“Empire. New Republic. It’s all the same to these people,” comments Migs Mayfield (Bill Burr) in the latest episode of The Mandalorian.
For a while, it seems that the show believes it, dressing Mando up in stormtrooper armor as he goes to desperate lengths to save Baby Yoda (neé Grogu) from Moff Gideon. In “The Believer,” it’s not an X-Wing swooping in triumphantly to save our heroes; it’s Imperial TIE Fighters — a symbol that fans have come to associate with the forces of evil in the galaxy, potent symbology that The Mandalorian’s first season finale relied on to great effect.
And director Rick Fukuyama works to really sell the audience on the victory of the Empire: soaring music plays in the background, as the base’s garrison rushes out to protect the battered truck, the only one to make it through the natives’ blockade. Our hero stands as the lone survivor, triumphant in his stormtrooper armor. We see troopers and officers cheering, all but high-fiving each other at the success.
The scene is almost an inversion of one earlier in season 2, when Mando faces off against two New Republic officers, whose X-wings shift menacingly into attack mode in a scene that paints the heroic Star Wars ships in an almost chilling light. Deep down, Mayfield argues, “We’re all the same.” Hero? Villain? It’s just a matter of perspective.
It’s an argument that The Mandalorian has explored before. Werner Herzog’s Client back in season 1 makes a similar case: “The Empire improves every system it touches,” Herzog’s character ponders. “Judge by any metric: safety, prosperity, trade opportunity, peace. Compare Imperial rule to what is happening now. Look outside. Is the world more peaceful since the revolution? I see nothing but death and chaos.”
And yet, despite the reversed framing, The Mandalorian rejects Mayfield’s hypothesis that everyone is the same underneath the different flags and uniforms. “Somewhere, someone in this galaxy is ruling, and others are being ruled,” Mayfield muses.
But it’s what those in power do with that position that matters.
And at the end of the earlier episode, the New Republic officers do swoop back and save Mando and his ship from hordes of ravenous ice spiders. But the Empire? The Empire plans to use its newly acquired rhydonium to create weapons that would make the planetary destruction of Operation: Cinder (the Emperor’s final order, designed to bring down the galaxy should he perish) look small.
It’s a moment that reframes the “heroic” victory before. Mando and Mayfield aren’t bringing desperately needed supplies to a village under siege; they’re transporting raw materials to make explosives. The “pirates” attacking their transport are natives, trying to defend their home against the ravages of the Empire. And the soaring fighters and battalion of stormtroopers gun them all down so that they can perpetuate the fighting.
It’s fitting that it’s Mayfield himself who answers the question: when faced with his former superior officer, who commanded the murder of thousands of his own troops as part of the Emperor’s destructive contingency plan following his death, the former Imperial sharpshooter isn’t able to just sit there and toast with the man who ordered it.
Because the Empire and the New Republic aren’t the same — even if the former has its virtues, and the latter, its flaws. It’s a sort of clarity we’ll likely get more of next week: a hero going to save his imprisoned, adopted child from an armor-clad villain with a sword doesn’t leave much room for gray areas anymore.