We're past the halfway mark for the first season, and so far "The Mandalorian" has been entertaining for sure — but not exactly mind-blowing, especially given the hype, the budget and the talent behind it. There has been no secondary storyline in any of the episodes, and the runtime has been a little less than was expected. There have been examples of good writing and examples of lazy writing.
While the idea behind the concept has been solid, "The Mandalorian" all too often feels like a combined exercise of spot-the-Easter-egg for hardcore fans and a weekly advertisement for forthcoming tied-in merchandise from Disney. Added to which, the show is not being shown in true high dynamic range, or HDR.
We all want it — that's a given — and we all want it to be great, but in instances like this, there's a tendency to accept whatever we're given and consider ourselves fortunate, instead of holding Disney accountable to a higher standard, especially when we have to pay for the streaming service to watch it. Moreover, last week's episode was practically a dictionary definition of cliché. Not only did it suffer from having extras staring directly at the camera, but also from stray boom mics wandering into the frame. It might not be immediately obvious, but it was obvious to enough viewers to get them talking about it on Twitter.
This week's episode, titled "The Gunslinger," contains a lot of references to earlier "Star Wars" movies, but we'll get to those later. We pick up the action in space as the Razor Crest is taking fire from an unknown fighter piloted by another bounty hunter who's after the Mandalorian and the Child. His name is Riot Mar and he's played by Rio Hackford — but he's not around for long enough for that to be of any real importance. The fighter looks suspiciously like a Z-95 Headhunter.
Our antihero is getting shot up quite badly, so he pulls a "Maverick," hits the retros and the bandit flies right into the sights of the Razor Crest. And with an extra frame or two of the pilot exploding for good measure, he's disposed of.
The Razor Crest is pretty banged up, though, so the Mandalorian heads to nearby ... Tatooine.
Yup, that old chestnut. And while it's fun to see Tatooine pop up (yet again) in "Star Wars" culture, it does suggest a lack of new ideas. Yes, it will no doubt cause many fans to fall over themselves pointing out every single Easter egg, but surely there are other planets in the Outer Rim Territories with spaceports as big as Mos Eisley? Remember when Luke describes Tatooine, "If there's a bright center to the universe, you're on the planet that's farthest from it," well, Tatooine certainly seems to be the center of the "Star Wars" universe.
Even nine years after the collapse of the Empire, not much seems to have changed. That's the thing with the Outer Rim Territories — the Empire never had much of a presence there to begin with, and Tatooine was more or less governed by outlaws and organized crime, like the Hutts, for instance.
The first Easter egg can be seen when the Razor Crest flies over the rocky peak of Shubiel Gorge, otherwise known as "Star Wars canyon," using digitally tweaked footage from "A New Hope." This one location in the middle of the Tunisian desert was used many times in the first "Star Wars" movie, and in particular, the peak is where Luke and Obi Wan gaze upon the spectacle of Mos Eisley spaceport for the first time.
The Razor Crest sets down in hangar bay 35 and some DUM-series pit droids — you may remember them from "The Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones" — rush out to work on the damaged ship. However, the Mandalorian maintains his objection to droids, which is a running theme in this series, and insists that the docking bay mechanic, named Peli Motto and played by Amy Sedaris, fix it instead.
She inspects the damage and says it will be expensive. The Mandalorian hasn't got enough Imperial Credits to pay for everything there and then, so he heads to the nearest watering hole. We see the sand-covered streets of Mos Eisley and familiar-looking props like moisture vaporators, plus half a dozen Imperial Stormtrooper helmets on spikes, too. If you remember, that was one of the early promotional images.
Back in bay 35, Motto is taking a break and playing Sabacc with the pit droids when the strangest noise comes from the open cargo bay. It sounds like the hunting cry of a Krayt dragon, which is what Obi Wan Kenobi imitated to frighten away the Tusken raiders when he rescued the unconscious Luke Skywalker in "A New Hope" (incidentally, a scene also filmed at Shubiel Gorge in southern Tunisia.) But this is a very peculiar reference to include.
Whatever the sound is, Motto grabs her blaster and cautiously ventures inside the Razor Crest to find the Child — or baby Yoda, as the entire internet is calling him — being cute and adorable, naturally. And naturally she goes all gooey when she sees him ... as the entire internet is also doing.
Meanwhile, the Mandalorian has ventured into a cantina and boy, oh boy, it really does look like the cantina from "A New Hope." Surely writers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni wouldn't try to force that upon us? Returning to Tatooine is one thing, but the same cantina?! That is one Easter egg too far. We prefer to believe that perhaps they're a chain of pubs, like Wetherspoons in the U.K., and they all have the same interior décor — Art Wrétched Hivé. There's got to be more than one bar in between docking bay 35 (where the Razor Crest is) and 94 (where the Millennium Falcon was) surely?
Management policy has certainly changed, too, 'cause now not only are droids allowed in, but there's an EV-series supervisor droid tending the bar. It does look good, though, and there's a nice varied mix of exotic-looking aliens, which was what George Lucas dreamed of all along.
The Mandalorian asks if there's any work available, and the droid explains that the Guild (of bounty hunters) no longer operates on Tatooine, which is fortunate for our antihero, since they all want to kill him after the events on Nevarro — now confirmed as the name of the planet where the Client (Werner Herzog) and Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) are based.
At this point we meet the nice-but-dim wannabe bounty hunter Toro Calican, played by Jake Cannavale. He appears to even be sitting in the same booth where Han Solo shot Greedo, and we're prepared to wager everyone watching was looking closely at the wall behind Calican to see if there was any sign of carbon scoring. Thankfully, we couldn't see one. He has a puck and tracking fob (and is so far the only person seen carrying both) for Fennec Shand, played by the awesome Ming-Na Wen ("Stargate Universe," "Agents of SHIELD"). She's a tough target, and he persuades the Mandalorian to come in as a partner; he keeps the cash and Calican gets credit for the catch so he can apply and join the Guild.
The Mandalorian returns to the Razor Crest to prepare before meeting Calican, who has scored two Zephyr-G swoop speeder bikes, just like the one Anakin Skywalker rode in "Attack of the Clones." Quite why the Mandalorian doesn't grab his signature Amban phase-pulse blaster is unclear; not only does it seem unusual for him not to have it, but in this instance he really would have benefited from having a long-range, anti-material sniper rifle at his disposal.
Continuing the abundant references to earlier "Star Wars" movies, they head off, out into the Dune Sea (✓) with a great "heroes on horseback"-style musical score that really completes this set piece. Along the way, they have to negotiate with some Tusken raiders (✓) before crossing their territory, and then they come upon a Dewback (✓) still dragging its dead rider whose leg is tangled in the stirrups. At this point they come under sniper fire, and the Mandalorian suspects it's Shand. Explaining that she has the "high ground" (✓), they wait until dark to attempt to capture her, which they finally do after a thrilling race across open ground using flash grenades to temporarily blind Shand. However, one of the speeder bikes has been destroyed in the process, so the Mandalorian goes back to fetch the Dewback and leaves Calican to guard Shand, suggesting that he refrain from killing her. "She's no good to us dead," he says (✓).
Shand is dangerous and even though she's handcuffed, she can still manipulate the mind of young Calican by filling his head with delusions of grandeur. She persuades him to release her and collect the reward on the Mandalorian instead. However, in what's a harsh, but probably very sensible thing to do, he doesn't let her go and instead blasts her. At first we think she might only be wounded ... but for reasons we'll come to, it looks a bit more serious than that.
The Mandalorian returns some time later to find the speeder bike missing and Shand's lifeless body, so he begins his journey back across the Dune Sea to Mos Eisley, which, given how long it took them on a speeder bike, must have taken him days on a Dewback.
Glossing over that minor detail, he returns to hanger bay 35 to find Calican holding baby Yoda and Motto hostage. The Mandalorian drops his weapon as instructed and raises his hands above his head. Waving his gun about like the amateur he is, Calican instructs Motto to cuff the Mandalorian, who has discreetly hidden a flash grenade in his hand.
Calican is blinded and the Mandalorian blows him away. If only he'd used his head, Calican could have learned so much from an experienced professional, one of the very best in the business, no less. But nooooo, his young, naïve mind was filled with the idea of being hailed a legend within the Guild, not that he would have lasted much longer after that, we're pretty sure.
Taking the cash Calican had on him, the Mandalorian pays Motto, picks up the adorable baby Yoda and continues on his way.
But there's a sneaky, super-quick epilogue. We cut to Shand's body, still lying motionless in the desert, and the boots of a mysterious stranger walk around her, with that pseudo-jangling-spurs sound effect. Our money is on Giancarlo Esposito's ex-Imperial character, Moff Gideon. Given the talent of Ming-Na Wen, we suspect she'll return at some point. The same is definitely true for Gina Carano (Cara Dune) and probably the case for Taika Waititi (IG-11) and even Nick Nolte (Kuiil).
The overabundance of Easter eggs aside, there's still some questionable writing in this episode. We've mentioned that the Mandalorian leaves his signature weapon behind for no adequately explored reason, he leaves the Child alone on the Razor Crest, he works for someone desperately trying to impress the Guild — who also smashes the tracking fob — and he leaves Calican and Shand alone to retrieve the Dewback. These feel like odd decisions for the main character to make.
This episode looks great, as they all do, but it doesn't really advance the story.
The sixth episode of "The Mandalorian" will air on Disney+ on Dec. 13, followed by the final two installments on Dec. 18 and 27. The dates are irregular to accommodate the theatrical release of "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" on Dec. 20.
Disney+ has also announced that the penultimate episode (Dec. 18) of the first season will have an "exclusive sneak peek" at the upcoming "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" film.
"An old rival extends an invitation for the Mandalorian to make peace," reads a Disney+ description of the seventh episode. The title of the episode has not been announced; however, Deborah Chow is returning to direct from a script by showrunner Favreau.
Rumors even abound that there might be a "Rise of Skywalker" reference in "The Mandalorian." We wholeheartedly hope not.
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