BEIRUT: Nothing this past year has been a cause for celebration. With the world hurtling from one crisis to another, and with Lebanon suffering more than its fair share of troubles, people’s emotions have centered predominantly on fear and anger. And yet, of all things, it was the final few minutes of a television series’ season finale that managed to bring countless adults around the world, many in their 40s and 50s, to tears of joy. Here in Lebanon, I know I wasn’t the only one who shared those sentiments.
“The Mandalorian,” the Star Wars franchise’s first foray into live-action television, undoubtedly found universal appeal since it was introduced in late 2019, just before the world went into a tailspin from which it has yet to recover. The series, which gave us the adorable Baby Yoda, was a refreshing break from the endless controversies that surrounded every Star Wars release since Disney purchased the rights from George Lucas, and the biggest debate that emerged was whether we call the little green kid Baby Yoda or The Child, until we found out his actual name was Grogu.
The series itself, in the capable hands of Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, stars Pedro Pascal as Din Djarin, a lone bounty hunter who finds himself tasked with returning Grogu, who seems to possess great Force abilities, to his own kind, namely the Jedi. However, with “The Mandalorian” set five years after the events of 1983’s “Return of the Jedi,” as far as audiences are aware there are few if any remaining Force wielders to speak of.
All this was established by the end of season one, which saw Din visiting one familiar Star Wars location after another, tugging at longtime fans’ heartstrings, and culminating in an epic standoff with Imperial forces under the command of Moff Gideon, played by none other than Giancarlo Esposito. The show’s pacing is very reminiscent of the original “Star Wars” (now known as “A New Hope”), and uses the “less is more” approach to great effect. In fact, even the episodes are relatively short, with the bulk barely venturing past the 30-minute mark.
George Abi Assaad, a hardcore star wars fan, agrees, “It’s more accepted than the sequels because it feels more like old-school Lucas-era Star Wars.”
Jad Sammour, another passionate fan, breaks it down further, explaining that “Mando is simply playing with lower stakes and a smaller legacy. The show has a unique, single vision that is being stuck to and it feels planned not rushed. The whole show returns to the roots of Star Wars, a space Western, and it really sticks to that while playing in the universe and using the lore to its advantage.”
Anthony Farhat believes that “The Mandalorian,” being a television series, has a massive advantage. “I think TV, as a medium, is less subject to scrutiny than theatrical releases but also has the advantage of telling a story that is unrestricted by specific runtimes or number of entries. When compared to the saga films, ‘The Mandalorian’ tells a rather simple lone wolf and cub story that takes advantage of its medium not only to flesh out its characters but also the many concepts the movies have barely any time to explore.”
While the first season ended on a high, leaving viewers with some memorable lines such as Din’s “I can take you in warm, or I can take you in cold,” or Nick Noltes’ character Kuill's catchphrase, “I have spoken,” the second season upped the ante multifold. Repeatedly doling out the kind of well-handled fan service that even the most cynical critic would find impossible to resist, the season gave us our first live-action Krayt dragon, complete with pearl. It then conjured up the armor of the iconic Boba Fett, followed moments later by the infamous and long-believed-dead bounty hunter himself, played this time by Temuera Morrison, the man whose face would naturally be worn not only by his character Jango Fett’s clone son, but also every clone trooper.
Pretty soon, other well-known Star Wars characters that had never been featured in a live-action production made an appearance, including Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s Togruta apprentice from the “Clone Wars” animated series, played here by the talented Rosario Dawson; and Mandalore’s heir to the throne Bo-Katan, played by Katee Sakhoff of “Battlestar Galactica” fame.
Even Boba Fett’s legendary starship Slave-1, which we first saw in 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back,” took center stage in several key scenes, replicating the seismic charge detonation that thrilled audiences in 2002’s “Attack of the Clones.” Thankfully, both Fett and his ride were on the protagonist’s side this time, unleashing their fury and firepower on Imperial stormtroopers and Tie Fighters.
It might be hard to believe, but as thrilling as all this may have been for long-time fans, it came nowhere close to the reaction caused by the arrival of a lone X-Wing fighter in the season two finale as the protagonists were about to face off with a platoon of Dark Troopers (a nod to the “Dark Forces: Jedi Knight” video game) after rescuing Grogu from the clutches of Gideon. As Gina Carano’s character Cara Dune quipped, “Great, one X-Wing. We’re saved,” the significance of that single ship quickly grew apparent as the pilot emerged garbed in a dark Jedi robe with a hood that hid his face.
Moments later, we saw the glowing blade of a green lightsaber come to life, and we got goose bumps because only one character we know of wielded that color. But it was when we caught a glimpse of a black-gloved right hand that our hearts leapt with joy. It could be no one else. The anticipation in that one moment melted away the last 37 years: We forgot about the pandemic, Donald Trump, Brexit, the Lebanese government, work, income, conflict, puberty, and even our adult lives, as we became kids again, watching what was a now-powerful Luke Skywalker tearing through those Dark Troopers like they were cardboard, a Luke we thought we would never see after Disney’s unfortunate change in direction.
And finally when he lifted his hood to reveal the face of a very young Mark Hamill, deepfake or not, countless adult viewers, if not more, wept like children at finally seeing their childhood hero in all his glory. Before viewers could even recover, Favreau delivered a second whammy by bringing in R2-D2, the world’s most beloved Astromech droid. Don’t take my word for it; the evidence is on YouTube.
Viewers in Lebanon were no less affected. “I didn’t realize what was happening at first, with the X-Wing," Abi Assaad said. "Then I screamed when I saw the glove on the right hand. I gasped when they showed Luke’s face.”
Sammour echoed those sentiments. “I knew it was Luke. A Jedi had been teased to appear and I know Luke flies a T-65 X-Wing. I jumped, shouting ‘Luke!’ Then when we saw a figure with a lightsaber I knew it was him. The hood was his ‘Return of the Jedi’ outfit. I started clapping. It was exhilarating. I couldn't believe it. Luke is the heart and center of the Original Trilogy and he's here, this is Luke. I was totally pulled out of the moment when I saw the computer-generated face, but it was still impactful. I hadn’t felt this excited since Luke's rescue of the Resistance in “The Last Jedi.”
Farhat was more analytical in his appraisal, seeing the scene as a perfect entry point in television for the beloved character. “I’m glad they found the right story, and the right moment in that story, to introduce Luke, prioritizing good storytelling over cheap fan service. Growing up, Luke was definitely a character I related to a lot in the Original Trilogy. For me, he really was the only possible option ... “
“The moment I saw that X-wing pop up out of nowhere I instantly knew that Luke Skywalker had heard Grogu’s call. Also the lightsaber hallway fight, while undeniably fan service (done right), honored the character by ... turning this entire sequence into an act of defending a child.”
The final heart-warming act came when Luke gently picked up Grogu, and we could see things coming full circle as Luke would end up training a child of the same species as Yoda, the Jedi master who years earlier trained him. Those final minutes accomplished what three sequel films and two anthologies could not: They united a long-fractured fan base by finally putting the spotlight on Luke Skywalker, and giving the one character that is the heart and soul of Star Wars his due. Yes, it’s not Anakin, it’s not Darth Vader, and it’s certainly not Rey who? Luke Skywalker is Star Wars.
The fans have spoken.