The Mandalorian The Gunslinger Review

Naturally, there are spoilers ahead.

On the run from every bounty hunter in the Guild and forced to leave Sorgan in a hurry, the Mando and his young charge (dubbed Baby Yoda by the internet) find themselves damaged on the fringes of the Outer Rim—damage taken from a cocky bounty hunter with a mouth on him in a Top Gun-like dogfight. The closest safe harbor appears to be a world you may have heard of called Tatooine, where he finds a safe docking bay in Mos Eisley.

There, an eccentric mechanic (Amy Sedaris) and her comical pit droid crew charge the Mando for repairs and the use of their docking bay. 500 Imperial Credits isn’t enough, so he has to find a job to earn the credits to pay her back. As he goes to seek a job, the child wanders from its locked quarters aboard the Razor Crest and finds itself in the care of the mechanic and droids. In the Mos Eisley Cantina, the Mando meets a rookie bounty hunter (Jake Cannavale) who wants to team up to bring in the notorious assassin Fennic Shand (Ming Na Wen). The pair of them cross the Dune Sea and have a showdown and, ultimately, capture her. While the Mando goes to find transport for their target, the rookie learns of the Mando’s true value as a target rather than an ally. Double-crosses ensue and mostly everyone ends up dead except the Mando and the baby. They continue on across the galaxy, but some unknown force takes an interest in the corpse of Fennic Shand.

The First Controversial Episode?

This episode might be the first real controversial episode of the series. There will be some fans (rightly) upset that Ming Na Wen was used in the marketing of the show to assure us it was diverse and then is killed after a handful of minutes of screen time. Having guest appearances from actors whose storylines are resolved immediately in their episode is nothing new in the genre of TV westerns. A big guest star will come on the show and be either quickly killed or driven from the locale. There’s precedent for it in the genre of storytelling this particular episode is aiming for, but that doesn’t mean audiences will respond well to it. I think we all hoped for a lot more from Ming Na Wen as the show continued and it’s disappointing to see her gone so quickly. 

This could also be a feint and she will be back, though I doubt it.

Other fans will find that Amy Sedaris’s performance might not fit into their defined box of Star Wars. For my money, she made me feel like I was watching what a Star Wars television show would have looked like if it had been made in the actual ‘70s. That’s not a negative in my view, but based on this performance, I can see some fans seeing the inclusion of this particular comedian in Star Wars more in line with Harvey Korman in the Star Wars Holiday Special than Horation Sanz in chapter one. Personally, I really like seeing comedians filling out these parts on The Mandalorian and I hope we see more of them. And I hope we see more of Sedaris’s mechanic as well, I thought she added levity and sense. The Mandalorian needs someone to tell him he’s being an idiot, why not have it be Amy Sedaris? (I mean seriously, who locks a baby in a cabinet and just goes to the bar? Likely child abusers, that’s who.)

Despite these things, one constant through the series that this episode won’t break is that everyone will continue to agree on the inherent adorability of the so-called Baby Yoda.

The Searchers

One movie I would advise people to check out after watching this episode is John Ford’s epic western The Searchers. This episode pulls a few specific moves from that film that I think are really interesting. First, it pairs the Mando with a rookie kid who doesn’t know the ropes. This is the dynamic between John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter in The Searchers. It works well because it shows the ability of the more seasoned hero while showing the kid that they need to learn a lesson.

Another thing it does is echo the treatment of the Tusken Raiders as a Star Wars stand-in for negatively portrayed stereotypes of Native Americans. This is something George Lucas began in A New Hope and doubled down on significantly in Attack of the Clones (I’ve written about that before here). The Mandalorian speaks to them in a bit of sign language to trade for safe passage across the Dune Sea. I’d be interested to see what a deaf reviewer has to say about the scene, as this is the first time we’ve really seen any form of sign language in a galaxy far, far away. Is it something done tastefully for that community? Or is it like those scenes in classic westerns where they make random arm motions in a facsimile of sign language in a way that seems condescending to both the deaf and native populations. 

Making the Mandalorian knowledgable about the customs of the sand people is curious as well. How much time has he spent on Tatooine before? Why does he know their customs? This is something John Wayne knew of in The Searchers, explaining to the others what Comanche customs were because he hated them so much. In The Mandalorian, the Mando seems to reserve that hatred to droids, even extending that disgust to pit droids.

The last thing it did was matched visual elements of The Searchers. The night photography in The Searchers is breathtaking, brilliant Technicolor vistas of the night sky serve as the backdrop for some of the most dynamic sequences in the film and it seems as though director Dave Filoni learned many of those same moves and applied them to the tense attack on Fennic Shand.

What to look out for

The first thing to look out for are the echoes of shots from A New Hope. Dave Filoni chooses his shots carefully to evoke specific moments in Star Wars and to show you how the story has advanced. The first shot we see appears to feature the same rock outcropping that Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi look down on our favorite hive of scum and villainy. The docking bay the Mando lands in, 35 this time instead of 94, is the same open-air style that Han Solo escaped from in the Millennium Falcon shortly after accepted the job to transport Luke and his Jedi Master to Alderaan. One thing to notice is that they’ve even captured the same ‘70s style fonts that display the bay number on the outside that were used in A New Hope, even though Aurebesh is usually used for numbers and letters these days.

The other thing that you can watch out for is the stories implied by changes to the scenery and locale. As the Mandalorian approaches the Mos Eisley cantina, much of the wreckage we saw outside of it remains the same, even seven years after the last time we saw it. But the interior tells a different story. Filoni very purposely chooses the same shots that Gilbert Taylor and George Lucas used on the approach to the cantina and just inside so that we could notice the first thing that was missing: the droid scanner.

Then, when the camera cuts to the bar itself, we’re warned but still shocked to see a trio of droids behind the bar, serving drinks. A lot has happened in the last seven years. There’s no band and business appears thin. Whether that’s because of the time of day or a comment on the reduced fortunes of the owners of the cantina, that’s something we can’t guess.

The pit droids in this episode were also something that put a smile on my face. Their routine inspired by the Three Stooges reminded me of Ody Mandrell’s renowned pit crew and made me wonder if they could have even been the same droids. In any case, seeing them simply made me happy, especially their fearful interactions with the Mandalorian. Watching them recoil as the Mando shot at them because of his overbearing hatred of droids was simply fun to watch and we can’t have too much fun in Star Wars. Especially in so serious an episode everywhere else.

A minor thing I wanted to note was that the planet where  Greef Carga was stationed and where the Mando received the  assignment to capture the asset was given a name this week: Navarro. I could totally be spelling that wrong, but we have a name, nonetheless.

Coda

I think this episode is going to be the most divisive of those released of the show. The acting felt uneven, as though Amy Sedaris was in one show and the Mandalorian was in another. I happened to like both shows, but I know some audiences will bristle. I think others will have problems with Ming Na Wen’s demise and those criticisms will be absolutely fair. 

The big mystery of this episode that may well dominate the conversation for the next week will be who that unnamed gunslinger is at the end of the episode. His steps are marked with the sound of spurs and there is very little identifying information that would reveal the identity of this dark warrior. Could it be a brand new character? Could this be Cobb Vanth, the man who currently owns Boba Fett’s armor (per Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath books)? Though I doubt it significantly, fans are going to assume en masse that this could be Boba Fett himself, despite the last few years he’s believed to have spent being slowly digested inside the Sarlacc. 

Whoever it is, I suspect they’re going to feature prominently in future episodes and cause unlimited amounts of trouble for the Mandalorian.

And that’s something I want to see.

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