The Mandalorian tried to do an Andor
The Mandalorian Season 3 Episode 3 resurrects two recognizable faces from the past: Dr. Pershing, the Empire-affiliated clone scientist played by Omid Abtahi, and Elia Kane, a friend of Moff Gideon. Their return comes fully loaded; “Chapter 19: The Convert” is The Mandalorian‘s most political hour, and one of the messiest. Star Wars has never been so “I just ask questions!” then in Pershing’s peculiar redemption arc and the return of Elijah, which seems poised to connect the Disney Plus show with the Star Wars sequel trilogy.
(Ed. remark: This post contains spoilers for everything The Mandalorian via “The Convert.”)
In recent years Andor took Star Wars to its darkest corners, interrogated the morality of so-called wartime heroes, and exposed the Empire’s most violent, authoritarian tactics. Between rebel terrorism and state-sponsored labor prisons, the galaxy far, far away looked grittier than ever — echoing the worst of our real world. “The Convert” finds The Mandalorian playing in a similar key, albeit one with a little more tinfoil-hat energy than Andor creator Tony Gilroy’s sharp commentary. It’s easy to imagine why Jon Favreau’s Star Wars series is headed in this direction knowing what we know about the sequel trilogy, but sandwiched between Din Djarin and Bo-Katan’s return to the Children of the Watch, we get a eugenicist’s reframing in wartime as a heroic underdog and the New Republic as an overstretched government prone to the same fascist impulses as the Empire. Interesting…
Star Wars is no longer as simple as “good versus evil.” It was, even though for years George Lucas said it was a deeper metaphor for the Vietnam War, but not anymore. Not after Lucas’ prequel trilogy, Lucasfilm’s sequel trilogy, the many Star Wars cartoons, and a slew of Disney Plus Star Wars series poking around the BBY/ABY timeline. Telling more and more stories in the universe required complexity and gray areas. Gilroy and his Andor Season 1 contributors jumped at the chance and took the most unflinching look at “wartime” in Star Wars.
On that note, I don’t blame Favreau and his co-writer Noah Kloor for wanting to do the same in The Mandalorian, even if the promise of the first two seasons was meatier. As Din Djarin and Bo-Katan set out to recapture Mandalore, there are bound to be some outbursts of genuine fear as those in the orbit of the Great Purge reckon with the past. But “The Convert” feels lost in the mists of making Star Wars more meaningful and “explaining” how we got to the ridiculous arc of The power awakens, The Last JediAnd The Rise of Skywalker.
After an action-packed opening featuring Din and Bo-Katan, “The Convert” reintroduces Dr. Pershing, last seen helping Moff Gideon build a Dark Trooper fleet and holding Grogu hostage in The Mandalorian season 2 finale. In the season 3 timeline, Pershing on Coruscant has defected to the New Republic in the name of science.
“I believe that the pursuit of knowledge is the noblest thing a human being can do,” he tells an audience of the Coruscant elite. “Unfortunately, my research was twisted into something cruel and inhuman at the behest of a desperate individual who wanted to use cloning technology to gain more power for himself. But despite the shameful work of my past, I hope to help my New Republic in any way I can.
The New Republic, it turns out, is running a more mundane version of Operation Paperclip, the secret US program that enlisted Nazi scientists to work on the Saturn space rockets. It’s unclear what the New Republic wants from Pershing, throwing him into a technically adjacent data entry job, but the Doctor still has eugenic dreams of his own. As he plainly tells a crowd during his TED Talk, his DNA splicing experiments have the potential to save lives — if only the New Republic reinvested. They don’t, but he discovers he has one huge fan who will: Elijah Kane, Moff Gideon’s reformed communications officer. Though rehabilitated, Elijah is still a Badass Rule-Breaker, encouraging Pershing to break into an old Imperial dump to find a miniature lab to continue his work.
The story is thrilling in a vacuum – Favreau and Kloor take us back to yet another version of Coruscant, where one percent wears a fake smile as if nothing happened and the AndorWork pods are still used in style – and Pershing’s quest in the name of science is remotely sympathetic. But boy, he sure was a Nazi, wasn’t he? He was. He was a Nazi. He worked for “The Client” and then Moff Gideon even after the Empire fell. He stole and injected a baby’s Midichlorian-enriched blood into soldiers. Not good. There’s a reason why the world’s population was not happy when they finally learned that the US government was collaborating with so-called reformed Nazis. (It was because they were Nazis.)
The end of Pershing’s journey is literally quite shocking. Though he and Elijah successfully break into the Imperial junkyard, New Republic po-pos catch him in the act. Turns out Elijah is actually more faithful than she let on, and her entanglement plan was a test. Pershing failed. And the penalty for harboring dreams of science is a round in the new name of the new republic. The message is clear: conform or die, Doctor.
There’s a lot going on here. While the New Republic has been illustrated as a shaky but effective replacement government in the aftermath of the Empire, the episode recasts it as a dark, message-controlling establishment. Realistic if you live in a country on planet Earth, but thematically icky if the little guy the system crushes is the Nazi who helped build an army of Force-wielding Wehrmacht.
“The Convert” creates the feeling of tumbling into 4chan. Is the Nazi good now? The noble authorities are villains? And there could be a Deep State lurking beneath the surface? If there’s a reason why Favreau and Kloor walked The Mandalorian in the minefield of well-founded political gray zones, it seems to be in the service of tying the Disney Plus show to the larger tapestry of Star Wars stories. While there’s little explicit at the end of the episode, the re-emergence of cloning technology, combined with Elijah’s sinister dead gaze as she overshadows Pershing, suggests the drama could ultimately explain how the First Order took shape on the Outer Rim, the New Republic infiltrated. , and turned the universe upside down.
About 11 people were happy with how JJ Abrams’ The Rise of Skywalker established the late game re-emergence of Emperor Palpatine as the product of Snoke clones and Exegol’s Sith rituals, but those are the rules now. While Pershing may be out of the picture, Elijah seems well positioned to grab his research and run for the Outer Rim. The lore-tightening ends might justify the morality-story jargon resources in Star Wars stories of late, but this departure from The Mandalorian‘s entertainment MO feels surprisingly out of control.
It’s worth wondering if the New Republic was a perfect fit for the galaxy. There is intrigue in tracking Pershing’s path to assimilation, and the nuance of his goals. But when they come together, it’s a weird exhortation about the individual versus the bureaucracy that runs counter to much of what Star Wars is all about. It’s not quite Randian, but it’s getting there.
Fortunately, Din’s mission is simple. By the end of the hour, everyone can clap for Bo-Katan joining a death cult.