The Mandalorian looks to be a perfect capturing of the used future grit of the galactic underworld, but does its reuse of carbon freezing as a go-to bounty hunter trick betray fan bait? The idea of encasing a target in liquid carbonite and flash-freezing it was, of course, introduced in The Empire Strikes Back (even if the in-universe science wasn't). Intended as a method for easily moving Tibana gas from Cloud City on Bespin, Darth Vader wanted to use the technology to transport Luke Skywalker to the Emperor, but first tested it on a captive Han Solo, who was then taken to Jabba the Hutt by Boba Fett. Over time, the practice became associated with Fett, despite the bounty hunter neither having the idea nor wanting to damage his prize.
Rather surprisingly, carbon freezing is set to make a return in upcoming Disney+ series The Mandalorian. The D23 trailer follows Pedro Pascal's unnamed blaster-slinger on various missions, ending on a shot of him walking away from an alien encased in carbonite. It's been speculated that this comes from a special facility on the bounty hunter's ship, the Razor Crest.
Now, The Mandalorian hasn't been above sneaky Easter eggs and references, from the presence of an IG unit to the title character using the pronged spear Boba Fett used during his debut in The Star Wars Holiday Special. But it has mostly avoided anything approaching full-on fan bait. Instead, it uses its references and aesthetic shorthand to create a proper sense of place and time (the post-Return of the Jedi landscape is under-explored in new canon).
That makes the carbonite victim stand out more than a dug in Jabba's palace. It's a reference not to part of the Star Wars galaxy in its entirety but a specific plot point at the center of the movies, taking what was once a deadly gambit pushed by Darth Vader and making it an everyday occurrence.
Now, this isn't the only time in canon outside of The Empire Strikes Back that carbon freezing has been used. In The Clone Wars season 3, episode 18 "The Citadel", Anakin, Obi-Wan, Rex and co. snuck into a Serperatist facility undetected by freezing themselves in carbonite. This was ostensibly giving a reason that Vader would have confidence in the process decades later, but felt incredibly forced: the moment is slight, downplaying Han's sacrifice, and the facility used isn't different enough from Lando's to be described as "crude." There it was fan-pleasing, as would have been early drafts of Rogue One where Jyn and Cassian survived in the aftermath of a carbonite explosion.
But that gradual canonization of the idea (although it's not as rampant yet as in Legends, where video games gifted played a freeze-ray carbonite gun) doesn't excuse The Mandalorian co-opting the idea, especially given how close it is to the concept as originally introduced. The character is already a reinvigorated spin on the lone gunslinger visually evolved from Boba Fett (Jon Favreau's even said the show is intended to fill the Fett hype gap), and having him take Boba's biggest movie sin feels like a further strange blurring of the lines. To define this new anti-hero by the actions of his design-sake is, frankly, misguided.
This concern is born of a trailer, which will naturally use more recognizable elements to sell the show, and is thus not necessarily indicative of carbonite freezing's role in The Mandalorian. That said, having it used as a standard bounty hunter trick at all only serves to make the massive universe of possibilities that this Disney+ series is supposed to be expanded further to be feel perversely smaller.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019