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‘Mandalorian’ Monday: Fackin’ Bill Burr returns in ‘The Believer’, khed

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Editor’s Note: Welcome to Mandalorian Monday, when Vanyaland film editor Nick Johnston recaps last week’s episode of ‘The Mandalorian. It runs — you guessed it — every Monday during the show’s second season, so you have the chance to watch it over the weekend and he can write about it without having to put a big SPOILERS warning atop the page.

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So, hey, anybody else watch that Disney Shareholder Day stream last week? Yeah, I figured you probably did — I mean, aside from Cyberpunk 2077 melting your seven-year-old gaming console, what else were you going to do last week — and you almost definitely heard the big news about Disney’s long-term plan for The Mandalorian going forward. In case you didn’t, well, I’d like to know what rock you live under and how much you paid for it, because I’d love to join you in blissful ignorance, but here’s also what you missed: Disney announced that season 3 of this particular show will hit during Christmas 2021, and it’ll be joined by two new Mando-adjacent shows, The Rangers of the New Republic and Ahsoka, at some point in the near future. All three shows will lead to a Defenders-style crossover event at the end, though who knows when that will be. It’s a pretty ambitious plot for Star Wars TV, and it’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds.

 

What this means for us is that we’re probably not going to get another episode with Rosario Dawson’s Ahsoka Tano this season and, as some had speculated, her appearance on the show was essentially a backdoor pilot for her show. Likewise, we’re probably not going to see Grand Admiral Thrawn in any way other than a teaser at the end of this season (and even then, that might be a stretch), which is kind of relieving. It’s somewhat nice to know that they aren’t going to cram in the entire Disney EU in this season like the Devil trying to cram donuts down Homer Simpson’s mouth, and they seem to be favoring a more incremental approach, at least in the final moments of this season. Nobody seems to really know what Rangers will be about, but I’m hoping it’s a lot like Troopers and is basically just Cops in space. Like, watching Dave Filoni get iced by a dude selling death sticks on Coruscant would be pretty damn funny, but I realize that’s a pretty remote possibility.

Anyway, let’s focus on the now, huh? “Chapter 15: The Believer,” directed by Rick Famuyiwa (Dope, Brown Sugar), is a damn good episode, and there’s a lot to chew on here.

What Happened?

We begin on Karthon, a New Republic prison planet full of Imperial debris and detritus, the camera panning across a landscape covered in ruin and workers looking to salvage what they can from it, until it settles upon a single yellow-clad prisoner, stripping a downed TIE. Behind the mask is everybody’s favorite Space Bostonian (aside from the actual Boston spaceship), Migs Mayfeld, played, of course, by the inimitable Bill Burr, and it turns out that it’s his lucky day — he’s about to be off this rock. A New Republic prison guard droid announces to him that he’s been surrendered to the custody of Marshal Cara Dune. It’s pretty funny to see that the New Republic beats its prisoners, thanks to the guard’s threatening behavior towards Mayfield when he hesitates, given the whole “forces of good” thing, but it is what it is, I guess.

 
 

Dune takes him back to Slave I, where he’s introduced to Boba Fett and Fennec Shand. Boba’s straightened out some of the kinks in his armor, and he looks a whole lot better than he did last episode (the bib is gone!), and Mayfeld tells him that he’s glad he’s not who he thought he was. But then the person who Mayfield was expecting — Mando — descends down the ship’s ramp and the pair share a somewhat awkward moment, given that the Beskar-covered warrior is the reason that Mayfeld’s trapped on the planet in the first place. Mando tells him that he needs him for his clearances, and Mayfeld boards the ship, deciding that it’s better to possibly get whacked by a Mandalorian than it is to stay on this shitty planet. Hit that title screen!

Onboard Slave I (we get some truly fantastic looks at the ship’s interior in this episode, and I love how the whole thing is on a gyroscope that adjusts depending on the ship’s position), Mando and Dune reveal more details about why they’ve sprung him — remember, the Imperials babynapped Baby Yoda — and, after some hesitation after Moff Gideon’s name is brought up, Mayfeld tells them to head to Morak. Everyone gathered suspects that Mayfeld might be feeding them bad intelligence, but the former Imperial knows his stuff: There’s a hidden mining facility on the planet, though there’s no way to get Slave I close to it, because it is covered in anti-aircraft guns. The ship touches down on the planet’s surface, and the group observes the movement of mining trucks heading through the forest from a nearby hilltop.

The plan seems simple — get Mayfeld to a terminal inside the refining facility — but it turns out the only person who can go with him is Mando (Dune’s an easily identified Rebel shocktrooper, Shand’s recognizable, and every single person with a vague knowledge of the Clone Wars knows what Boba Fett looks like, even without his helmet), and to everyone’s surprise, the masked man agrees to go. It’s a notable break with his creed — an acknowledgment that he might have to get out of that armor in order to save his adopted son — and the pair, with the help of Dune, hijack an Imperial mining truck like they’re the T-1000 following John Connor. Fun stuff!

So, Mando and Mayfeld seize the drivers’ outfits and begin on their way back to the base, but not before Mando, still masked thanks to the driver’s get-ups, entrusts his armor to Dune, who assures him that it’ll be protected. Mayfeld realizes that the ships are carrying Rydonium, which is a highly combustible material that must be kept at a certain temperature and not agitated too much. Shand observes from a hilltop, and once the pair are safely on the road, informs the rest of the group that all is going according to plan. Onboard the truck, Mayfeld begins talking with Mando about his ideals, and how he’s begun to compromise them when he’s been faced with something he truly cares about — already he’s observed how it went from “never take off your helmet” to “never show your face” in order to accommodate this mission’s parameters. He observes a group of villagers in the road and muses that shit doesn’t change for them on the ground no matter who’s in power — New Republic or Empire, they’re still going to be colonizers, forcing the natives of the planet into submission. It’s a point that’s been made in other aspects of the Star Wars franchise, but it’s probably delivered in the most palatable fashion here, given how much people hate The Last Jedi, for whatever reason. Anywho, Mayfeld comes down on the side of those doing what they need to do in order to sleep peacefully at night, regardless of whether or not they’re hypocrites. And then shit starts blowing up.

 
 

You see, pirates want the cargo, and if they can’t get it, they’re gonna blow it up. So, the first transport in the cargo line explodes, and the second does as well, and unsurprisingly, they’re up next in the line to get barbecued. What follows is a solid-ass action sequence from Famuyiwa, in which Mando heads to the top of the vehicle to fight off thermal detonator-wielding pirates like he’s Max Rockatansky, and Mayfeld does his best to keep the truck on the road and keep it from blowing up from agitation. As others have already pointed out, this conceit owes a lot to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, which is an absolute masterpiece that you should absolutely watch as soon as possible, but it’s also a funny and striking tribute to William Friedkin’s remake of the film, Sorcerer, which happened to come out the month after Star Wars in 1977 and flopped hard because of the money-printing entertainment machine that was George Lucas’s most enduring creation. That movie’s received a re-evaluation over the years, and it’s also a damn good film. Anyway, you know how this goes — I’m not going to give you the play-by-play, but it’s a white-knuckle ride, and the pair are only saved when a squadron of TIEs rains hell upon the skiff-driving pirates, and they’re cheered by the Imperials upon their arrival — after all, they’re the only transport to make it in that day.

Once they disembark from the vehicle, Mando and Mayfeld begin their quest to find the terminal, which Mayfeld believes is in the officer’s mess. But as he walks into the mess, the former Imperial nearly has a heart attack and turns around, telling Mando that the mission should be scrubbed because he can’t do it. You see, sitting at a table in the mess is an officer that Mayfeld served under, and he’s both scared to death of being recognized and vaguely afraid of what he’ll do when he sees him. But Mando needs the information, so he heads to the terminal, even after Mayfeld tells him that he’ll have to remove his mask in order to bypass the terminal’s face-scan verification system. And, sure enough, Mando removes his mask, though I was half expecting for another mask to be underneath said mask. For some reason, the internet is in a tizzy about Mando’s facial hair, for whatever reason, but I just believe that it’s patchy overgrown stubble. He doesn’t care about skin hygiene, really, but he also doesn’t have the genes for a full-on Kratos. Anyway, our mustachioed hero is able to get the information he needs — the location of Gideon’s ship — but he’s interrupted by Mayfeld’s former officer, Valin Hess (Richard Brake). He interrogates Mando about his rank and identification number, and the ruse is almost revealed, but Mayfeld swoops in and saves the day, attributing Mando’s reticence and nervousness to “hearing loss,” and also lies and says that nobody in the squad knows his name — they only call him “Brown Eyes.” Hess invites them for a drink, and the pair sit down with the officer, knowing that they can’t really refuse.

Hess wonders what the men will toast to, and Mayfeld responds — they’ll toast to Operation Cinder, which, for the uninitiated, was Palpatine’s final order, executed by the Imperial military and navy following his death. It was an unrelenting, horrible terror campaign, meant to burn down the Galaxy before the New Republic could get its hands on it, but you can get a fair idea of it from what Mayfeld tells Hess about his service. Mayfeld served as a sharpshooter on Burnin Konn, a mining world, where Hess’s actions led to the destruction of an entire city and the deaths of thousands of his soldiers, and Mayfeld presses him on the decisions he made then. The officer responds with a callousness that would send shivers down anyone’s spine, seemingly proud of his choices, and informs the men that even more terror will come out of what the Imperials will do with the Rydonium they’ve returned to them. People don’t want freedom, Hess says, they want order, and the Empire’s going to bring that order back to them when they realize that the New Republic can’t protect them. Mayfeld’s heard enough, and he pulls out his gat and blows Hess to kingdom come, along with all the other officers and troopers in the mess. Before we get to the grand escape, I’d just like to say how much I personally enjoyed the tension in this scene — not only does it reference one of the most interesting parts of the New Disney Canon, but it’s a really cool riff on the Inglourious Basterds bar scene, which is just fantastic. But, back to the story, Mayfeld tells Mando that he did what he had to do, and that he never saw his face.

Anyway, it’s hard to kill a bunch of officers and stormtroopers in an off-the-grid mining facility and not get noticed, so Mando and Mayfeld bust out the window on to a small railing overlooking a giant dam under heavy blaster fire. Once they’ve begun their escape, Shand and Dune, perched on hills overlooking the refinery, start picking off troopers like they’re offing Nazis in Sniper Elite, some of whom are pursuing our heroes and manning anti-spacecraft guns on the rooftop, and Shand informs Fett that he can begin his evac run. With the cover, the pair make their way to the roof, and ultimately leap off of it on to Slave I’s ramp. But as they’re blasting off, Mayfeld asks Mando to hand him a rifle. He takes aim at the facility, and notices a truck’s open cargo hold, full of exposed Rydonium canisters, and fires a well-placed shot that sends the whole facility up in flames. Dune, from the hilltop, is surprised by this act, given how much she and the former Imperial have butted heads over the course of the day. But Slave I’s got some problems — namely, the TIEs that came to their rescue earlier — but Fett’s got a plan and the countermeasures to execute it with. He drops one of his dad’s sonic bombs on the pair, and ends the threat before it even has a chance to get ready.

 
 

Sometime later, the gang’s reassembled in a clearing in a Morak forest, and Mando and Mayfeld are in their civvies once again. Mando thanks the bounty hunter for his help, and Mayfeld wishes him good luck on his quest before turning to Dune and asking her if she’s going to take him back in. Dune compliments his shooting, and Mayfeld tells her that it wasn’t part of the plan and that he “was just getting some stuff off his chest.” Dune turns to Mando and says that it’s too bad that Mayfeld died in the explosion, and Mando agrees — Mayfeld doesn’t quite pick up on it at first, but she’s letting him go free. Mando tips him off to this, and Mayfeld strolls into the jungle a changed man. Slave I takes off, and we cut to Moff Gideon’s ship (hopefully we get a name for this soon!), in some unknown part of the galaxy. The Moff is told that he’s got a message, and it turns out it’s a coded transmission from Mando, letting him know Liam Neeson-style that he has a particular set of skills and he’s going to use them on whoever stands between him and The Child.

And with that, “The Believer” comes to its end.

Verdict:

Yeah, that ruled. “The Believer” hits like one of Jango Fett’s sonic bombs, and is one of the best episodes of the season, mainly because of how it does what Star Wars has always done well — paying tribute to some great cinematic stories and repurposing them for use in this weird and wonderful little universe. Famuyiwa directs the hell out of this, much as he did with his episode last season, and I can’t wait to see his adaptation of Children of Blood and Bone for Lucasfilm, whenever that should hit theaters. But there’s some great heart here, some fantastic thrills, and some interesting complications introduced to the Star Wars universe at large. So, four and a half Jango heads, with a possible upgrade to five depending on how the season shakes out.

The Harrison Ford Most-Valuable-Player Award:

You knew who it was gonna be as soon as he walked on screen. Bill fuckin’ Burr is this week’s recipient. Why? Well, it often turns out the best people in any given Star War are the people who care about things like canon the absolute least, and it’s pretty clear that Burr doesn’t give a shit about any of that, much like this award’s namesake — dude just wants to turn in a good performance, and we’re happy with it. He’s just himself in a galaxy far, far away, and that’s great! But he’s given perhaps the strongest dramatic scene in the series to date (excluding IG-11’s sacrifice) with his confrontation with Richard Brake, which may not be a chainsaw fight, but it’s good enough for us.

 
 

Star Wars Fan Film of The Week:

This is one of my personal favorite fan films, and I think it’s right up there with the best fan films ever made — it’s certainly the only one to ever win an Emmy. It’s Casey Pugh’s Star Wars Uncut, an absolutely inspired little project coming to you straight from the year 2010, and I want to celebrate its anniversary. Pugh broke up Star Wars into 15-second clips and asked fans from around the Internet to recreate their favorite scenes. Sure enough, people went gaga for it, and he had more than enough willing participants and footage to make a feature-length film which is just joyous in its execution. It’s cheap, it’s funny, it’s stylish, it’s weird — it’s nearly perfect. The Star Wars fandom often gets a ton of shit (and occasionally deservedly so) but this DIY tribute, crafted by a bevy of imaginative filmmakers, has an honest-to-Christ heart, and even though it’s roughly two hours long, I guarantee you it will fly by.

This Week’s Weirdest Piece of Baby Yoda Merch:

Element x Star Wars Mandalorian Child 8.0" Skateboard Deck | Zumiez

If you’re going to annihilate your knees by jumping off of a three-step staircase outside your apartment complex, you might as well do it with The Child at your side. That’s right, there’s now a Baby Yoda skateboard, straight from the folks at Element, and it’s $73 at Amazon. Now, I’m not gonna lie — this is decently cool, especially if you’re with the right group of motherfuckers out at the park or abandoned swimming pool or whatever faux-Tony Hawk level you’re skating (there’s definitely folks out there who will take the business end of a board up to your brains if you’re riding this above the age of, like, 14, but they’re few and far in between) — but it is pretty funny to imagine dudes ripping bowls and their taints with The Child. Hell, if this kid had a force-sensitive buddy by his side, perhaps he wouldn’t have become a meme and dudes like this guy wouldn’t have gotten hurt:

Anyway, next week is the big conclusion, and it’s the showdown we’ve all been waiting for: Mando vs. Gideon: Dawn of Disney Plus-tice. Place your bets, folks: Where’s Moff Gideon’s ship at? Is it at Nar Shadda, like some have thought? How about the ruins of Mandalore? Maybe, as the Star Wars subreddit r/MawInstallation believes, it’s at Kamino, which would be pretty crazy. Either way, we’ll find out in just a few short days, and you can join me next week for my final Mandalorian Monday of this calendar year, where we’ll crown one episode of the season The Best Episode Ever (for now).

Stay safe, stay healthy. This is the way.