketch.

What an unthinkable luxury those three minutes are, coming as they do on the heels of The Rise of Skywalker, a movie that in two and a half hours never pauses to take a breath. To the untrained eye, The Mandalorian and The Rise of Skywalker aren’t all that different, both offering plenty of silly new Star Wars jargon, a mercenary who won’t remove their helmet, side errands to various planets, a droid who sacrifices himself for the greater good, and a powerful Force user with a mysterious past. But where The Rise of Skywalker was overstuffed and underexplained, The Mandalorian took its sweet time, and not just by stretching its story out over eight episodes (with more to come) or by releasing them once a week rather than in a bingeable bundle. The very quality that turned some critics off of The Mandalorian’s early episodes, its leisurely pace, has turned out to be the series’ saving grace, letting fans marinate for a while in this universe of bounty hunters and space wizards rather than hurling them through it at light speed.

The season finale, “Chapter Eight: Redemption,” rewards viewers who stuck out those slower installments with a few solutions to its mysteries, though not necessarily the ones we were expecting. We finally learn Mando’s real name—Din Djarin—and see Pedro Pascal’s face. That’s thanks to a loophole that allows him to remove his helmet in front of assassin–turned–nanny droid IG-11, played by Taika Waititi (who also directs this episode and its ridiculously fun action sequences). An uninterrupted flashback to Din’s childhood also reinforces two things we kind of already knew: who the Mandalorians are at this point in the Star Wars timeline (it’s more of a lifestyle than a race) and the origin of Din’s hatred of droids (they invaded his home planet and presumably killed his parents).

But the season otherwise ends with a number of loose ends left dangling, like who the mysterious figure who approached Fennec Shand’s body at the end of the fifth episode was, or what the deal is with The Mandalorian’s most beloved character, the Child (formerly) known as Baby Yoda. That lack of payoff is intriguing, rather than disappointing. Whereas the latest trilogy of Star Wars movies lost its way by not planning ahead, forcing the writers to raise the stakes to absurd heights in The Rise of Skywalker, Mandalorian creator Jon Favreau clearly already has a larger story in mind. When Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) cuts his way free of the TIE fighter at the end of the episode, it’s not just any cool-looking black sword he’s clutching. It’s the Darksaber, a weapon previously seen in the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels.

Favreau has a special connection to the Darksaber, given that it was once wielded by his character on The Clone Wars, a Mandalorian terrorist named Pre Vizsla. His ancestor, Tarre Vizsla, was the first Mandalorian to join the Jedi Order, an important moment of unity between the two cultures, which clashed in the ancient conflict described in The Mandalorian finale by the armorer who warns Din Djarin about “sorcerers.” The Darksaber has since become a status symbol for Mandalorians: It was last seen in the possession of Bo-Katan Kryze, Mandalore’s rightful ruler. That it has fallen into Gideon’s hands tells us that he’s no run-of-the-mill imperial officer and likely had a hand in the Great Purge we’ve been hearing so much about.

Between the Darksaber’s live-action debut and Darth Maul’s cameo in Solo, it may not be possible for mainstream Star Wars fans to ignore the animated series anymore, because with no new movies officially on the horizon, TV is looking more and more like the place where the franchise will play out in the future. The Clone Wars is coming back after a dedicated, yearslong fan campaign, characters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Cassian Andor are each getting their own series, and there are even rumors of other secret shows in the works. Putting a whole bunch of Star Wars on TV in the coming year has its potential downsides, like the kind of glut that led Solo to flop at the box office. But if The Mandalorian is any indicator, it will also create room for writers to play with genre, to take big risks—and to slow things way down.