It seems that the flagship Disney+ live action Star Wars show has found its groove and is sticking with it. Of the 6 episodes shown so far this is the fourth that is a standalone adventure as Mando and Baby Yoda continue to evade capture from the bounty hunter guild. Luckily I found this episode quite enjoyable, not as good as the second episode with the highly entertaining jawas, but certainly a step up from the last 2 parts. This time out we also get a little bit of much needed backstory as our hero teams up with some shady characters from his past.
Mando puts out a call to an old acquaintance, Ranzar Malk, seeking employment. Ranzar just so happens to have the perfect job for him, joining a crew to help spring a captured colleague from a rival syndicate. So we are treated to a heist episode, and a heist is only as good as its crew. Luckily some solid character actors have been brought in portray the motley bunch. Breaking Bad’s Bill Burr leads the group as Mayfield, a former Imperial sharpshooter. There is a nice gag where Mando says that doesn’t mean much. “I wasn’t a stormtrooper!” is Mayfield’s retort. Pedro Pascal’s Game of Thrones co-star Natalia Tena is Xi’an, a slightly unhinged Twi’lek who hints at an intimate relationship with Mando back when they were part of an old gang. Quite how that works when he never removes his helmet is left up to your own imagination. Genre legend Clancy Brown plays Burg, a horned Devaronian who provides the groups muscle. Zero is the droid who rounds out the team and is used to pilot the Razorcrest through a series of precise manoeuvres that allow it to dock undetected. Richard Ayoade delivers the dulcet tones of Zero which I found somewhat distracting. If you aren’t familiar with him as a performer I suspect it wouldn’t be an issue but I found his idiosyncratic personality to be at odds with the character, especially in the latter half of the episode as he menacingly stalks Baby Yoda. Ayoade is a fantastic performer and he is many things but a ruthless assassin isn’t one of them.
The camaraderie, or lack thereof, of the group is played out well. As a former lover Xi’an gets to tease Mando about his stoic heroism, whilst Burg seeks to intimidate him physically. Mayfeld questions the Mandalorian about never removing his helmet and speculates that he might be a Gungan, like the much loathed Jar Jar, underneath. The banter is quite fun but takes a darker turn when baby Yoda s accidentally revealed. Mayfeld’s tone becomes much more menacing and even through his armour you can feel Mando tensing up. As the ship comes out of hyperspace and starts its extreme manoeuvres the viewer also feels this tension as Baby Yoda is thrown violently to the ground and Mando instinctively goes to protect him. It’s some very nice moments that show how much the bounty hunter has come to care for his one time prey.
Of course things do not go to plan. With such an untrustworthy group of misfits deception is the name of the game and it isn’t long before double-crosses and betrayals are put into place. Straight away Mando is alarmed to find out that it is not a rival syndicate holding the prisoner but a maximum security New Republic prison ship. He needn’t have worried though as it is crewed solely by an incompetent retinue of droids. This does allow however for some of the shows best action scenes so far. It is extremely gratifying to finally see a Mandalorian warrior in action as some close quarters combat puts pay to the pesky prison guards. The action scenes are extremely well choreographed and the visual effects are never less than anything you would expect to see in a big budget Hollywood movie. The prison ship with its endless and slightly redressed corridor sets isn’t as effective but everything does have that Star Wars feel. If there’s one thing The Mandalorian does well it’s managing to hit the nostalgia sweet spots.
A ticking clock element is introduced when an unexpected New Republic soldier is discovered and sets off a homing beacon before Xi’an ends his life with one of her seemingly endless supply of blades. In a nice cameo the soldier is played by Matt Lanter who fans will recognise as the voice of Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series. So now the prisoner rescue has a deadline and the stakes have been raised. The prisoner is revealed to be Xi’an’s brother Qin who promptly double-crosses Mando and leaves him locked up in a cell instead. From here they make the typical villain mistake of not killing the hero when you have him captured and instead give him ample opportunity to escape and come after you. The following fights are all nicely staged as Mando hunts down his betrayers one by one. Red emergency lighting lends an effective backdrop to this game of cat and mouse. Particularly effective visually are the shots of Mando sneaking up on Mayfeld as he vanishes and reappears in the flashes of a strobe light.
There is time for one last double-cross as Qin decides he’d rather live as a free man than help his sister and he and Mando are the only 2 that manage to escape from the prison ship. Wait a minute though! Things aren’t quite finished yet as yet another double-cross means that after Qin and Ranzar pay Mando for his work they then order his ship to be blown to smithereens. Obviously you can’t outfox a Mandalorian and a little bit of ingenuity with the homing beacon mean 3 New Republic x-wings come to his aid and finish off the betrayers for good. In a nice touch the x-wing pilots consist of directors Dave Filoni, Deborah Chow and Rick Famuyiwa. The latter being the director of The Prisoner. Just seeing classic x-wings in action again made this fanboy very happy indeed. Final shots of the surviving heist members languishing in a cell onboard the prison ship make me suspect we haven’t seen the last of them. It also shows that Mando is definitely softening a little as his old self would have disintegrated them without hesitation.
The Prisoner is certainly not classic television but it is better than the last 2 episodes of The Mandalorian. It continues to be an adventure of the week show which I suspect will be to its detriment. For rabid Star Wars fans it’s a good fix of weekly entertainment. For casual viewers I’d imagine they’d be wondering what all the fuss is about. With only 2 episodes left in this first season I hope that it gets back to the larger storyline and delivers a finale worthy of the Star Wars name.
Guessed the spoiler? Are modern audiences too savvy for TV show twists?
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum