SPOILERS AHEAD … AND ROLLICKING GOOD ADVENTURE AND DARK THINGS LURKING IN THE SHADOWS …
Now this is a classic Star Wars piece of storytelling!
Not that The Mandalorian isn’t universally excellent, because it most certainly is, honouring existing Star Wars lore while forging ahead to create new epically memorable moments, but in “Chapter 12: The Siege”, not only did Din and The Child see their story act given a nice juicy boost and some impressive forward momentum but we were treated to a storyline that could’ve come straight out of a film like A New Hope.
Not, I hasten to add, that the episode felt even remotely derivative; simply that as Din, Greef Karga (Carl Weathers who directed this episode), Cara Dune (Gina Carano) and Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) stormed a relic Imperial base on the Outer Rims Territories planet of Nevarro and set the reactor ablaze and killed a metric ton of stormtroopers who still can’t shoot to save themselves (literally as it turns out), there was a thrilling sense that here we were in the midst of a classic piece of Star Wars storytelling writ large.
It helped, of course, that the base turned out to be not just staffed by a skeleton crew but to have a full compliment of personnel, all of whom moved about the base as if nothing had changed and Darth Vader or the Emperor might waltz in at any moment with Luke Skywalker’s head on a pike.
Turns out, we weren’t far off that.
While Darth Vader is long gone, Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) is not and in a massive Star Destroyer somewhere out in space, it became abundantly clear that he is still plotting and planning, with considerable assets at his disposal, to ensnare Din, and The Child, whose blood looks to be the secret to unlocking lord knows what.
Din, Cara and Greef worked out pretty quickly that the base was more lab than forward military outpost and a hologram message they found to Moff Gideon from Dr. Pershing (Omid Abtahi) indicates that The Child is key to some very dark and troubling plans.
But all the team could do at that point was run and shoot and try to get out of the base before it went well and truly kaboom!
The thinking was that all they had to do was get ride of the base and Nevarro would be a peaceful part of the galaxy once again but that looks to be wholly wishful thinking with New Republic Captain Carson Teva (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) making it clear to Dune, who is now the Marshall in these here now cleaned-up parts, that there’s a lot very bad stuff brewing in the Outer Rim and she needs to be aware and very much alarmed.
The sheer brilliance of this episode, which also gave The Child plenty of opportunities to be super cute such as when he put his hands up, rollercoaster riding-like, as Din steered the Razor Crest up and down in the skies above Nevarro to fire on some TIE fighters, was how fully it entered into the gee-whiz action-packed storytelling of which Star Wars is justly famous.
It wasn’t simply that we were treated to a good old storming of the base operation, or that there were plenty of shoot-em-up sequences between Din and the team and seemingly endless numbers of stormtroopers or even that we saw TIE fighters, speeder bikes and a Trexler Marauder.
That was fun and ticked all kinds of longtime fangirling boxes and was an absolute blast to watch, whether you’ve been watching Star Wars since 1977 (like your truly) or only just started devouring it all recently like my ten-year-old nephew, but what was really hugely enjoyable was the sheer exhilaration of a chase scene that saw Cara, Greef and Mythrol swooping back and forth, up and down through the tight canyons of Nevarro in an attempt to get to safety.
As chase scenes go, this was right up there, with pinpoint direction and enrapturingly immersive CGI making it come vivaciously and exuberantly alive.
Of course, the good guys win but as we see in the scene following their victory over the Scout Troopers and the TIE fighters, that was battle won with the war still very much anyone’s business.
Even worse, Din is not aware that one of Greef’s mechanics is in the employ of Gideon and has affixed a device of some kind to the Razor Crest, the better we assume to track the Mandalorian to wherever he is going next. (If he doesn’t manage to find The Child’s family with the tracker on, he could be putting an entire people unwittingly in mortal danger.
The sheer giddy, full-speed-ahead joy of “The Siege” is that managed to both decisively advance the season arc while telling an episodic story, a rare combination that succeeded brilliantly and which was never less than amazingly, compellingly watchable from start to finish.
The chase is on anew, assuming it ever stopped at all, setting up the rest of season 2 of The Mandalorian to be a high stakes race to a galaxy threatening or saving (depending on who wins; as the Star Wars trilogies show, the winner is not always the good guys, at least not straight away) finish line, the likes of which Star Wars has shown again and again it can deliver on with its Force-led eyes closed.
STAR TREK: DISCOVERY
SPOILERS AHEAD … AND UPS AND DOWNS APLENTY …
Let’s hear it for the future, my friends!
Sure, in the case of Star Trek: Discovery‘s third almost wholly excellent third season, its 930 years hence from the crew’s own time, and it’s not been without its obstacles and life-threatening issues, but things are finally starting to look up for the Federation’s newest ship, the only one by the way that can actually get anywhere in the quadrant in a hurry.
That’s news to the rest of the captain’s at the day’s briefing led by Admiral Charles Vance (Oded Fehr) and attended by Saru (Doug Jones) who is eager to prove he is one of the future gang and as dependable as everyone else, but not to Discovery’s crew, of course, who are thrilled to have personal transporters, programmable matter in their consoles and detached nacelles for faster, more efficient manoeuvring.
Fresh from resolving an existential crisis about who their past selves are in a vastly different future which is now their present and having come to terms with the fact that it is not as rosy as envisaged – remember by taking out Control back in the 23rd century, Discovery, and especially Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) thought they had ensured a bright, rosy future; yup … no – the crew are ready to have some fun with all the tech and the possibilities their new reality offers.
Well, everyone that is except Michael, who has had a year extra of the future than everyone else, changing her into someone who is more like Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), at least in her willingness to challenge authority and existing chains of command such as the one represented by Saru as captain and of which she is a part as First Officer (for the greater part of the episode, at least).
Which is great if you want to head off to the planet of Hunhau, controlled by the criminal syndicate, the Emerald Chain, and rescue Book (David Ajala) who we learn, via his ship which is sent back to the Federation on auto pilot with his cat Grudge onboard, has found another of the “black boxes” that could explain how the Burn happened, thus allowing work to be done to possible reverse it and restore warp speed to the quadrant and restore the Federation to its former glory.
And even better if you plan to ask Georgiou along for the ride since she is the only other person on the ship who’d consider doing something quite that subversive.
BUT, and this is important in an organisation which is as fastidious about the rules as the Starfleet, not so good if you’d like to stick around as Number One which, in the aftermath of her illicit successful mission, Michael most certainly does not.
She might have bested the Emerald Chain, got the “black box” whose data could prove that the Burn was a sequential event with a point of origin, freed lots of indentured slaves and taken a big step to fixing what is manifestly broken in the future/present BUT she did it all off the books, making Saru look stupid (he has understandably now got major trust issues with Michael now), endangering a potential mercy mission for which Discovery was standing by, and making the Admiral wonder what past Starfleet is actually up to.
So good intentions, great accomplishments but lousy execution, leaving Michael morally and intelligence-wise ahead of the curve but busted down to Science Officer again, part of what seems like the endless rise and fall that has characterised her life up to this point.
While Michael was saving the day, Book and the future of the Federation, “Scavengers” was also telling some lovely intimate personal stories too, adding a nice injection of heartwarming humanity into an episode big on action and political machinations. (This does not include Georgiou who is having all sorts of weird bloody flashbacks which are imperilling her badass ability to do her unorthodox job.)
The most wonderful of these moments, quite apart from the crew’s delight at their new gadgets and Tilly’s care of Grudge and increasing competence and stature in engineering, was when Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), buoyed by Adira Tal’s (Blu del Barrio) re-design of the spore drive to a nanogel interface this negating the need for the painful forearm shunts, made the first steps to becoming her friend.
Fearful everyone would think she’s mad because her supposedly dead boyfriend (played with impish lovability by Ian Alexander) is somehow alive in some form and talking to her – she is supposed to have his memories, not his soul or his presence – she has kept her distance from people but Stamets sits down with her in the mess hall and after she admits what she’s seeing, Stamets forges an everlasting bond by saying he believes her because after what he went through with his alive/dead/alive husband, Chief Medical Officer High Culber (Wilson Cruz), he’s all too aware that the universe moves in mysterious ways.
If that isn’t enough to warm the cockles of your heart and slap a great big smile on your face, we are then treated to Paul and Hugh in bed before going to sleep, the very essence of loved-up domesticity, discussing the day’s events like any couple would.
As a gay man long starved of seeing myself depicted accurately and normally on screen, this is thrilling beyond belief, and a highlight of an episode, and a season, full to the brim with them.
And, naturally we can forget dear, goofy Linus the Saurian (David Benjamin Tomlinson) who fills the role of running gad in the episode admirably by being comedically unable to get the personal transporter to take him exactly where he wants to go.
These moments cumulatively add some beautiful humanity to an action-centric episode, very much in keeping with Star Trek‘s storytelling modus operandi down through the years, leaving “Scavengers” are one of the best instalments so far in an already impressively strong season.