After four episodes of waiting
impatiently for Ming-Na Wen to arrive onscreen in The Mandalorian, she’s finally here – in a big way. This episode is her’s just as much as it is Baby Yoda’s. In fact, even old Mando himself manages to make a decent case for why he should still be considered the protagonist of the show named after himself. I know, it’s all a bit shocking.
The fifth chapter of the hit streaming show, fittingly titled The Gunslinger, brings Mando and Baby Yoda to the familiar planet of Tatooine after their ship is damaged in a shootout at the beginning of the episode. Amateur bounty hunter Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale) enlists Mando’s help on a difficult mission while mechanic Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris) humorously parents the intergalactic infant superstar Baby Yoda. While I went into this episode more than slightly worried about the show’s slow-pacing and meandering storyline, I emerged with a renewed optimism regarding the final three episodes. Chapter 5 still goes off on a tangent and leads our heroes into a side-quest, but it also introduces a couple of new concepts and characters that, hopefully, are destined to stick around for a while longer and have some purpose in the plot (the pilot episode’s killer droid IG-11 and last week’s kind-hearted mercenary Cara Dune, while heavily promoted in the show’s marketing, have still only appeared in one episode each).
This episode also leans heavily on fanservice and callbacks – from the sparkly, unrealistic explosions in the opening dogfight, strongly reminiscent of A New Hope‘s pyrotechnics; to the setting on the iconic desert planet of Tatooine, and the appearance of Tusken Raiders, the Mos Eisley cantina, and pit droids. But director Dave Filoni has put a fun new spin on each of these elements (with the exception of the cantina, which is underutilized: we’ve seen so many space pubs in Star Wars by this point that the darkly-lit lair is hardly unique anymore, especially without Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes providing alien jazz). Toro Calican even dresses like Han Solo and sits in the very same booth as him, with his legs stretched across the table in Solo’s classic style – but don’t fear: Calican, despite also being a Corellian mercenary, proves himself to be a radically different character in the episode’s final minutes.
Speaking of which, we now have to talk about SPOILERS. You’ve been warned!
The big surprise in this episode is Ming-Na Wen’s appearance as fearsome assassin and former Hutt employee Fennec Shand, who is on the run in the deserts of Tatooine. Considering the way that the locals seem to have dealt with the stormtrooper threat, by mounting their heads on pikes in the streets of Mos Eisley, it’s understandable why she’d want to make a getaway. But she’s not able to escape before Calican and The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) come after her: Calican for fame, Mando for money. Though they capture her after a brief fight (which is, unfortunately, set in the middle of the night, making it hard to appreciate Wen’s real martial arts prowess), it’s not the end of her story. After trying to get Calican to free her from her shackles in exchange for her help in killing Mando and stealing his expensive suit of beskar steel armor, and then getting shot for her efforts, Shand is left supposedly dead in the desert, while Calican takes her advice and lays a trap for Mando, even going so far as to try and kidnap Baby Yoda in a heart-wrenching moment of terror. But while Calican is now dead dead (don’t ever mess with the enraged single father of a celebrity baby), Shand is possibly alive to fight another day: The Gunslinger‘s final scene shows a mysterious, cloaked character wearing metal spurs approaching her body. Who is it? We have no idea yet, but this mystery will hopefully be explained soon: as for whether Shand is still alive, we can only hope and pray. Her character, and Wen’s excellent performance, is already a series highlight.
And the Mandalorian himself? You know the drill by this point: he fixes his ship, and takes off for a destination to be determined next week. Baby Yoda is unharmed after the…sixth? seventh?…attempt on his life, but continues to be absolutely adorable. But for whatever reason, I’m willing to excuse the fact that this is the fourth episode in a row to end this way – Filoni’s direction, and the subtle hints and teases of another emerging storyline, have me feeling intrigued about Mando’s next destination, and what host of enemies and one-and-off allies he’ll find there. I think it’s about time we caught another glimpse of Werner Herzog’s antagonistic character, or ran into some Imperial survivors who might know something about Baby Yoda’s true identity, and why the Empire wants him so badly. Remember, that story was supposed to be this show’s throughline, once upon a time. We’ve all been so distracted by Baby Yoda memes, I think we’ve forgotten this thing has a plot.
As long as it has Ming-Na Wen, though, I’m happy.
What did you think of the episode? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Episode Rating: 8/10