The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda's Big Day on Tatooine
This week, we dive into the second half of The Mandalorian with "Chapter Five: The Gunslinger." There's only three more episodes left in the first season after this one, and the Star Wars live-action series with the flavor of a Western (or a Ronin series) keeps playing those genre hits in the mid-season.
Last week's episode saw the Mando defending a village from raiders in exchange for momentary room and board for him and The Child (Baby Yoda). However, the blue krill planet of Sorgen wasn't safe enough, and Mando had to take off to protect his charge (lest we and the entire internet turn on the show). This week's episode begins with a space battle that forces Mando to make a pit stop on a certain planet named Tatooine, where he meets a young bounty hunter named Toro Calican who Calican't hold a flare to Han Solo no matter how much he tries. The episode also brings Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actress Ming-Na Wen in for what is basically a glorified cameo, as well as Amy Sedaris for a comedic role that could have been an outtake from the Star Wars Holiday Special.
With my version of the opening crawl over, let's go back to the birthplace of Anakin Skywalker and see what we can sift out of the dust.
As soon as Mando gets hailed during his descent by the Mos Eisley tower, Star Wars fans of old had to know this was going to be an Easter egg-filled episode, and "The Gunslinger" delivered, even if it came in a little soft on impact. Chunks of the episode are spent slathering fan service over the location and recapping events. With episodes that consistently clock in under 50 minutes, there was both too much and too little to do on Tatooine.
For the Mandalorian, the character, nothing really changed this week. Episode writer and director Dave Filoni knows from his work running Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels that zero character change is a bad thing, and it's especially jarring this week after an episode where Mando almost settled down with a nice widow who could handle herself a blaster. "Chapter 2" of the series also had Mando off on one of these side quests on a different desert planet (Nevarro -- not like the last name of Dave Navarro from Jane's Addiction, although it sounds the same), but the Jawa and mudhorn side plot at least had Mando learning some things -- lots of things! He learned how to ride a blurrg in that episode, and here we are spared a montage and cut to Mando riding a dewback like a professional.
Don't get me wrong, it's fantastic to see the dewbacks again and all the other Easter eggs, but I'm just trying to grapple with an episode of The Mandalorian where nothing happens, because it's a new feeling for us, the Kid Green (Baby Yoda) obsessives. Why does this episode seem so inconsequential, considering the incident it presents? There's a feeling I can't shake, a theory about why Dave Filoni helmed this episode as writer-director, and that's this: Something that happens in this episode will turn out to be super-important, but we just don't know yet what that might be.
It could be that Fennic Shard (Ming-Na Wen's contribution to an episode with great character names) and her untimely death will have significant consequences for the remaining episodes. A lesser possibility is that that Peli Motto, Amy Sedaris' hilarious dock worker, is destined to be the Owen Lars to Kid Green, protecting him on Tatooine in some future circumstance. I really hope the mysterious person who walked up to and stood over Fennic Shard's lifeless body at the end of the episode doesn't wind up being Boba Fett (or someone in Boba Fett's armor), because that sounds dumb. But if we're not going to deal with Boba Fett, or something else that significantly connects The Mandalorian to the original movies or prequels, or even the spin-offs, why did we go back to Tattooine at all, other than for fan service?
That's said, the Hutts get a shout-out (Fennic did some work for them back in the day), the Tusken Raiders show up (although to basically do nothing), and Mando hits the Mos Eisley cantina (where -- blasphemy! -- there is a droid behind the bar), which is all fun.
A tale of two desert planets
Now that The Mandalorian has taken us to Tatooine proper, we can look back on the two desert planets of the series and contrast them to learn a little bit about the Outer Rim. The first desert planet, Nevarro, is home to the Bounty Hunter's Guild, the town of Niktos, Jawas, the mudhorn and Kuiill the farming Ugnaught. Also, and more importantly, the Empire still has some sway on Nevarro. Werner Herzog's Client had a couple of stormtroopers guarding him and no one made much of a fuss about it. Mando even told Greef Carga that this far out in space, the New Republic is a joke. The Mandalorian enclave also chose Nevarro for its headquarters, suggesting it is a bigger and more heavily trafficked system than Tatooine.
Luke Skywalker described Tatooine as a planet far from the bright center of the galaxy in A New Hope. It is distant and remote -- remote enough that the Hutts ran Tatooine until Jabba was choked to death, and the Empire had an uneasy presence there. It's very interesting to see Tatooine for the first time following the events in Return of the Jedi. For one: it looks like the planet had a native insurrection after the Battle of Endor. There are stormtrooper helmets placed on pikes in Mos Eisley. In the special edition of Return of the Jedi, Mos Eisley is included in the ending montage of planets celebrating the defeat of the Emperor along with Endor, Naboo, and Coruscant. I wonder if all of those planets had instant civilian overthrows of the Empire when Death Star II blew up? They all had a very good reason to. Keep in mind this is a time period where everyone would have heard the legend of the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker, and they would have known he was from Tatooine. Maybe the Lars homestead is, like, a museum of the Rebellion these days.
As I said, some things about using Tatooine here strike me as weird -- like, why introduce the concept of "off-world Jawas" if the show was, in fact, going to go to the Jawas' home world and not show Jawas there? Why include the Tusken Raiders as stand-ins for Native American guides (while this is a bit of a stretch, it's the trope they fill in this story... but hey, at least no no in Chapter 5 refers to them as "sand people")? It's messy.
Fox and Bull
If Disney+ knew that naming a character Fennic like the fennic fox and calling another character Toro like the Spanish word for bull would get the Zorro (which means fox in Spanish) theme stuck in my head, good play, corporation.
Just in case you didn't catch that the episode wanted you to compare Toro and Han Solo, Toro is introduced with his feet up in "about to shoot Greedo" position and in the same booth where Han killed the Rodian nine years earlier. I might have mixed feelings about the droid bartender (Wuher, the original barman, did not allow droids in his cantina), but I'm very happy that the cantina repaired the blaster bolts in the wall -- or did they?
You see (*pushes glasses up nose*) if Greedo shot at Han after saying "Maclunkey" (and Han didn't shoot first), then there'd be a blaster bolt hole in the wall next to Toro's head. But there is not a blaster bolt here in the episode, suggesting that they fixed it or that... GREEDO NEVER SHOT AT HAN. You hear that, George Lucas? We had to go back to Tatooine to fix this mess, to which I say, "Maclunkey."
Back to the Bounty Hunters. Toro Calican's cockiness betrays how new he is at the bounty hunter game: he chooses all of his double-crosses poorly. First, he gets saved by Mando when he's fighting Fennic, then he shoots Fennic after Mando cops a Boba Fett line about her not being good to them dead (it felt very nostalgic to hear not-a-clone-voice say that line -- thanks, special editions), then gets shot in the head when his Mando double-cross goes wrong. Toro is played by Jake Cannavale, Bobby Cannavale's son, and he does a good job in this role with portraying cocky entitlement. This upstart bounty hunter thinks he has it all figured out to the point that he tries a double double-cross on his first mission. That's a gamble.
Fennic Shard is such a good name and Ming-Na Wen is so good in everything she's in, so it's disappointing that she's gone, getting a blaster bolt to the midsection and collapsing in the Tatooine desert. The fight between her and Toro was fine, if under-lit, as it took place at night and both of the fighters were wearing primarily black. It was a little difficult to see, but mostly difficult to remember because of its darkness and inconsequence. How could such a cool character live her entire on-screen life on a rock in Tatooine? ONE ROCK! Sure, she had the high ground (big prequel vibes), but she was supposed to be some badass assassin with a contact in Mos Espa (where the Phantom Menace podrace happens).
What a waste. I know no one wants clones to make a big comeback in the Star Wars universe and that Ming-Na Wen's other show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. already has Life Model Decoys, but... but... Fennic was so cool! Plus, she had cool hair and a cool helmet! No one since Princess Leia wearing make-up under a helmet in Return of the Jedi has managed to pull that off. Clone her!
Obligatory Kid Green check-in
There's not a lot of character development this week for Kid Green, aka The Child, unofficially and SEO aka "Baby Yoda." The puppet is making more sounds that the subtitles describe as "babbling" and it's making me wonder if we're building toward its first words. That could be very cute. Dangerously cute for this series that is NOT called The Child but is called The Mandalorian and is presumably about bounty-hunting.
Kid Green spends most of the episode with Amy Sedaris and her pit droids (yet another prequel reference), but unlike the children of Sorgen, Peli and the droids don't make much of an emotional impression on the young tyke. Kid Green also seems very calm under pressure during the opening space battle, which is good news for future space battles.
Nitpicky question: if the Razor Crest has a carbonite freezer on it and all carbonite frozen prisoners are in floating slabs, couldn't Mando make a slab of nothing and use the floating tech to make a new crib or floating platform for his little buddy? Kid Green does NOT like being left alone and he is still very bad at power walking.
Other stray blaster bolts
• Swoop bikes! The speeders used in this episode have a very specific name and played a big part in the Nintendo 64 game Shadows of the Empire. This isn't them being reintroduced to canon, though: In Solo: A Star Wars Story, the Enfys Nest gang rode swoop bikes. This is just me getting excited for Shadows of the Empire.
• I didn't notice until it landed, but the Mando's ship, the Razor Crest literally has a big orange "R" painted on it.
• "She's no good to us dead" is a direct line that's meant to reference a Boba Fett line, but Fennic having the high ground and Mando knowing that means don't attack is too unsubtle not to be a reference.
• The first shot of Tatooine is eerily similar to the first view of it we get in the special edition of A New Hope.
• There's a red R5 unit in the Mos Eisley cantina and, since this is Tatooine, I'm going to say it: RED FIVE LIVES -- and specifically the one from A New Hope (the Jawas fixed him and sold him to the cantina's new management when Wuher moved on). This is canon to me now.
• Where's Giancarlo Esposito? Could he be the unseen figure standing over Fennic's body at the end?
• There is finally official Kid Green merchandise available for pre-order! The plushie will come out this spring, and the item reads in part: "Figure resembles a 'Baby Yoda' but is referred to as ''the Child.'" I'm going to have to take that as my win.
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