Disney Gallery’s eighth and final episode exploring The Mandalorian, Connections, might well have been titled The Deepest of Cuts.
It not only celebrates the many Easter eggs scattered throughout the series but grants a look at how they came to be as well. Some of the treats are more carefully buried than others, and the episode offers affecting behind-the-scenes footage.
A highlight is seeing members of the ethnically mixed 501st, a fan group often used for stormtrooper appearances, tear up when they realize that the costumes they made with their own hands will now become show-used props in a gig they didn’t even know was The Mandalorian.
But, as this episode shows, it’s not just important that shoutouts to other corners of the universe were present; what matters is how they were done.
In 1980, eager Star Wars fans piled into theaters for the sequel to the 1977 cultural phenomenon. As The Empire Strikes Back unspooled, they saw adventure, romance, and… a man running through the background of a Cloud City evacuation scene clutching what looked like an ice cream maker.
It looked like an ice cream maker because it was an ice cream maker, off the shelf and dirtied up.
In the years to follow, the character gained a name beyond the affectionate fan handle of “Ice Cream Guy” — Wilrow Hood. (And, yes, a trading card, as well as an action figure, complete with ice cream maker.)
The fact that someone’s first thought, under threat of immediate Empire occupation, was to protect and defend an ice cream maker was the source of much amusement and puzzlement.
But Chapter 3 of The Mandalorian deftly turned a deep fan in-joke into not only an homage but the answer to a thirty-year-old mystery: What was that all about?
Apparently, in the Star Wars universe, the ice cream maker is called a “camtono,” and it doesn’t churn sugar and ice into a delicious frozen treat.
It’s a secure carrying case for precious spice, metal, and liquids — an important function in the Star Wars universe, as it contains no paper. It’s The Briefcase. And Mando receives one full of beskar, the material required to ritually form his armor.
Why is the ice cream maker, the beskar, its mention in Chapter 1, and later visual revelation in Chapter 3 important? It shows that creator Jon Favreau and director-writer Dave Filoni know how to service a fandom organically.
It’s yet another example of The Mandalorian patching the wounds of the special editions, prequels, and sequels, which infuriated fans with upended canon, anvil-references, and clumsy shoehorning (if you can manage to make people cringe with more Han Solo, you’ve done something very, very wrong.)
The secret of solid fanservice is not screaming, “HEY REMEMBER THIS GUY!!??!” in everyone’s faces for an hour and a half.
It is deftly inserting small details and thematic elements that are quickly recognized by dedicated fans, but which also make sense to those who are new to the intellectual property.
In The Mandalorian, this is nicely achieved. Filoni has already contributed to the Star Wars universe through his work in the animated Clone Wars and understands how to integrate old material into new contexts.
Watching him and Favreau speak with genuine glee about the inclusion of such elements as the ice cream maker underline that they approached the matter with respect for the fandom, as well as good and patient storytelling.
The container’s name is dropped in the first chapter, but we don’t see what it actually is for a little while. We don’t even realize, initially, that it has any fan-related importance at all.
What seemed at first a simple, random Star Wars term was actually a planted reference that would pay off in a major way for convention-level fans.
However, if a person entirely new to Star Wars was watching the series, the container just looked sleek and functional.
From the Background
Throughout the episode, the showrunners discuss a running decision to pull original trilogy background characters teetering on the edge of uncoolness into the limelight.
What made this work wasn’t just the commitment to doing so, but sweeping in such props, characters, and moments with seamless plot integration.
The creators were willing to mine the OT and video games, Rogue One, a 1978 troop transport toy, the animated Battle for Endor, and even unused concept art, which was put to use to show a TIE fighter with its landing gear extended.
Such dazzling CGI displays and detailed set-building were one way to connect with the rest of the IP, but this strategy shines the most when smart recycling occurs.
Fans were wild over the appearance of a bounty hunter droid, the type of which was first seen in Empire, as well as the brandishing of a Clone Wars weapon, a Darksaber.
But this atmospheric continuity was best achieved when repurposing even from the universe’s most epic failure, the Star Wars Holiday Special.
In the 1978 disaster, Boba Fett appears in cartoon form for the first time, wielding a fork-ended rifle. It shows up again here, in Mando’s hands.
The willingness to pull from made-for-TV items, which were too awful for George Lucas to claim, shows a willingness to reach into the farthest realms of Star Wars lore.
Bright Center to the Universe
The difference between fan pandering and intelligent callbacks is subtlety and trusting the viewer.
Many fans rolled their eyes when word leaked that an entire chapter of The Mandalorian would not only take place on Tatooine but with scenes at the iconic Mos Eisley cantina.
Were there no other bars on no other planets in this universe? Wasn’t Tatooine supposed to be incredibly remote and horrible? Why, then, does Star Wars keep returning there again and again?
Sharp-eyed fans found crafty references in the return to the planet, however, when the watering hole which once didn’t even allow droids now features one behind the bar (and is voiced by Mark Hamill to boot).
The droid which the Lars family almost bought in place of R2-D2 rolls through the forefront, soot and oil stains running down his dome where his “bad motivator” blew in A New Hope.
It’s fun. But is it necessary?
Some of it is, yes.
The series’ Obi-Wan/Yoda character was wise Kuiil, voiced by Nick Nolte.
The character was an Ugnaught, a piglike species originally portrayed in Empire as a grunting group of low-intelligence worker bees. Now, an Ugnaught is granted dignity and his own theme song in the soundtrack.
Even Kuiil’s seemingly throwaway line that “your ancestors rode the great mythosaur” takes on a new meaning as the series unfolds.
Not only does it name-check the creature Boba Fett was riding in that wretched Holiday Special, but the moment also has resonance in the fact that Mando was adopted. His connection to the Mandalorians is not one of blood, but a choice.
Why is this important?
The repurposing has a purpose. It’s not just flinging cool stuff at the former kids who still collect action figures.
Seeing these characters — even the dastardly Tusken Raiders, who, Mando asserts, are only protecting their own turf — in a new light underlines the series’ theme of redemption, second chances, and the ability to take a new path.
The Mandalorian is currently streaming on Disney Plus. Season 2 is scheduled to begin on October 30.