The Mandalorian stumbles again as it heads to Tatooine and ramps up the nostalgia.
Last week’s episode of The Mandalorian was fairly enjoyable but ultimately forgettable and mostly just reminded you a lot of films and TV shows that had done it all before, and in many cases, better. Latest episode, The Gunslinger, follows this trend of being enjoyable but also coming across as unnecessary and not really adding much to the overall story. This is also an episode that really wants to remind you that it’s Star Wars and does so, a lot. Self reference bordering on fan service is the name of the game here, chuck in a few forgettable side characters and again we’re left with an episode that doesn’t live up to the potential offered by the fantastic opener.
After leaving behind the promise of a quiet life with the village of krill farmers Mando and Baby Yoda are still being pursued by disgruntled members of the bounty hunter guild. The episode opens with a space battle as one of the hunters catches up with the Razorcrest. Proving to be no match for the deadly Mandalorian, the pursuer is soon despatched but our heroes ship has been damaged. Luckily there’s a planet nearby where they can head for repairs.After spending several episodes already on a Tatooine-esque desert planet (which is name checked this time out as Navarro) it’s time for the actual original Star Wars planet to make an appearance. Yes of all the many planets in the Outer Rim it’s Tatooine that Mando heads for. I’m not the first person to point out that for a place famously described by Luke as being the farthest away from the bright centre of the universe, Tatooine sure gets visited by a lot of people.
Now obviously there is a fine line to balance with regards to potential fan service and naturally building on what has gone before. The Gunslinger veers a bit too much towards fan service for my liking. Returning to Tatooine isn’t by itself too much of a problem, it immediately conjures up memories and gives you a nice warm feeling of nostalgia. It’s incredible the feelings that are stirred up just by the visual of a moisture vaporator surrounded by sand dunes. Visual cues and nods to the original movies are to be expected and absolutely fine when done right. There are however problems when too many of the visuals are lifted straight out of the originals and lines of dialogue are repeated almost verbatim. The Razorcrest’s approach to Tatooine is framed almost identically to shots we have seen before, as is the flight to Mos Eisley. Obviously when on Tatooine you have to visit the infamous cantina. Having the bounty hunter Mando teams up with sitting in the same booth that Han did with his feet up on the table looking roguish is just a little bit too on the nose. Throw in some pit droids from The Phantom Menace, tusken raiders being viewed through electrobinoculars only to sneak up on you, not to mention references to Mos Espa, Beggars Canyon, carbon scoring and the riffed line of “she’s no good to us dead” and you’ve got more Star Wars references than you can handle.
The basic plot of The Gunslinger is simple. After landing on Tatooine Mando needs to make some credits so he can pay for the repairs to his ship. One of the episodes highlights is the mechanic Peli Motto, a cameo by Amy Sedaris. Bringing some personality and light relief with her gang of pit droids Peli is a fun addition to the Star Wars universe, far more than instantly forgettable brigand, Toro Calican. Toro is the bounty hunting Han Solo wannabe who tempts Mando to join him in bringing back wanted criminal Fennic Shand.
There is little to no character development in The Gunslinger. The last episode at least gave us some insights into Mando’s backstory and opened him up to becoming a softer more relatable character in his interactions with Cara and the villagers. The most we get here is a throwaway line where he instructs Peli with “no droids”. This is a reiteration that Mando has a big problem with droids, presumably stemming from the attack we have seen previously in the flashbacks to his childhood. Calican is played unconvincingly by Jake Cannavale. I can only guess form his introduction that they were going for a Harrison Ford type of charm for this novice bounty hunter but they ended up way wide of the mark. Faring better is Ming-Na Wen as Fennic who shines with what little she is asked to do. Ming-Na is always great and imbues Shand with a ruthless and calculating persona befitting a trained assassin. Ming-Na now has the distinction of being a triple threat, a Disney princess, an Agent of Shield and a Star Wars villain. I’d have liked to have seen a lot more of her, in hindsight they should have swapped her role with Cannavale’s. She could absolutely have brought the charismatic charm to the role of Toro Calican.
There is some fun to be had with this instalment. The opening space battle is executed well and the sequence where Mando and Toro traverse the dune sea on swoop bikes is excellent. Ludwig Goransson’s score sounds lush and quite epic here, it’s easy to forget you’re watching a TV show. Indeed this is where The Mandalorian shines. it always looks incredible, belying it’s television roots. You could easily project this stuff up on a cinema screen and not be disappointed, by the visuals at least. There is also a lot of fun to be had with Baby Yoda as he is babysat by Peli and her droid crew. Sedaris really feels connected to the puppet as she strokes its ears and coos soothing baby noises. The puppeteers and effects crew also do a phenomenal job and it’s not hard to see why the little green guy has become a fan favourite.
There is also some beautiful imagery in this episode including the aforementioned swoop bike sequence with some very effective shots as the sun is setting in the desert. One of the most memorable images is stormtrooper helmets on spikes, there is obviously still no love for the Empire in the Outer Rim. There is a historically very interesting shot as we see 2 tusken raiders and their bantha mounts through some electrobinoculars. The shot is actually an unused piece of footage shot in the Tunisian desert for A New Hope in 1976. It’s incredible to think that this scene was shot by George Lucas all those years ago with no idea of the impact he was about to make on popular culture and filmmaking as a whole.
So at the end of this latest episode Mando and Baby Yoda move on. The story hasn’t really been added to and it simply feels like another filler episode. If you’re the sort of person who is happy to say “hey look there’s that thing I liked from that other Star Wars film” then The Gunslinger will hit you in all your sweet spots and there is nothing wrong with that. Also though, this is Star Wars and it deserves better. The Mandalorian looks and feels perfect, it just needs to return to the great storytelling from its earlier episodes. Hopefully the remaining chapters can get things back on track and find the perfect balance. The balance in the force, if you will.
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