Naturally, there are spoilers here.
Dave Filoni, protege of George Lucas and a shepherd of the future of Star Wars, wrote and directed the thirteenth chapter of The Mandalorian. In this episode, Din Djarin finally makes his way to the forest planet of Corvus and the city of Calodan, and it’s there that we meet a familiar face.
In the city of Calodan, former Jedi Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), has besieged a city controlled by an evil magistrate named Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), and her enforcer, Lang (Michael Biehn). She’s seeking information and Elsbeth won’t give it to her. When Djarin lands, he finds that Corvus isn’t much of a forest planet any longer, stripped of its verdancy. He goes into town looking for leads and Elsbeth offers him a staff of pure beskar if he kills the Jedi.
The Mandalorian makes no promises, but takes their information that leads him to Tano. She attacks him, but he’s able to declare a truce by dropping Bo Katan’s name and he’s allowed to state his purpose. Ahsoka is able to commune with the child and discovers that his name is Grogu. He was a youngling at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and had been trained under many Jedi masters. When Anakin Skywalker marched on the temple during Order 66, he was hidden and whisked away. His memory, though, fuzzy after that.
She refuses to train Grogu, however. While not mentioning that she’s no longer a Jedi, her reasoning is deeper than that. Grogu has formed too much of an attachment to Din Djarin and looks to him like a father. Ahsoka, implying the fate of Anakin Skywalker, says the danger in training a Force user with such attachments is too great. Din Djarin would be better off letting the Force fade from Grogu.
This doesn’t sit well with the Mandalorian and he tries striking a bargain with Ahsoka. He’ll help her take down the magistrate in Calodan to get the information she seeks as long as she takes Grogu on as her apprentice.
Together, they invade the city, take down Elsbeth and Lang, and liberate it. But Ahsoka reiterates that she cannot train him and suggests that he be taken to the Jedi Temple on Tython, and there Grogu can choose his own path. A Jedi might come looking for him or he might choose to stay with Din. But he’ll have that choice himself.
For Ahsoka’s part, it’s revealed what, or rather who, she’s seeking: Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Ahsoka and the Mandalorian go their separate ways. Din, heading to Tython, Ahsoka to continue her quest.
As Dave Filoni is a student of George Lucas, naturally, he’s a student of Akira Kurosawa as well, and he learned from both capably. The planet of Corvus is eerily reminiscent of the smoky forests in Throne of Blood where Toshiro Mifune’s character, General Washizu, encounters three magical witches who foretell their futures. The city of Calodan as well bears inspiration from Kurosawa, as do so many of the shots, specifically from Yojimbo. The story borrows from Yojimbo as well, casting the Mandalorian as Toshiro Mifune’s ronin who is able to play the villains into writing their own destruction.
There are other flourishes borrowed from the Japanese aesthetic of Kurosawa’s films as well. As Ahsoka appears in at the gates of Calodan, the wind picks up and her theme plays gently. Kurosawa was a master of wielding the wind, sun, and other elements to aid in telling his stories and Filoni learned well. The timeline of the episode is such that the light of day or night is utilized make the most of every scene. The most dramatic showdowns happen in the smoky sunset of Corvus. The most introspective moments happen at night where the characters can be silhouetted by the moon. It’s a small thing, but the time of day in a particular shot or sequence is not an accident.
Filoni also draws on other films as well. Michael Biehn hunting through Calodan for Ahsoka evokes his own scenes from Aliens, but the showdown also recalls his turn as Johnny Ringo in Tombstone. Ahsoka’s hunting of the guards at the beginning of the episode even get some very Sam Raimi-like quick, tracking POV shots, a’la Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn or Spider-Man 2.
There are some great moments of storytelling, too. Imbuing the gear shifter from season one with added importance here, creating realistic circumstances for Mando to have it on him, and then using it during Ahsoka’s test was just good writing. It’s symbolic of the choice that Grogu will likely make. Filoni takes this into the design as well. Everything on this world is dead, but when the gates open to Elsbeth’s sanctuary, it’s green and lush like the planet once was, a clear commentary on the nature of greed.
Filoni has grown as a live-action director since the first season and it shows. Everyone this season has been firing on all cylinders and he’s no exception.
One of the biggest questions I hoped this episode would answer is where in Ahsoka’s quest is this set on the timeline. I’m still not sure we have a clear answer, but there are certainly clues for which we can make some guesses.
As we see Ahsoka in the coda to Star Wars Rebels, she has passed through flame and shadow in her ordeals with Darth Vader and her exile on Malachor. Like Gandalf the Grey and his transformation to Gandalf the White, we see a visual representation of this in Ahsoka’s white robe. I doubt it’s a mistake then, that Filoni dresses her in gray here, showing us that she’s still on that journey, learning to be that person. Her montrals are also much, much shorter here than they are in the Rebels epilogue.