If you’ve never really followed any of the complicated Star Wars cartoons — largely aimed at kids — then you might have felt super-confused by what happened in Chapter 11 of The Mandalorian, Season 2, “The Heiress.” But, if you’re a child, or were much younger in 2008 when The Clone Wars really got going, then the appearance of a certain un-helmeted Mandalorian with cropped red hair wasn’t a spoiler and wasn’t weird at all. At this point, The Mandalorian has entered a larger world of Star Wars mythology, and it’s a world that actual children might understand better than their parents. Spoilers ahead for The Mandalorian Chapter 11, “The Heiress.”
The eponymous “Heiress” in this Mando episode is a character named Bo-Katan, and if you only recognize Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, that’s fine, but it also means you haven’t been listening to the voices on The Clone Wars or Rebels. In both of those animated Star Wars shows, Sackhoff voiced the character of Bo-Katan, a conflicted Mandalorian warrior, who was the sister of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s secret lover, The Duchess Satine. (Does Star Wars sound like a soap opera for tweens sometimes? Yes, yes it does.)
Anyway, for those of us who were aware of the un-helmeted Mandalorians like Bo-Katan, the whole deal with Mando refusing to take off his helmet – even to smile at Baby Yoda — has been confusing. This episode, in theory, serves to clear that up. Mando was adopted by super-strict Mandalorians, which is kind of like — well, maybe there’s not a good religious analogy? And that’s okay? We’ll just leave it at this: These Mandos take their helmets off and have done so in all of the kids’ Star Wars cartoons since 2008.
Beyond nerdy-canon continuity, the appearance Bo-Katan in The Mandalorian is an even bigger deal. Because Bo-Katan tells Mando where he can find Ahsoka Tano at the end of the episode, this season of what was once the “Baby Yoda Show” has now become a live-action tour through very recent Star Wars animated shows. Earlier in 2020, Bo-Katan and Ahsoka Tano teamed-up to try and retake the planet Mandalore in the finale of the long-running Clone Wars animated series. In terms of the chronology, what Ahsoka and Bo-Katan we’re doing in those episodes happened nearly three decades before what we see now in The Mandalorian. But, unlike your Darth Vaders or Darth Mauls or even the OG Yoda, all of these significant characters from the animated Star Wars shows, are now crashing The Mandalorian party pretty hard.
Well before Rey became the most significant female hero in contemporary Star Wars, the cartoon shows were doing a pretty damn good job with female hero representation, which, if you’re making shows for kids, is pretty much a matter of honesty over everything. From Ahsoka to Bo-Katan, to another Mandalorian named Sabine Wren in Rebels, the non-male heroes of the Star Wars cartoons easily escape tokenism by the sheer fact that they are more well-developed than most of the characters in the films. Why? Well, the reason is simply time.
Somewhere Star Wars has always struggled is to depict relatable and realistic characters that feel natural. Yes, we relate to and like Luke or Lando, but because we’ve only got so much time with them, it’s hard to say these characters have been given room to grow. (I’m leaving out the books and the comics for the sake of this point.) But, with characters like Bo-Katan, and now, the upcoming appearance of Ahsoka, Star Wars gets to continue doing something that the franchise perfected in the cartoons: Show real character development and emotional arcs. To put it another way, if you think Anakin Skywalker’s journey to the Dark Side was inexplicable or rushed in the prequels, The Clone Wars actually does a much better job of making his arc seem real.
Considering The Mandalorian show is about a reluctant space dad who considers himself a badass, the idea that cartoons for grade-schoolers and tweens are now taking over the narrative is not only appropriate but also adorable. If the rest of The Mandalorian ends-up being eclipsed by the wonderful characters from the Star Wars animated shows, parents should probably be totally fine with that. A show about a lone father-figure wasn’t going to last very long anyway.
The Mandalorian is streaming now on Disney+.