I wasn’t terribly excited last week when they announced that the penultimate episode of the season would feature special guest star Bill Burr as Mayfield, a character who didn’t impress me much last season. Turns out I was wrong. Burr’s Imperial deserter turned bounty hunger brought the episode a nice, thoughtful core that brings the essential Star Wars themes of identity and belief front and center for our titular Mandalorian. This season has done a pretty decent job adopting the “guest star of the week” format, which I hope the show continues for as long as it runs, and I think “The Believer” (written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa) shows that not every one of those special appearances needs to be a big-name cameo from a popular character.
Of course “The Believer” treads ground seen in other Star Wars stories, which is the nature of Star Wars. Look at the massive slate of new Star Wars product unveiled last night (Rogue Squadron and Taika Waititi’s films, Disney+ shows for tons of supporting characters like Ahsoka Tano, the Obi-Wan Kenobi series). I do wonder what new types of stories they’ll try to tell within the galaxy far, far away. How many of those will tell tales in new, exciting ways?
“The Believer” also has a pretty awesome fight sequence about a vehicle called the Juggernaut, which brings to mind the Conveyex Train fight sequence in Solo: A Star Wars Story and the all-star Sandcrawler sequence in the second overall episode of The Mandalorian, the latter of which was also directed by Famuyiwa. Once again, our heroes have to get an unstable fuel to a remote refinery. Once again, pirates try to either steal / destroy the fuel. It’s a classic Western setup. A train robbery.
The difference this time is that Mayfield and Mando are disguised as Imperials and their mission is to defend the cargo and fight off the pirates — who are presumably angry natives of the planet trying to fuck with their occupying force (as Mayfield mentions earlier). I don’t think that “The Believer” engages well enough with the subtext of Mando’s actions here, thought it at least attempts to do so when he and Mayfield fight the Imperials later. I guess what I’m asking for is more Star Wars that engages with the stories on a slightly deeper level. Just a smidgen. It’s almost there.
For what it’s worth, these ideas do play into the character development for Mando, as he’s forced to reckon with the intersection of what he believes (i.e., the armor stuff) and what needs to be done to save his de facto son from Imperial clutches. Developing the parental element of Mando and Grogu has been the highlight of The Mandalorian so far and it’s the smartest choice Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni have made as showrunners. I like that every single person in the show is aware of how cute Grogu is and willing to drop everything to save him. Even Boba Fett loves the little guy.
I do wish, though, that the scripts and stories would go a step further and engage with the implications they themselves present. At least it’s not as sloppy as the weird Droid stuff in Solo or that time J.J. Abrams made our heroes explicitly massacre child soldiers in The Rise of Skywalker.
I’ve written about how The Mandalorian feels derivative in just the right way for Disney. Gone are the times where this franchise would take risks. They tried that with The Last Jedi and Solo and were met with a 50/50 reaction. What do people want out of Star Wars? Comfort. Familiarity. Aesthetics. Tales about family, tales about war. Big choices. Cool warriors. The Force.
I imagine all these new shows will tap into those ideas and themes and find new ways to express them, and I hope they shoot for the moon and deliver really special stories. The thing is that “The Believer” comes close to being one of The Mandalorian‘s most thoughtful episodes. It’s one of the best character episodes so far, and it’s frustratingly close to being something a little bit more than that, too.
This column series — besides distilling my love of Star Wars into what it could tangibly sell me — is grappling with the dueling reality of how much this franchise means to me and what my connection to it means to me. I love all of Star Wars and I guess I’m always hoping it will prove itself worthy of that time, love, money and attention. I am rarely disappointed, but I always hope I’ll be surprised by something that connects with me on level beyond just “That’s some damn good Star Wars.”
While I’m talking about the higher ideas of the Star Wars saga, I want to again point out that The Last Jedi serves as the best, and most coherent Rosetta Stone for everything the franchise contains. It is in many ways the ultimate Star Wars story. Everything in The Believer stems from the same questions presented in The Last Jedi. Mayfield’s difficulty seeing the difference between good and bad when both sides seem equally callous (but making the right decision anyway). Mando’s difficulty choosing between an ancient belief system and the world right in front of him. The collateral impact of endless war on indigenous peoples of the galaxy. Finally, “The Believer” starts to nudge the Imperial Remnant toward the rise of the First Order in a natural way that, out of the sequels, only Rian Johnson’s film really engaged with in an honest fashion. The Star Wars universe was never one where Return of the Jedi ended the story: The war would continue, and the children of the Empire wouldn’t just decide things are hunky-dory. There’s no reason they wouldn’t join a new fascist cause. New heroes and villains rise up, always. J.J. Abrams released a movie in 2015 that was accidentally timely. Johnson understood why that was. Abrams didn’t really fucking get it when he took the reigns of Skywalker, but whatever.
At least Filoni gets it.
One of the dumber parts of my 6” Black Series Star Wars figure hobby is “troop building,” which is when I buy at least two of every Trooper figure so that the scenes I stage feel fuller and more action-oriented. Oftentimes this happens when I find Troopers on sale for an unbeatable price. I own seven Death Troopers, for instance, because two years ago they started appearing at Five Below stores for $5 a pop. I own three Stormtroopers, two Scout Troopers, two Range Troopers, two Mimban Stormtroopers, two Mudtroopers … it just goes on. I’m quite proud of my Imperial collection.
The Mandalorian reuses a lot of old Trooper designs from other productions, especially Rogue One. That movie introduced the Death Trooper, as well as the gorgeous Scarif Trooper or “Shore Trooper.” I love Shore Troopers. They are one of my favorite designs. Unfortunately the only one released widely was the Squad Commander; I own one, also found at $5. The grunt Shore Trooper was a Walmart exclusive and remains difficult to find. I was pleased to see both of them in this episode of The Mandalorian, alongside fellow Rogue One alumni like the Tank Commander and AT-ACT Driver. The armor Mando wears while masquerading as an Imperial is a gunmetal Tank Commander helmet mixed with Mudtrooper armor. Sleek as hell.
Anyway, the rumored load out for the next 6” Archive Wave of figures next spring are re-issues of Rogue One troopers. The Death Trooper, the Scarif Trooper, the Tank Driver. I don’t need more of any of these, and Aly says building troop armies is stupid. But I’ll be honest: if I see a grunt Shoreboys at Target, I can’t say no, particularly because he now fits in both my Rogue One and The Mandalorian sections.
Let me say: It’s fucking shrewd of Disney to produce three distinct Boba Fett costumes in the span of two episodes, all of which I would buy in toy form. I already own a Boba Fett (The Empire Strikes Back version) and have his Return of the Jedi version (slightly different!) on pre-order for next summer. What an easy mark I am. Unlike the memes from last episode where the costume looked bulky due to all the extra robes, the new look for Boba looks outstanding on Temuera Morrison. I’m pleased they kept the robes for his lower half.
My only, only disappointment among the Star Wars announcements at Disney Investor Day was that a Boba show was not announced. It’s been rumored, and I really just want more of him. Hopefully he’s a continued presence on The Mandalorian or its spinoffs. And we finally see the weird rotating inside of Slave 1! (Speaking of spinoffs: Mayfield is absolutely going to be in Rangers of the New Republic, right?)
I did not buy any Star Wars-related items this part week, but I played more Star Wars Squadrons. I plan on reading the next X-Wing book soon. Aly bought a Rey ornament, though.
Let me say though: I love the Juggernaut tank, a Clone Wars relic. I own a Juggernaut LEGO set. I got it for $20 because back in the day I would buy LEGOS at full price at one Walmart, then go to another Walmart where they’d already been clearanced out, return the set for my money back and then re-purchase it at the clearance price. Aly got mad at me and said it’s dishonest, so I stopped doing it. Well, that, and Walmart caught on and stopped making it possible. But my Juggernaut tank is pretty sweet.
- 6” Boba Fett (clean armor) — $20
- 6” Shore Trooper Grunt — $20
- 6” Mayfield — $20
- 6” Juggernaut Tank Driver — $20
- 6” Pirates (I really, really need some alien pirates after this season) — $20