The latest episode of The Mandalorian brought back Macanese/Malaysian-American Ming-Na Wen (aka, Melinda May, Fa Mulan, or June Woo) as cunning assassin Fennec Shand, presenting an opportunity to compensate for Season 1’s biggest waste of Asian-American talent. However, I also found some other reasons to endorse this episode – a rare instance of Star Wars boasting Hispanic/Latino entertainers both in the director’s chair, and in top billing.
A long time ago…
For episodes that reuse Asian-American guest stars from Season 1, this un-creatively-titled section will recap what happened in the character’s previous appearance(s), and list any signs I found in advance of the character returning to the show.
In The Mandalorian Chapter 5: “The Gunslinger”, Din Djarin and the rookie bounty hunter Toro Calican attempt to claim a reward on Fennec Shand, until she convinces Calican to betray Din. Unfortunately, before he attempts such, he eliminates Fennec with an anti-climactic shot to the chest. The ending shot, of a mysterious figure approaching her lifeless body, gave some viewers hope that she would return. My hope increased with April 2020 articles claiming Ming-Na had filmed new scenes for the second season, then by the sight of her liking and sharing Mandalorian Season 2 publicity material on social media.
Airdate: December 4, 2020
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Writer: Jon Favreau
The armor was given to my father, Jango, by your forebears. In exchange, I guarantee the safety of the Child, as well as your own.
Din Djarin delivers Grogu to a seeing stone on Tython, where Ahsoka previously suggested the Force could help find another potential Jedi trainer. Former bounty hunter Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and a cybernetically-revived Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) also land on Tython, demanding that Din return Boba’s beskar armor (which Din collected in Chapter 9: “The Marshal”). When Moff Gideon’s mooks arrive to kidnap Grogu, Din, Boba, and Fennec all rally to protect the kid.
This action-packed emotional rollercoaster provides the best Mandalorian S2 episode yet. Throughout this season, Din Djarin has proven an ingenious audience surrogate. His battle skills and access to otherworldly technology give him wish-fulfillment appeal, yet his initial lack of knowledge regarding Jedi and Mandalorians outside of his cult helps make him relatable to viewers less than fluent in Star Wars mythology. Among all the characters Din’s met from other Star Wars media this season, Boba Fett needs the least amount of introduction to viewers; he’s already appeared multiple times across the Skywalker Saga, and in previous Mandalorian episodes. Regardless, the details Boba shares regarding his family history help flesh out his reasons for wanting his suit back beyond fulfilling the show’s need to appeal to old-school Star Wars fans. They also give him common ground with Din’s clan, as he seems as proud of Mandalorian culture as Din does, and as emotionally attached to the late Jango Fett as Grogu to Din.
For this review, I watched Fennec Shand’s scenes of “The Gunslinger” again, to determine if the character improved with Favreau’s writing and Rodriguez’s direction. Dave Filoni briefly brought out a worldly, manipulative side of Fennec’s character, but it doesn’t take long into “The Tragedy” for her to show more personality under Rodriguez and Favreau; both men have more experience than Filoni does at directing live-action. As Fennec reveals to Din how Boba helped her cheat death, she sounds delightfully – yet understandably – conceited, but also remembers to express gratitude to Boba. Like Boba, Fennec gets more opportunities than before to demonstrate her battle skills, yet her nobility helps her truly stand out among lesser Star Wars enemies.
(Din also shows more personality in “The Tragedy” than he did in “The Gunslinger”, though Pedro Pascal deserves as much credit for that as Rodriguez and Favreau do, having taken more time to grow into the character by this point.)
As the title promised, this chapter delivers some rather devastating moments. One such moment elicited one of the few times I screamed in horror at the TV – a testament to how invested I’ve become in Din’s clan, even as older Star Wars characters threaten to overshadow them. However, the devastating moments haven’t ruined the replay value for me, as Din’s last two scenes provide some hope that he and his allies will win in the end. “The Tragedy” kicks off the season’s third act by bringing the show to new emotional heights.
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This review is dedicated to David Prowse (1935-2020), who skillfully conveyed the physical aspects of Darth Vader’s imposing nature and redemption in the original Star Wars Trilogy, creating a legacy The Mandalorian carries on whenever such performers as Pedro Pascal, Temuera Morrison, and the body doubles invest viewers in masked characters.