The last episode of The Mandalorian solidified the series’ first season trajectory: a loose overarching plot of a Mando (Pedro Pascal) trying to protect a mysterious force-sensitive child (dubbed “Baby Yoda” by the fans) on the run, with a few standalone episodes along the way. Chapter 4, Sanctuary, very much felt like a self-contained story, but one that still gave us a little more of our faceless protagonist’s human side. It also established that as big as the galaxy is, nowhere is safe for them. Simplicity accompanied by a quiet life is literally not possible for them.
Chapter 5, The Gunslinger, is a one-off episode as well but it takes place in the most recognizable Star Wars location. After a brief but hectic starfighter chase that Mando and Baby Yoda barely escape, their ship the Razor Crest is out of fuel and in desperate need of repairs. Mando seeks out the nearest place to land on; enter the desert planet Tatooine- always appearing to those with no other options. Even better, Mando brings his ship into none other than Mos Eisley. This is, of course, the same place where Luke Skywalker began his journey as a Jedi Knight all those years ago.
However, things have changed in the spaceport once known as a wretched hive of scum and villainy. For one thing, it seems practically deserted. Mando leaves the child on board the ship and meets a repairwoman (a surprise appearance from Amy Sedaris) who, along with her crew of pit droids, agrees to repair the Razor Crest. Mando needs some coin to pay the woman, so he wanders into town in search of a job. He passes by a disturbing sight of several Stormtrooper helmets on spikes, a memorable image from the series’ trailer now given context. Is this in celebration of the Empire’s defeat or a warning to modern-day Imperial loyalists? Perhaps both?
Dave Filoni, the current Godfather of the Star Wars universe, returns from the pilot to direct this episode. Very few are more knowledgeable about the franchise than him, so it is only fitting that he would be trusted to mark the return to its origins. Mando strolls into the infamous cantina, but Filoni wisely holds back from overindulging in the nostalgia. These are different times; no catchy tunes are playing here, in fact, the place is nearly empty save for a couple lone patrons. The most notable change is the bartender- where their kind was once banned from even being allowed in, a droid now seems to run the place.
Mando meets a young inexperienced bounty hunter named Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale), who informs him that the only job around is bringing in a deadly assassin called Fennec Shand (the always wonderful and ageless Ming-Na Weng). Mando initially turns this offer down. Shand has a reputation and is a formidable foe, even for him. When Calican practically begs for his help, telling him that this is his first-ever job, the warrior’s cold tough exterior once again gives way to the warm and kind-hearted man underneath. Naturally, this is not solely an act of goodwill. Mando will only assist in guiding Calican to his prize, not do all the work for him, with the expectation of keeping all profits.
Filoni knows what makes Star Wars tick, and The Gunslinger continues the show’s upward trend of memorable space fantasy mixed with moments of light humor while further leaning into its western-inspired aesthetic and tone. A thrilling speeder bike sequence in the dead of night is a highlight of the episode, as is the pitch-perfect casting of its characters. You can thank casting director Sarah Halley Finn for that, who has most notably done casting for the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Pascal continues to amaze with his ability to convey both thought and emotion through an expressionless helmet with only his voice and body language. Praise should also be given to Brendan Wayne, who serves as Pascal’s body double in the armor.
The Mandalorian has thus far delighted viewers by heavily relying on already-familiar Star Wars iconography. Nowhere is that more apparent than in this most recent episode. Banthas, dewbacks, pit droids, cool weapons, and more are featured- but the series thankfully keeps finding new and unique ways to remix these things. Even the Tusken Raiders do not appear to be as instantly hostile as they once were! The short but sweet teacher-student relationship between Mando and Calican, as the latter learns about the finer points of the bounty hunting profession, is also a notable callback to one of the franchise’s constant tropes.
The Gunslinger is yet another solid entry in The Mandalorian’s impressive first batch of episodes. Nonetheless, with the first season now past the halfway mark, it is about time for the series to give some sort of indication of where it is heading. It is time to see if it can stand on its own without the need for fan service. The show has established the good faith it needed- now it will be interesting to see if it can stick the landing.