One of the things that has always been simplified in 'Star Wars', to one degree or another, is a political component.
Sure, George Lucas wasn't subtle about it during the original trilogy. In 'Return of the Jedi', he was drawing a very clear line between the Ewoks and any indigenous resistance group you care to mention in real life that's fought against technologically-superior invaders. 'Revenge of the Sith' was about fascism entering public life by means of fear and corruption of political norms. Even the sequel trilogy blended together how the generation that follows often forgets the hard-won lessons of the past.
Yet, in all these instances, it's been big and broad characterisations. This week's episode managed to do something pretty unique in 'Star Wars', and one that you wouldn't necessarily expect amidst all the fight scenes and witty remarks by Bill Burr. It actually tried to look at political movements in 'Star Wars' with a nuanced approach.
As we left last week's episode, Mando, Boba Fett, Fennic Shand, and Cara Dune were setting out after Baby Yoda (no, we're still not calling him Grogu) and recruited Mayfeld - played by the aforementioned Bill Burr - to help locate Moff Gideon's cruiser. All well and good, as ever. The plan sees them trying to sneak into an energy mining plant and assuming the uniform of Imperials to blend in. Yet, in doing so, they have to defend a shipment of rhydonium in order to make into said mining plant.
As they're carefully driving their big wheel truck through the jungle planet, Burr's character tries to make talk with Mando and muses on how the Empire is no different from the New Republic, any more than you might offer the same opinion on dominant political movements in our world. As Mayfeld cleanly puts it, it's about survival for everyone else. "Empire. New Republic. It's all the same to these people."
After a thrilling chase sequence involving Mando and Mayfeld fighting off the locals intent on destroying the shipment, things look dire for them - yet, they're miraculously saved by TIE Fighters swooping in just as they reach the plant while stormtroopers blast away at the locals to protect their entrance. The music rises up, there's a big lovely explosion, and everyone's cheering at the end - just like how it is when the Rebel Alliance or the New Republic scores a major win.
Mando and Mayfeld then run across an Imperial officer, one whom Mayfeld just so happened to serve under, and demands the trio have a drink together to toast their victory. It's an intriguing moment, primarily because Mando - without his mask on, no less - truly struggles with making any kind of social interaction and is almost frozen in place. In a way, he's nothing without his mask and the very idea of showing his face to people has rendered him inert, while Mayfeld has to make smalltalk with an Imperial.
Bill Burr, though chiefly known for his comedic stylings, really does have a command and a style in this scene that's all his own. It's not the wild, bombastic rants he's known for - but something far more convincing than anything he's done. It's not just boiling rage that simmers under the surface, but a real sense of anguish and cynicism. In a few words and a look, all the pain and torment the character's gone through at the Empire's hands are lain open. The scene is so laced with such complexity that it truly is something unique in 'Star Wars' generally, as the Imperial officer blithely refers to Mayfeld's dead compatriots - and innocent civilians - as "heroes of the Empire", all with a broad smile on his face.
For all the triumphalism earlier in the episode and the human celebrations, we're given a quiet but stark reminder that the Empire is a bloodthirsty, ruthless war machine - and worse, it's manned and operated by people who look like us.
Again, 'Star Wars' doesn't usually grapple with these kinds of weighty ideas and it certainly doesn't paint with the kind of subtlety seen in 'The Believer', but it works. What's more, it's proven that when writers and directors are given a bit of freedom to explore in 'Star Wars', they can come back with something unique like this.