Television

The Casual Star Wars Fan’s Guide to “Operation: Cinder”

The latest Mandalorian hinges on a bit of lore many viewers have never heard of.

Bill Burr as Migs Mayfeld holds a blaster.
Bill Burr as Migs Mayfeld. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Disney+.

Remind me what Bill Burr is doing on The Mandalorian again?

Bill Burr plays Migs Mayfeld, who was a member of the team that Mando joined last season to help free a prisoner from the New Republic. Mayfeld and the rest of the team betrayed Mando on that mission, but Mando got the last laugh, trapping them on the ship and delivering the prisoner himself. You may also remember Mayfeld as the guy who dropped Grogu, or as a space Bostonian.

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We learned this season that Mayfeld was sentenced to 50 years labor for his part in the prison break and for being involved in the death of a New Republic officer in the process.

Why does Mando need this guy’s help?

Mayfeld was previously an Imperial sharpshooter, and Mando needs someone with an Imperial background to help him infiltrate the Imperial base on Morak and locate the ship of Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), and with it, Grogu.

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What is Operation: Cinder and why is Mayfeld so worked up about it?

Mayfeld alludes to the deaths of 5,000-10,000 people, including civilians and his own Imperial comrades. His old boss, Imperial officer Valin Hess (Richard Brake), calls it a “sacrifice for the greater good,” which Mayfeld does not take so well. These deaths were not unintentional casualties, but the deliberate targets of Operation: Cinder, in which the Empire targeted both rebel planets and Imperial planets shortly after the events of Return of the Jedi. The Empire used satellites to mess with the climates of planets like Naboo, Vardos, and the planet where Mayfeld was stationed, Burnin Konn. The satellites led to monthslong chaos and mass death on the affected planets.

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Operation: Cinder explains why Mayfeld became fed up with the Empire (it betrayed him and others who were loyal to it!), and he wouldn’t be the first to defect as a result—that’s also what happens to the protagonist of the 2017 video game Star Wars Battlefront 2, in which we see Operation: Cinder play out. Operation: Cinder also plays a major part in the 2015 Shattered Empire comics, which is where it was first introduced, and Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy of books explores its origins further.

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And this stuff is all canon? Even that video game?

Yep.

Am I expected to know all of it?

Until recently, most mainstream audiences could safely ignore everything outside of the movies, but with Disney’s announcement of 10 new Star Wars series and The Mandalorian incorporating more and more obscure characters and events, it might be time to brush up.

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Maybe instead you can just keep writing these explainers?

We will try!

Getting back to the plot, why would the Empire attack its own planets?

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As usual, Emperor Palpatine—Sheev, to his friends—was the shadowy mastermind behind everything. Before he died—or “died”—at the end of The Return of the Jedi, he created a plan called the Contingency, which included Operation: Cinder, to be carried out after his death. Essentially, he sabotaged his own Empire rather than see it continue without him.

OK, but WHY would Palpatine order the destruction of Imperial planets if he was just planning to come back in The Rise of Skywalker?

It is hard to know exactly what is going through our old pal Sheevie’s head at a given moment—particularly as the new Star Wars canon grows more and more complicated and potentially contradictory with each new installment. Other characters offer their own ideas: In Battlefront 2, one Imperial officer, Admiral Garrick Versio, describes it as a show of force, a reminder to the galaxy of who is in control. On The Mandalorian, Hess, though he’s on the same side, seems to have a slightly different take: They created chaos so that they can once again provide order while the New Republic struggles in the chaos.

Ultimately, though, Palpatine is just kind of a spiteful guy! In Aftermath: Empire’s End, he suggests that when he dies, the rest of the Empire should be punished for outliving him. It also gives him a clean slate to rebuild his new and improved empire. The man loves building empires, OK?

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