Season two finale “Chapter 16: The Rescue” is a great example of how “The Mandalorian” deftly balances the micro and the macro, giving its fans just enough so that they want more. That’s always been the name of the game—think of the precise glimpses we got of meme god Grogu (AKA Baby Yoda), or the way in which casual references are meant to be thoroughly dissected by fans. That means there is SO much to talk about here in this exciting finale, which mixes references to earlier episodes and even earlier films. And that also means that the biggest moments (including a series-topping cameo) aren’t necessarily the episode’s most effective—that’s what you get with an episode trying to show the many directions a third season could go.
But first, a chase scene, wth some vengeance. Peyton Reed’s episode (his second this season after “Chapter 10: The Passenger”) kicks off with Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) commandeering his Slave I ship to hijack an Imperial shuttle. The target is Dr. Pershing, an Imperial figure that main villain Moff Gideon had been communicating with through hologram, as we saw in "Chapter 12: The Siege." Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and his partner Cara Dune (Gina Carano) succeed in getting into the ship, but one Imperial guard gets into Dune’s head first. He brags about how he first-hand witnessed the destruction of her planet Alderaan while he was on the Death Star, and along with the deranged look on his face, it cuts deep for Dune. It’s another striking moment in which Imperial members are heard (like with Richard Brake’s slimy officer Valin Hess in last week’s "Chapter 15: The Believer"), and what they have to say is particularly vile. She shoots him in the face, her anger clearly festering. Maybe we’ll be hearing more about Dune, if not Alderaan justice, in later installments.
To enlist further help in Mando’s rescue mission, Boba Fett and Djarin locate Mandalorians Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) and Koska (Sasha Banks) at a tavern. It seemed likely that “Chapter 11: The Heiress” would be our last time seeing Bo-Katan and Koska this season, so this is a pleasant surprise, and this time Bo-Katan sounds even more manic about her main goal—getting the dark saber from Moff Gideon, which will then help her take back her ruined home planet of Mandalore. There’s some tension between Koska and Fett too, with Koska trying to write Boba Fett off as merely a clone. But that’s left alone for later, maybe.
What everyone can agree on is that they want Grogu out of those tiny handcuffs, so they team up to hijack the light speeder carrying Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), some crew and some troopers, and a lot of extra-powerful droids known as dark troopers. The plan involves using the Imperial shuttle as a Trojan horse, literally crashing it into the bay and blasting their way to the bridge. But before that the episode has a moment that shows the action inside the speeder’s bay, namely that of TIE fighters preparing and launching. Like in last week’s episode, it’s another instance in which the series includes the POV of the enemy, showing them at work. The way in which this season in general has worked to give a disturbing conscience to Imperial members has been fascinating, and distinct.
We should point out that this episode is probably the best project that Peyton Reed has ever put his name on, and that the action here shows that he would be a great candidate for a larger “Star Wars” project. “The Rescue” has the thrilling advantage of showing a new team, with Cara Dune, Bo-Katan, Koska, and Fennec (Ming-Na Wen) fighting their way through the ship. But the way they blast though stormtroopers is different than previous, flatter instances because of Reed’s inspired blocking, and the set design. It’s not just going down hallways but snaking through cargo bays, and larger rooms that provide a fuller scope of the action. There’s a “Dank Farrik!” moment with Dune not being able to get her machine gun-blaster to work, but the episode doesn’t have the kind of forceful monotony that earlier action sequences had.
Elsewhere on the ship, Mando has to stop the dark troopers from deploying, following a solid tip from captured Dr. Pershing. He’s successful enough to stop them from getting out of their loading dock except for one, leading to a fight that shows just how much force Mando’s Beskar armor can take. I loved a shot that followed the dark trooper’s fist to Mando’s helmet back and forth, showing the force and resistance on both sides. Once Djarin ejects the dark troopers into space, it's time for him to retrieve Grogu.
The main showdown in this episode comes with Moff Gideon, captor of Grogu, armed with Bo-Katan's desired dark saber. Before Djarin and Gideon battle, Gideon reveals one of the episode’s few bits of new information, that he “got what he wanted” from Grogu, providing a sense that the saga of Grogu’s blood is far from over. When Mando has his back turned while retrieving Grogu, Gideon tries to strike, but Djarin's resilient Beskar staff (from “Chapter 13: The Jedi”) blocks it. It was pretty exciting to see Mando use his armor to defend himself from a lightsaber in that very episode with Ahsoka Tano, but it works especially well here in a more urgent, life-or-death scenario. The choreography and cinematography in this scene is excellent, even if the way that Gideon loses control of the dark saber feels a little goofy.
With Gideon then captured by Djarin, he tries one more attempt at defeating his enemies by getting into their minds, aware that the dark saber can't be given, it must be won. He knows that even if he's physically powerless, he still has the ability to taunt others; in this case, trying to get Bo-Katan to kill Djarin for the dark saber. Given how Bo-Katan has been acting in this episode, it seems like a possibility. For the brief moments we get of this plotline, you get a sense of the madness that builds from wanting to harness the dark saber, and it makes Esposito and Sackhoff's performances effectively eerie.
Those dark troopers that Mando ejected? They’re back in full force on the ship, and ready to break into the bridge. But suddenly, an X-Wing comes into the bay. A cloaked figure wields a lightsaber against the droids, and because we're watching it through a monochrome security camera feed, we're unable to tell the lightsaber's color. But then the episode gives us a closer look: a black glove, a green lightsaber. We know who it is, but “The Mandalorian” spends the moment giving us some gratuitous lightsaber-hacking and force-crushing, and it's like the spin-off has halted to introduce its true hero.
It’s Luke Skywalker, folks, here to collect Grogu after apparently making some connection via the seeing stone in "Chapter 14: The Tragedy." It’s not the biggest surprise to see Skywalker in this series, but it’s more that the moment feels off. They’ve made Mark Hamill look as he did at the end of “Return of the Jedi," same haircut and all, and it’s a weird sight however accurate it might be. There’s also a monotone nature to this performance that feels robotic. Landing the beat on the reveal of his de-aged face, and watching the scene be taken over by Skywalker, feels oddly anticlimactic. Even if, as this episode proves, Mando is merely a supporting character in this saga.
Before Grogu leaves with Skywalker, who has offered to train the child, “The Mandalorian” has one more sweet interaction between Djarin and Grogu. It’s a powerful moment that shows just how much the relationship between Djarin and Grogu is/was the show's emotional emotional core, the way it has lead to Djarin becoming less independent, and more open to the world. It also leads to another rare instance in which Djarin takes off his helmet, and it’s the most effective scene of its kind so far. Grogu softly touches Djarin’s exposed face, and a forlorn Djarin looks back at him. It's the kind of moment that goes well beyond an actor working with a puppet.
But Skywalker, being the franchise superstar that he is, has to kill the party and take Grogu with him. It’s bittersweet, as we know that Grogu needs training, but of course we're sad that Grogu is gone. Mando tells Baby Yoda that he’ll be seeing him again, and whether or not that’s the truth is a lingering pain from the episode. And then, just like that, "The Rescue" ends as Skywalker, R2-D2, and Grogu exit; episode over. It's moments like this in which "The Mandalorian" embraces the acute plotting of short stories, in which you have to both trust the author meant a point in where they decided to leave their characters, and then fill in the blanks yourself about what happens next.
But then “The Mandalorian” adds an extra credit scene that you can’t miss, largely because it’s the true ending of the season. And perhaps, as it indicates, this series as we know it. We see Jabba the Hutt’s palace on Tattooine, now being ruled by Bib Fortuna, with a disposition that appears no different than when Jabba was alive. Two figures then descend down the shadowy steps to take over the throne, and it’s none other than Boba Fett and his partner Fenec. They clean house, with Fett sitting in the chair as if he were ready to become the next boss, before a text flashes on screen: “The Book of Boba Fett.” Given how this season has thoroughly been restoring the beloved bounty hunter to mainstream “Star Wars” lore, it’s not entirely surprising but it is exciting. Maybe this will be the end of Djarin’s time as the lead character. And maybe “The Book of Boba Fett” will give us a story that's thrilling but unpredictable, just as "The Mandalorian" has been.