There are plenty of moments in The Rise of Skywalker that can break a Star Wars fan. For me, the moment that did it was during Kylo Ren’s informing Rey of the big retcon of her origins. Not the reveal itself, but something specific within it. Ren says to Rey that her parents “sold her to protect her.” We previously had it indicated to us that the New Republic never lived up to the hopes for it left by Return of the Jedi, but this line is so much worse than any of that.
Rise is saying here, maybe unintentionally, that the New Republic was so much an abject failure that eliminating slavery—a practice that isn’t just deeply immoral and evil but is also the reason the Star Wars galaxy had a Darth Vader running around—couldn’t be accomplished. It’s a bleak condemnation of our rebel heroes that this very simple bar somehow could not be cleared, much more so than any concern trolling about Luke Skywalker getting the traditional Jedi retirement plan. That line has haunted me and my engagement with Star Wars ever since and I will take any opportunity I can to rant about it; case in point these two paragraphs.
However, something that is very special about the larger Star Wars universe is that one questionable creative decision can become the inspiration for another far more interesting creative decision. This leads us to The Mandalorian’s third episode of season three, “The Convert.”
“The Convert” opens right where we left Din Djarin and Bo-Katan as they depart Mandalore only to be ambushed by a fleet of Tie Interceptors. In an excellent dogfight sequence that features the Star Wars spaceship equivalent of the Akira slide and Din doing a HALO jump onto the N-1, they fight off the ambush. Unfortunately, this was only part of the surprise as Tie Bombers make quick work of Bo’s castle stronghold and we quickly learn there are a lot more Imperial ships in one spot than should be expected anywhere and the two flee for greener pastures. We will not see them again until the end of the episode.
Instead, “The Convert” takes us away from the ongoing story to a place The Mandalorian has never gone before: Coruscant. We pick up with Doctor Pershing, the scientist working for Moff Gideon to experiment on Grogu in previous seasons, now situated on the capital planet with amnesty. He’s giving a talk about his research with his former employer as he expresses gratitude for his “second chance.”
It’s a well-known fact that George Lucas’s designs for the Original Trilogy pull very heavily from real-world conflicts, particularly using World War II imagery. As such it makes a lot of sense that other aspects of that history would carry over as well. In this case, the reality was that following the war, the United States had no issues recruiting Nazi scientists. At first glance, I got the idea that the New Republic was now going to step into the role the Empire played previously and would simply have Pershing pick up where he left off. This is not the case, and the episode is more compelling as a result.
Instead, it turns out that while he’s yet to properly settle in, Pershing is being genuine about his desire for a fresh start. There are plenty of other nefarious ways the New Republic can step into the Empire’s role. A great example of this comes immediately after Pershing’s speech as he’s accosted by Coruscant’s upper crust. These lavish hangers-ons heap praise on him as they extol how nice it is that he’s working “for the good guys now” while at the same time expressing disgust at the Outer Rim and how relieved they are to have not been drafted into the previous conflict.
As “The Convert” continues, we’re treated to even more examples of the side effects of the transition from Imperial to New Republic. While the Amnesty program seems designed not to just recruit useful Nazis but Imperial defectors in general, it’s also clear that the process has become bogged down by bureaucracy. The Amnesty group is filed down to a job description and a number, even to each other. They’re required to go through a “re-education” program that isn’t shown but heavily implied to be extremely unpleasant to their current situation. Each person granted Amnesty has to perform health check-ins, but these check-ins are with a droid running through the same weekly questionnaire rather than an actual representative of the Republic.
Pershing finds issues acclimating as he’s not tasked with sharing his knowledge but rather stuck doing menial archival work at the bottom rung. He longs to return to his research, which apparently wasn’t supposed to be about experimenting on Force-sensitive children but as previously theorized by fans to be about cloning. This tracks with the need to accommodate the aforementioned Rise of Skywalker retcon, but Pershing seems to be motivated to find a way to flash clone organs as a medical treatment—particularly for those gaudy Outer Rim worlds. It’s a surprisingly noble goal and one that I found myself skeptical about in the first half of the episode.
The New Republic, however, won’t hear any of it. Cloning research is effectively outlawed—admittedly reasonable, see The Clone Wars—but Pershing also doesn’t have a way to actually make a case to the powers that be. He tries to suck it up and continue his assigned busy work, but even there find his efforts to be more useful to the government to shoot down the simple tedium of paperwork and the need to stay on schedule.
This sense of feeling like a cog in the machine is what leads Pershing to open up to another Amnesty recipient, a comms officer who was also on Moff Gideon’s ship at the climax of last season. She encourages him to pursue his real passion, even at the risk of punishment, for the “good” of the Republic. The two bond over the course of the episode—not romantically but still with a closeness that feels genuine enough to signal a shoe about to drop.
That shoe does drop as the comms officer Elia Kane convinces Pershing to sneak onto a derelict Star Destroyer to snag some lab equipment to resume his research. Unsurprisingly, this is a trap by Kane as Pershing is arrested for breaking his amnesty agreement and Kane is praised for snitching on him. Pershing is strapped to a retrofitted Imperial “mind flayer” and realizes that he was just tricked and set up to have his mind wiped. He’s told that those hooking him up to this machine are just helping him heal and they “aren’t the Empire” while failing to even follow protocol and giving Kane the opening to crank up the machine to its normal Imperial settings and burning his mind out.
If you’re remotely plugged into the general vibe of the world we’re all kind of stuck living in right now, it’s not hard to see what’s going on. The New Republic, while still fresh in this part of the timeline, is rushing to a neoliberalism-driven malaise. Much like the real-world U.S. Democratic Party, the New Republic is more concerned with restoring decorum and “the system.” In this kind of governance, maintaining the system and its norms is more important than addressing any kind of issues that the system may have. While the New Republic is of course better than Palpatine and Vader’s tyrannical rule, that rule came to be in large part to Palpatine’s manipulation of the very process that the New Republic now strives to uphold.
Just like Rise of Skywalker’s “they sold you to protect you” line, seeing a middle manager hand wave away the waste of completely usable technology and resources with bureaucracy and the rich openly observe how very little has actually changed for them from regime to regime reveals to us that not nearly enough change has actually come to the galaxy. There’s an argument to be made that someone like Doctor Pershing didn’t deserve his second chance, even if his intentions were noble. Even so, the New Republic offered it to him and then failed to provide it.
The show is still called The Mandalorian though and we do catch back up to Din and Bo returning to Din’s clan for shelter and to start to set up the next stage of his story. Even so, I feel like we’re really supposed to dwell on the final scene of Elia Kane watching as Pershing’s memories are destroyed in front of her. It’s clearly a cover-up job either for an escaped Moff Gideon or (even more likely in my opinion) repeatedly teased Grand Moff Thrawn.
I know in my heart that this may be yet another Ahsoka setup rather than queuing up the rest of the season for Mandalorian, but I’m going to forgive it this one time. Even if “The Convert” is just a little detour for the series, it was still worthwhile to be reminded that the New Republic’s greatest failure was not being able to hold back the fascists it was supposed to have replaced—something that can still happen here.
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‘The Mandalorian’ 3x03 - 9/10