The Mandalorian Review: Episode 8 Closes Season 1 on a Thrilling Note

“The Mandalorian” has had its ups and downs, but the season finale closes on a high note while setting up an exciting Season 2 premise.

The season finale of “The Mandalorian” maintains the momentum from last week’s superb episode and delivers an action-packed experience that makes for one of the series’ best installments. There’s heroism, sacrifice, humor, excitable nods to key franchise elements, and tantalizing teases of where the Disney+ show could go in Season 2. It was the ideal way to close out the season and an adventure that “Star Wars” fans of all stripes should find easy to love.

All of that is well and good, but for all of its memorable scenes — the Child, AKA Baby Yoda, using the Force to deflect a flamethrower, assassin droid IG-88 (Taika Waititi) sacrificing himself to wipe out a platoon of Stormtroopers, the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) finally getting a jetpack and revealing his face and name — it’s the season’s final moments, where Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) cuts his way out of his TIE Fighter with the darksaber in hand, that is certain to set the “Star Wars” fandom on fire.

Season 1 of “The Mandalorian” has been crammed with references to the greater “Star Wars” mythos. Some of them have been genuinely lovable, others have been pandering, but the reveal that Moff Gideon possesses the darksaber, a one-of-a-kind archaic black-bladed lightsaber that originally belonged to the first Mandalorian Jedi, sits firmly in the former camp. The darksaber is a fan-favorite weapon that originated from “The Mandalorian” executive producer Dave Filoni’s “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” series and the weapon’s deep ties to Mandalorian culture make its surprise live-action reveal an absolute joy for longtime fans.

For the “Star Wars” aficionados who recognize the darksaber, there was no better surprise reveal to close out the season. Even if you don’t know about the darksaber’s lore, it’s still all sorts of exciting to see Esposito saunter out of a wreckage with an edgy black-bladed lightsaber in hand. Is Moff Gideon Force sensitive? How did he obtain the darksaber? Just what exactly does he want with Baby Yoda?

“The Mandalorian” isn’t answering any of those questions quite yet ,but those queries are sure to invite all sorts of wild speculation about where Season 2 could go. Crucially, “Chapter 8: The Redemption” doesn’t feel lacking; it’s a substantive finale that closes the series’ initial arcs and boasts plenty of its own emotional rewards.

The episode has a fairly straightforward premise, but the chaotic action is all sorts of thrilling. There are plenty of little self-contained surprises, so it’s never really an issue. For unknown reasons, Moff Gideon wants Baby Yoda and has a small army of Stormtroopers backing him. It’s up to the Mandalorian, Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Greef Carga (Carl Weathers), and IG-88 to rescue Baby Yoda and escape the Imperials. The season finale, which clocks in at a series-record 46 minutes, makes apt use of its lengthy runtime.

"The Mandalorian"

Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) in “The Mandalorian.”

Disney

Each character gets their time in the spotlight, (Baby Yoda’s waving and squeals are especially adorable this go-around), but IG-88 is easily the season finale’s breakout character. Early in the episode, he rescues Baby Yoda from Imperial scout troopers — whose pragmatic conversation about their psychopathic boss is legitimately hilarious. He then sails into town to find the other protagonists holed up, jumpstarting one of the season’s most frantic firefights. His deadly motions are exhilarating to watch, and his Stormtrooper drive-bys and eventual heroic sacrifice are among the episode’s highlights.

The Darksaber shocker aside, it’s a bit disappointing that Moff Gideon’s dialogue is mostly relegated to exposition dumping and talking about how cool his big laser minigun thing is. Still, his disposable Stormtrooper army is fodder for some visually astounding shootouts that are reminiscent of the best Saturday morning cartoon-style action shows. It’s like a big-budget live-action adaption of a “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” or “Star Wars Rebels” episode, and it’s hard to ask for much more than that.

The episode’s battles are diverse, taking place in an open-ended city, a cramped sewer, and even in the sky, when the Mandalorian jetpacks and hooks onto a TIE fighter in the season’s ludicrously entertaining final action sequence. Most of the fights feature a new twist to keep things fresh, such as a flamethrower-wielding Stormtrooper, or the badass Mandalorian armorer (Emily Swallow) from earlier episodes, who utterly dismantles a squad of Stormtroopers in a shockingly intense melee.

“Chapter 8: The Redemption” has high stakes, but its quieter moments also offer satisfying payoffs. The Mandalorian’s distrust of droids gets a resolution, and the path has been set for the bounty hunter to either train Baby Yoda or reunite him with the rest of his famously mysterious species in Season 2. This is still a show about a stoic Lone Ranger-esque character, but the episode offers just enough characterization to suggest all sorts of interesting new directions “The Mandalorian” could explore in the future.

Regardless of where “The Mandalorian” decides to go in Season 2, the next batch of episodes will benefit from the superb storylines the show’s Season 1 finale has set in motion. The Disney+ tentpole has had its fair share of ups and downs — the episodic, copy-pasted midseason wasn’t remotely to its benefit — but the series’ high points are strong and numbered enough to inspire a veritable zeal for upcoming installments. More, please.

Grade: A-

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