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'The Mandalorian' season finale saves its biggest surprise for last

"The Mandalorian" ended its second season with a big bang, further deepening its rich relationship with "Star Wars" lore by capping a run of callbacks and cameos with the granddaddy of them all.
Titled "The Rescue," the mission to save Grogu -- a.k.a. The Child and "Baby Yoda" -- from the clutches of the evil Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) culminated with a cloaked figure showing up, basically rescuing the rescuers.
The lightsaber-wielding savior was revealed to be none other than Luke Skywalker (a digitally rendered version of Mark Hamill), who whisked Grogu off with him, presumably to be trained as a Jedi. If the character's look was a little stiff -- a la those recreated in "Rogue One" -- the sequence nevertheless offered another stunning bridge to the original trilogy, with an R2-D2 cameo for good measure.
But wait, there was more: A post-credit scene showed the bounty hunter Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) returning to Tatooine, the planet where he had seemingly met his death in "Return of the Jedi." It closed with a mysterious tease for "The Book of Boba Fett," premiering a year from now.
In the same way "The Empire Strikes Back" was crucial to the franchise's longevity, this season established the first live-action TV series as a major addition to "Star Wars" mythology, one whose ripples stretch far and wide.
The show's story arc encompassed not only the movies, but the animated series that carried the Lucasfilm banner in between: "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" and "Star Wars Rebels," punctuated by Rosario Dawson's appearance as Anakin Skywalker's padawan, Ahsoka Tano; and Katee Sackhoff as Bo-Katan.
The latter returned for the finale in pursuit of the darksaber possessed by Moff Gideon, but if that seemed like a big development, the final flurry of events eclipsed it.
Whatever the future holds for "The Mandalorian," its value to Lucasfilm and Disney+ can hardly be overstated.
As the studio announced at its recent Investor Day event, several live-action shows are planned to expand the streaming galaxy -- including an Ahsoka spinoff and "Rangers of the New Republic," both set during "The Mandalorian's" time frame -- indicating the extent to which the 13-month-old service intends to build upon that foundation.
Perhaps most impressively, after the divisive nature of the recent "Star Wars" trilogy, "The Mandalorian" has seemingly found that sweet spot of nostalgia and invention -- delighting fans in a way that given an adrenaline boost to the entire franchise. That passion can be measured in part by the number of bleary-eyed fans who have felt compelled to stay up past midnight each week and watch new episodes as soon as they drop.
All told, the second season represents both a commercial and creative accomplishment, and executive producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni can take a well-deserved bow. If Disney+ wants to keep subscribers happy, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this certainly looks like the way.
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