The Mandalorian goes full Chanbara to introduce Ahsoka Tano to the live-action Star Wars universe, and this episode, entitled “The Jedi,” might’ve delivered the most fan service of the series so far. It also draws heavily from the aesthetic, narrative, and combat elements of Samurai films—which of course, had much influence on the American Westerns that inspired the Disney+ series.
It’s well known that George Lucas was inspired by Japanese cinema—Akira Kurosawa flicks The Hidden Fortress and Yoshimbo, in particular—for his Star Wars franchise. The Jedi and Sith are warriors who study under masters, undertake years of training both physical and spiritual, wield swords in battle, and forgo armor in favor of tunics. Plus, one can’t ignore the Wuxia influence on the Force and its concept of internal energy.
The Mandalorian creator Jon Favreau has said he borrowed from manga Lone Wolf and Cub for his depiction of the relationship between Mando and The Child, while some suggest executive producer Dave Filoni nodded to Kurosawa’s Sanjuro for the character journey of Jedi warrior Ahsoka, a fan-favorite from his 2008 Clone Wars movie and subsequent TV series. It was only fitting, then, that Filoni directed the episode that introduces Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka on the live-action stage. And what an introduction it was.
The Jedi might’ve been peacekeepers, but they’re still some of the deadliest fighters in the galaxy, as Ahsoka shows in the episode’s opening moments. It’s dark and misty on the forest planet of Corvus, and her stealthy assault on a small group of armed guards is punctuated by her lightsaber flashing and humming as she makes her way to her target: Magistrate Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), who’s taken control of the city of Calodan. Ahsoka wants information, but Morgan refuses and threatens to kill the entire population. Ahsoka gives her a day to decide to do this the easy way or the hard way—and clearly, Morgan is angling toward the hard way.
Mando and Baby Yoda land on the planet and the lil’ one uses his Jedi powers to steal his favorite gearstick knob from the Razor Crest. Taking it for safety, Mando heads toward the colony, keeping the kid hidden and pretending he’s still a Guild bounty hunter to gain entry from the magistrate’s gun-for-hire, Lang (played by The Terminator star Michael Biehn). Morgan herself is packing a pretty impressive spear made of Beskar, which she offers as payment to Mando if he kills the Jedi. Instead of agreeing, he asks for Ahsoka’s location, which Morgan, thinking it was acceptance of the job, gives him. Nope! Sorry, love! Mando’s not making any verbal commitments to murder right now, but thanks for the info.
He soon finds Ahsoka, or more accurately, she finds him, but Baby Yoda grabs her attention, and wow, what a jaw-dropping revelation she soon delivers! After conversing with The Child through their thoughts, Ahsoka not only reveals that his name is Grogu (OMG!) but also tells Mando his whole backstory.
“He was raised at the Jedi Temple in Coruscant,” she says. “Many masters trained him over the years. At the end of the Clone Wars when the Empire rose to power, he was hidden. Someone took him from the Temple, then his memory becomes dark. He seemed lost. Alone.”
I’m not embarrassed to admit I shed a few tears for the lil’ padawan here. WE MUST PROTECT HIM AT ALL COSTS.
Sorry, let me pull myself together.
It seems Grogu has been keeping his abilities hidden to not draw attention to himself, so Ahsoka struggles to draw them out when she tests his control of the Force. She senses much fear in the young one, and after Mando gets him to Jedi-mind-trick his favorite silvery knob into his hand, she realizes their attachment is strong. Too strong, she feels, for her to train Grogu. “I’ve seen what such feelings can do to a fully trained Jedi Knight,” Ahsoka says, referencing her former master Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader. “Better to let his abilities fade.”
Mando is not having this, though, and makes an agreement with the Jedi: He’ll help her take out Morgan—who’s apparently been helping the Galactic Empire build its Imperial Starfleet to plunder and destroy worlds—but Ahsoka has to agree to train Baby Yoda (I mean, Grogu). She does.
The Jedi and Mandalorians are meant to be sworn enemies, so it’s easy for Ahsoka to convince the Magistrate that she sent Mando to a swift end. When Morgan refuses again to give the warrior what she wants, Ahsoka whips out the sabers and cracks on with the battle against the army of guards—complete with A350 blaster rifles, two Feudal Japanese armor-looking assassin droids, and Lang. After she takes out the lion’s share, Mando arrives on the scene to save the prisoners and hold down the fort while Ahsoka confronts Morgan. She wants to know where her master, Thrawn—a notorious Imperial Admiral who appeared in the Star Wars Legend canon and was rebooted via Star Wars: Rebels—is, but Morgan ain’t sharing, so the two women prepare to fight. The goddaughter of Bruce Lee and herself a stuntwoman and martial artist, Inosanto puts on a formidable display with the Beskar spear, and the action is beautifully shot in a water garden, where their cries and the clanging and humming of weapons ring out over the soft noise of running water.
Ahsoka wins, of course, and Mando proves how quick he is on the draw by taking out Lang. The colony celebrates, but the Jedi reneges on her promise to train Grogu and tells Mando to take him to the planet Typhon. “There you will find a temple with a strong connection to the force,” she says. “Place Grogu on the Seeing Stone at the top of the mountain. Grogu may choose his path. If he reaches out through the Force, there’s a chance the Jedi may sense his presence and come searching for him.” Mando and The Child depart, leaving Ahsoka to continue her journey to find Thrawn. And yet another gigantic narrative thread is added to the season 2 fabric of The Mandalorian.
“The Jedi” is a truly thrilling episode that pays homage to the masters of Japanese and Wuxia cinema, not merely through the Ronin characterization of Ahsoka and the somewhat feudal imperial villainy of Morgan, but through the aesthetic choices, from the setting of an ancient rural village and temple in union with nature to the billowing tunics, roof-hopping choreography, and dulcet tones of gongs and pan flutes in the score. There are even fox-looking creatures called Loth Cats roaming the village, an apparent nod to the kitsune of Japanese folklore, though foxes appear often in East Asian fables. Filoni proves once again what a masterful storyteller he is, and through The Mandalorian, he is proving just how cinematically enriching Star Wars stories can be on the small screen.
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