The Mandalorian: Season 2 “Chapter 12: The Siege”

Original Air Date: November 20, 2020
Writer: Jon Favreau
Director: Carl Weathers

Rating: 5 out of 5.

After the events on Trask, the Razor Crest has been haphazardly stitched together with Mon Calamari netting, so Mando heads for Nevarro to repair his ship –his drop-bridge no longer works properly — where he reunites with some friends, Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) and Cara Dune (Gina Carano). Since rescuing the town on Nevarro from Imperial rule in Season 1, Greef has become the local magistrate and Cara has become the marshal. Greef is now also receiving administrative support from the amusing Mythrol who Mando kidnapped in “Chapter 1” (reprised by Horatio Sanz). In exchange for ship repairs, Mando is persuaded to help Greef and Cara lead an assault on a distant covert Imperial base on the other side of the planet, while Baby Yoda stays behind in a local school (located inside the reconverted pub from Season 1).

The group leads an impressive invasion of the remote mountain base (with plenty of nods to A New Hope) when suddenly they come upon a pair of scientists desperately trying to erase their files. Mando, Cara, and Greef enter a disturbing room filled with tanks of deformed humanoid creatures. Are these intended to be clones of some sort? Perhaps clones of Snoke from the sequel trilogy? Are the writers trying to salvage the sequel trilogy narrative? Part of me hopes Favreau and Filoni will simply refuse to even address the Disney sequel trilogy in The Mandalorian and instead pretend it simply never existed.

At any rate, we learn that this facility is actually a laboratory wherein the Empire has been testing for “M-Count” (or Midi-chlorian count). We are led to believe the Empire is planning to clone force-sensitive creatures and harness their powers using blood samples from “the child” (Baby Yoda). Stormtroopers suddenly flood the hall and the base is set to explode with lava temperatures rising (they previously had to control this temperature in a scene reminiscent of Obi-Wan Kenobi on the Death Star). They escape in a stormtrooper vessel, killing speeder bike troopers, until a pod of TIE fighters suddenly appears and the base explodes. Mando saves the day in the Razor Crest by killing off the TIE fighters.

When they return to town, Mando and Baby Yoda re-board his repaired ship and depart for the planet Corvus (as identified in the previous episode) to meet with the Jedi, Ahsoka Tano.

In a brief epilogue, a New Republic soldier, Captain Carson Teva (reprised by Star Wars super-fan Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) pays a visit to Nevarro in order to question Greef and Cara about recent activities on these planets along the outer rim. Both are vague in their responses, but he beckons them to report any unusual activity which has been apparently growing from the ashes of the old Empire, and the Core Worlds are not paying nearly enough attention. Meanwhile, Moff Gideon (reprised by Giancarlo Esposito) has secretly implanted a tracking device aboard the Razor Crest through one of Greef Karga’s mechanics. The episode ends as Moff Gideon stands in front of an extended line of elite Dark Troopers.


The Mandalorian Trivia:

  • In this episode we see a brief battle with an Aqualish gang, the same species that fought with Luke in the Cantina on Tatooine in A New Hope.
  • There was an amusing crew member who can be seen in jeans in this episode. He became known colloquially as “jeans guy.” Carl Weathers called the mistake a “bogey” and Disney quickly digitally removed it from the episode on Disney Plus.
  • In the background you can see a statue to IG-11 in this episode –the droid who sacrificed himself on Nevarro in Season 1.
  • Also in the background in this episode, the protocol droid teacher informs us that the capitol of the New Republic is no longer on Coruscant, but rather on a planet called Chandrilla.
  • In this episode, we learn that Cara Dune once lost everything when Alderaan was destroyed by the Death Star.
  • Inspired by the blue milk seen in Star Wars, Jon Favreau asked the prop creator to bake blue macarons for Baby Yoda to eat.
  • This was the first episode directed by Carl Weathers. Rumors abound that he will direct another episode in the forthcoming Season 3.

Return to my survey of The Mandalorian series

To Catch A Thief (1955) Review

To Catch A Thief Director: Alfred Hitchcock (1955)

★★★★★

To Catch A Thief is a joy to watch. I have yet to meet a Hitchcock film I have not truly loved. The film tells the simple story of a retired jewel thief who is forced out of hiding to capture an impersonator who is framing him. For me, the beautiful and luxurious European vistas play a key part in the film.

It stars Cary Grant (in his penultimate Hitchcock film followed only by North By Northwest) as John Robie, a now-retired jewel thief who was once notoriously known as “The Cat.” He was pardoned of his criminal activity due to his work with the French Resistance. Robie lives out his retirement growing grapes and flowers from a villa atop the Mediterranean hillsides overlooking the French Riviera. However, he is brought under suspicion when a series of robberies matching his style surface in France. He goes to visit his old gang, now working at a restaurant in France, but the police chase him. Robie narrowly escapes with the help of one of his former gang member’s daughters, Danielle (played by Brigitte Auber, a French actress).

Robie’s plan is to lay a trap for the new “Cat” burglar in order to prove his own innocence. He gets help from a local insurance agent who helps Robie identify everyone staying along the French Riviera while carrying expensive jewelry. Robie takes on an alias as a lumberman from Oregon and he quickly befriends a wealthy woman named Jessie Stevens (played by Jesse Royce Landis, who also played the roll of Cary Grant’s mother in North By Northwest) and her beautiful daughter, Frances, or “Francie” (played by Grace Kelly, her final role in a Hitchcock film). Frances and Robie strike up a romance and she discovers his secret past. One night while she seduces him, her mother’s prized jewels are stolen and Robie is blamed. Racing against the clock, Robie discovers the true culprit on the roof during the night of a masquerade ball -his former gang member’s daughter, Danielle.

Grace Kelly gives a stunning performance, bolstered by the costumes designed by Edith Head. Interestingly enough, Truffaut once called To Catch A Thief one of Hitchcock’s most cynical films. At age 50, Cary Grant was slowing down and planning to retire (much like John Robie) but Hitchcock convinced him to play the part. The hero is a thief and he falls in love with a bored but wealthy heiress who wants to help him steal jewels for cheap thrills. Their romance is filled with one cheeky innuendo after another, but Grace Kelly steals the show, along with Hitchcock’s favorite cinematographer, Robert Burkes, who elegantly captures the beauty of the French Riviera.

The Magnificent Seven (1960) Review

The Magnificent Seven (1960) Director: John Sturges

“The Old Man was right. Only the farmers won. We lost. We’ll always lose.”

★★★★★

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The Magnificent Seven is Hollywood’s amazing re-imagining of Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant Seven Samurai (which was, itself, inspired by classic John Ford Westerns). John Sturges offers a star-studded and grippingly simple tale about seven individual veteran gunslingers who are hired to defend a rural Mexican farming village from a brutal bandit who is extorting their food supply. In watching the film we are asked to contemplate the stories and personalities of each individual gunman (i.e. what motivates him to defend these remote farmers) and also we are invited to contrast the bandit, Calvera, with our seven heroes. What is different? Why is Calvera, a profit-seeking warlord, considered evil; whereas the gunslingers, many of whom are also profit-seeking mercenaries, honored as heroes? When is a hero forced to choose the noble path?

“The fighting is over. Your work is done. For them, each season has its tasks. If there were a season for gratitude, they’d show it more…Only the farmers remain. They are like the land itself. You helped to rid them of Calvera the way a strong wind helps rid them of locusts. You are like the wind, blowing over the land and passing on. Vaya con Dios”
-closing words from the village elder to the hired gunmen.

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The lead actor, Yul Brynner, initially approached producer Walter Mirisch with the idea of acquiring the rights to the story from Toho Studios in Japan (Brynner was late unsuccessfully sued by friend and fellow actor, Anthony Quinn, who claimed they worked on the idea together). The Magnificent Seven was shot on location in a variety of Mexican locales and interestingly enough Yul Brynner was married on the set while making the movie.

The film is about a small Mexican farming village that is being extorted by a ruthless group of bandits led by a man named Calvera (Eli Wallach who also memorably appears as “the ugly” in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly). Calvera steals food from the farmers under threats of death. After a villager is killed, several men consult the village elder (played by Russian actor Vladimir Sokoloff) who advises them to fight back against Calvera. So they ride north to a town across the United States border. Initially, they intend to barter for weapons, however they soon witness a remarkable scene. A veteran Cajun gunslinger named Chris Adams (played by Yul Brynner) offers to deliver the body of a recently dead Indian to the cemetery on the hill, which is guarded by a group of racist cowboys who prevent Indians from being buried in the cemetery. Chris is then joined by another gunslinger, Vin Tanner (played by Steve McQueen). Apparently Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen had quite a rocky relationship offscreen, though they play compatriots in the movie. McQueen was upset with his minimal dialogue, and as recompense he would use various tactics to distract the audience while Brynner spoke -such as by lowering his hat, flipping a coin, or rattling his shotgun shells. Also, the actors battled over their height on camera. Brynner was slightly taller than McQueen and he would build a small mound of dirt to stand on just before a shot to highlight his height advantage, but McQueen would often kick the dirt away before the take.

At any rate, returning to the story, the villagers hire Chris and Vin, who recruit Chris’s friend Harry Luck (played by Brad Dexter) who only joins because he believes there may be riches hidden out in the hills; Bernardo O’Reilly (played by Charles Bronson), an Irish-Mexican gunslinger in need of money; Britt (played by James Coburn), an expert knife-fighter and gunner who handily wins a random duel using only a knife; and a well-dressed gentleman named Lee (played by Robert Vaughn), who is haunted by fears that death is chasing him after many gunfights over the years. En route they are drunkenly confronted by a hot-headed young man named Chico (played by Horst Buchholz) who demands to join the group, and when denied he follows them to the village and ultimately earns their respect.

Upon arrival in the village this ‘magnificent seven’ begins training the farmers to fire guns and build fortifications and traps for Calvera when he arrives. Chico discovers the women in hiding, out of fear that the gunslingers might rape them, but they are invited to join the group again. One day, three scouts visit the village on behalf of Calvera, but the seven gunslingers kill the scouts. So Calvera, himself, surrounded by a large force arrives but this time he is scared him off into the hills. In the evening Chico infiltrates Calvera’s camp and learns that Calvera’s men are starving and struggling. However when the seven plan a raid on Calvera’s camp they return to the village to find they have been betrayed by some of the farmers. Calvera confiscates their weapons and he banishes them from the village, but fearing reprisals from their friends, he lets them live and returns their weapons several leagues from the village, mistakenly believing they have learned their lesson, only for six of them to return with a vengeance (the seventh later joins). In the end, three of the seven survive the shootout: the original compadres Chris and Vin, and also the young buck, Chico, who stays behind in the village with his young lover (played by Mexican actress Rosenda Monteros).

“The Old Man was right. Only the farmers won. We lost. We’ll always lose.”

Elmer Bernstein composed this inspiring score -one of many including To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Ten Commandments among many others. The Magnificent Seven spawned several unsuccessful sequels (and a remake in 2016 that I refuse to see as a protest against more recycled unoriginality from a lazy, contemporary Hollywood).

Despite receiving mixed reviews, John Sturges got the one vote of approval that mattered – when Akira Kurosawa saw the film he was so impressed that he reportedly sent a ceremonial sword to Sturges.

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The Scarlet Empress

The Scarlet Empress (1934) Director: Josef von Sternberg

★★★★★

Josef von Sternberg once said of his film: “It is a relentless excursion into style.” The Scarlet Empress is a cinematic delight. The film is filled with striking imagery, expressionist lighting, and it is topped off with excellent acting from the great Marlene Dietrich, von Sternberg’s actress of choice. It is in part a historical retelling of the story of Catherine The Great. The film was the sixth of seven collaborations between Dietrich and von Sternberg.

“About two centuries ago, in a corner of the kingdom of Prussia, lived a little princess – – chosen by destiny to become the greatest Monarch – – Tsarina of all the Russias – – the ill-famed Messalina of the North.”

It tells the story of Sophia (pronounced with a long “i” sound) Frederica, a shy princess from Germany, or rather Prussia. She is swept off her feet by a stranger, Count Alexei from Russia who promises her a charming prince back home in Russia for her to marry. She accepts and goes to Russia only to find his lavish descriptions lacking. The palace is dark and frightening and her betrothed is an odd, homunculus, the Grand Duke Peter. The only goal for bringing her there was for her to produce an heir for Russia. Nevertheless, she relents and marries Peter, thus becoming Catherine II (later Catherine “The Great”). In the second half of the film, her personality changes when she bears a son, after sleeping with a palace guard in the stead of her hopeless husband. She becomes Queen of Russia in 1762. embraces her eroticism, as a confident and highly sexualized leader of Russia. Even today, rumors abound of her many lovers and obsession with the erotic. There has been a longstanding bawdy tale of her death – engaged in her carnal desire for a horse, when in fact she died of a stroke. In her later years, she claimed her husband was an eccentric, lazy fool and that they never consummated their marriage. Instead their son was the product of another one of her lovers, according to her memoirs. This portrayal of Peter is what is used in the film. Once she draws herself in contact with her husband, the country falls in line behind her. She dominates legions and overcomes her former husband, Peter, to claim the throne of Russia. In the end she claims her throne and Peter is assassinated by one of her lovers.

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The film was released at the same time as the Hay’s Code was being instituted in American cinema. It was one of the last films released prior to the code’s enforcement. Oddly enough, this was not the only film about Catherine The Great to be released in the year 1934. The British film The Rise of Catherine The Great was also released in 1934, and it starred Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as Peter. The full seven films that von Sternberg and Dietrich collaborated on are as follows: The Blue Angel, Morocco, Dishonored, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress, and The Devil Is A Woman. Their relationship is truly remarkable. Von Sternberg turned her into an iconic star from suburban German schoolgirl. He first encountered her a Berlin cabaret. It was a successful, though turbulent relationship, as Von Sternberg was known to be demanding and eccentric. When the times changed, and their suggestive and excessive films were no longer en vogue, they parted ways in 1935.