After nine Star Wars movies, two Star Wars stories, and countless TV show episodes, The Mandalorian has finally given us something utterly priceless. No, not Baby Yoda—although, yes, I would die for that damn thing. I refer to the Mandalorian himself: a protagonist who finally understands military tactics.
He’s an expert at cover and concealment. He actually aims his shots. In the Mandalorian, the Star Wars universe for the first time has a character who engages in believable combat. As if that weren’t enough, the show also introduces Cara Dune, an ex-Rebel special forces operative turned mercenary who also has tactical chops. (Some spoilers ahead.)
The show itself is a masterpiece of low-key military moments. It nails details as small as the way Stormtroopers move with their blasters at shoulder level, prepared to fire. It also offers a corrective to most TV shows, in which the method of helping a casualty is to run up and try to render first aid as bullets—or in this case, blasters—fly all around them. That’s a great way for both people to end up shot, which is why the military advises the method that Cara Dune adopts when the Mandalorian gets wounded in a firefight in the last episode: Drag the casualty into cover for assessment while providing vast quantities of covering fire. Cara Dune would receive a “go” for all the performance measures for this US Army medical task.
That same season finale also features a conversation between two scout troopers that amounts to some of the most realistic military dialogue I’ve heard not just in Star Wars but any movie or TV show. They might as well have transcribed two random soldiers on guard detail somewhere. Substitute throwing rocks at other rocks for shooting at debris with blasters, and you’ve got yourself an accurate depiction of bored troops.
But nowhere is the tactical expertise of the two mercenaries more evident than in the near-perfect defensive engagement that the Mandalorian and Cara Dune conduct in the show’s fourth episode, Sanctuary. As an engineer officer, nothing is more sacred than defensive warfare—and this was well-nigh spiritual.
Defensive stands gone wrong is a mainstay of the Star Wars universe. Just look at Hoth: no obstacles, no defense in depth, no plan, just a lot of dead Rebel grunts getting stepped on by Imperial armor. So it’s very satisfying to find out that at least one mercenary paid attention in Building an Adequate Defense Against Infantry and Light Armor 101, a class that I assume gets taught somewhere in the Empire or Republic’s finest military academies.
In tandem with Cara Dune, the Mandalorian finds himself protecting a friendly little village from a gang of rapacious outlaws. Even worse, the gang has managed to acquire an AT-ST Imperial walker from the detritus of the Empire. After the Empire fell apart—shades of the Soviet Union in the ’90s—its military tech seems to have wandered off to the highest bidder. Or really any bidder, since the failure of the Imperial credit, the main currency of the Galaxy, has left people happy to make even a little money. And so what should have been an easy fight becomes much more daunting.
To their credit, the Mandalorian and Cara Dune readily identify their priorities of work: establish obstacles, build protective positions, and train the villagers to fight. Since they don’t have any weapons systems capable of destroying the AT-ST, they take a tip from the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi and the Finns in the Winter War of 1939: Use your environment instead. Maybe Dune was on the moon forest of Endor when Ewoks took down armor with log obstacles; if so, she’d be the one person in the Star Wars universe to actually absorb some lessons learned.