Once again, Rick Famuyiwa (Dope) has treated us to a masterful adventure in the far reaches of the Star Wars galaxy. With the Mandalorian joining some old not so friendly comrades, this episode does not fail to excite and entertain. Sprinkled throughout the engaging narrative of a prison break are countless references to places and things we have seen across the films. Quips about Gungans, jabs at Imperial Stormtroopers, and mentions of Canto Bight are nice reminders that the rugged world of The Mandalorian does, in fact, fit well within the world of the Skywalker Saga. Twi’leks and other oddball aliens are a fun addition to this episode, taking center stage as key players in the plot. You can even see a four-armed Ardennian, just like Rio Durant from Solo: A Star Wars Story. There is something here for everyone, whether you are a casual or die-hard fan- or even a simple newcomer.
Titled The Prisoner, this episode is among Lucasfilm’s best. It is no coincidence that this was directed by Famuyiwa, who had his Star Wars directorial debut on the show’s second chapter. Chapter 2 still remains in legitimate competition for the best installment in the Mandalorian’s story thanks to style and direction. The recent collaboration between Famuyiwa and cinematographer Baz Barry Idoine (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) makes for masterful cinematic language. Lighting, framing, and editing are consistently used to their utmost potential in silently conveying emotional subtext to the story at play.
After buzz of stand-ins Brendan Wayne and Lateef Crowder playing a much larger part in bringing Mando to life than initially thought, praise for the physical performance of the titular character cannot be decisively directed to only Pedro Pascal. Although, there still remains an admirable quality to the show’s understated and subtle character direction. The Prisoner‘s script also feels a lot more refined than the recent few. Stand out moments of heated dialogue perfectly embody the thematic core of the show. This demonstration of control in acting, script, and direction create a compelling emotional basis for the story of an introverted and conflicted mercenary.
Any remarks of “throwaway” episodes in the series overlook its intentions beyond surface-level plot and adventures. The Mandalorian may be structured as a loose adventure series with self-contained episodic stories, but it uses those stories to weave an ever-developing sense of understanding of our lead. Perhaps the most obvious example surfaces when looking at the most recent episodes together as a single thematic statement: the Mandalorian is learning that his old ways cannot be fallen back upon through his trust being misplaced in questionable allies.
A clear marker for this message begins in Chapter 4, Sanctuary, where he learns to trust and find compassion. Surrounded by the peaceful people of Sorgan, he is exposed to an alternative to the chaotic life of a bounty hunter. Where he once may have turned up the low-paying job presented to him in the episode, he demonstrated his growth as a character and set a precedent to be caring and sympathetic. The following chapters continue to serve as an extension of this lesson. They further depict that this new lifestyle cannot coincide with a career as a bounty hunter- compassion has no place within an outlaw.
Additionally, each of these three recent episodes has included motivators for the Mandalorian to continue his nomadic search for refuge, yet The Prisoner is the first of these stories to have him play an active role in that choice. Sanctuary ended with an attempt on poor Baby Yoda’s life and Chapter 5, The Gunslinger, offered little else than the scum and villainy of Mos Eisley. This episode presented Mando with the option to play along with his crew; he was offered income and relative safety, but he could no longer compromise his morals to get by, instead choosing to rebel against the expectations held of him to be a cold-blooded mercenary.
Chapter 6 uses the episodic format of a heist flick to its advantage, fully utilizing the many opportunities for subversion and narrative twists. Starting off as a team player, the Mandalorian tries to overcome his discomfort and cooperate- but this proves to be a failed venture when he is forced to redact his efforts and take it upon himself to complete the mission, get paid, and go along his way. His earlier demonstrations of lawless-ness come into question as he is hesitant to break the law and refuses to kill. This conflict is reinforced by those around him, who act as foils to his increasingly good-hearted disposition.
Comedian Bill Burr offers a surprisingly serviceable performance as Mayfield, the leader of the jailbreak. Although it may take some time for audiences to accept the fact that Bill Burr has a blaster-brandishing mechanical arm attached to his back in the new Star Wars show, he does a good job of creating a human source of contention. Mayfield and the Mandalorian create an interesting dynamic, which is especially highlighted in a certain moment involving a tracking beacon. It is moments like these, namely those which fully commit to demonstrating the characters’ intrinsic personalities and desires, that are most engaging, successful, and resonant.
“This is the way” has become a joke online ever since its introduction in the show, but this episode presents it as just the same within the context of the Star Wars galaxy. The other members of Mayfield’s crew mock Mando for his dogmatic adherence to Mandalorian principles, furthering the tension that has been building up surrounding his beliefs. Rather than an earnest questioning of his practices as in Chapter 4, this episode seems to plant the idea that the Mandalorian way of life is worthy of scorn and mockery. These two moments from separate episodes hold massively different emotional and thematic implications, but together further build internal conflict within the protagonist’s identity. Audiences will surely recognize that conflict is just around the corner, all thanks again to Famuyiwa in the director’s chair.
This episode is also one of the most action-packed of the whole series. Action between the first-ever depiction of New Republic Security Droids, the muscle of the group played by Clancy Brown (Spongebob Squarepants), and Mando himself create memorable moments of badassery. Grappling hook decapitations and flamethrower scorchings included! Convincing CG and impressive stunt work make for some of the best action sequences to date in Star Wars television.
Masterful demonstrations between cinematographer Barry Baz Idoine and Famuyiwa result in tension and visuals invaluable to the pacing of not only this episode but the entire series. Their expertise in unspoken, visual cinematic language has proven to be a fruitful enterprise in creating a wholly unique and kinetic atmosphere for their joint episodes of The Mandalorian. Warner Bros. might be having second thoughts on losing Famuyiwa on that certain superhero movie in limbo right now.
Read our review of Chapter 5 and you can watch the next episode of The Mandalorian on Wednesday, December 18!
Follow writer Chris St Lawrence on Twitter: @ey2studios