This week's installment of The Mandalorian on Disney+ was directed by Rick Famuyiwa and written by Rick and Christopher Yost, a writer who wrote tons of superhero animated fare (for Marvel animation) and has a writing credit on two Thor movies (The Dark World and Ragnarok). This episode also has Yost nabbing a "Story by" credit in addition to his screenplay duties, which suggests that the idea of a prisoner heist was Yost's that was then developed by The Mandalorian team to become an episode of the show.
The Irish Mandalorian: "It Is What It Is"
"Chapter 6: The Prisoner" confirms that the episode titles aren't especially important. The titular prisoner of the episode is presumably the Twi'lek Quin, since the whole heist is structured around getting him off a New Republic prison transport. We don't learn much of anything about the Twi'lek's backstory. He has some pretty gnarly facial wounds and a sister who is good with knives, but like all previous episodes of The Mandalorian, there is not a ton of forward development.
The first few chapters of The Mandalorian were great, but these past two have been very slight, hewing close to the concept that any Star Wars content executed well enough to not be, well, the Prequel Trilogy, is worthy of excitement on its own. This is the Disney-owned era of Star Wars where all video games, comic books, novels, and The Mandalorian are absolute canon, and that comes with its positives and negatives. For one thing, seemingly nothing can happen on The Mandalorian. We're stuck on a treadmill of serialized adventuring that felt a lot more fresh back when television was something that was broadcast.
The Mandalorian is pulling teeth to move beyond the premise introduced in the final moments of the first episode and a fun twist in the second. Our mysterious Mando -- who never takes off his mask and is not Boba Fett -- found a child of the Yoda spices (SEO says call him Baby Yoda) and decided that instead of turning it in, he would protect it. Chapter Two introduced that the Child, aka Kid Green, had Force powers. The Kid could use the Force to lift up a Mudhorn and the ability surprised Mando.
And that's it. That's all that's happened on this show.
This isn't bad, but is a missed opportunity for Star Wars. This is a period of time in the fictional in-universe world where we could be exploring something the sequel series hasn't: What happened in the galaxy after we won? The movies are called "Star Wars" so every time we jump back into a cinematic conflict there's a literal WAR! going on, but Star Wars novels and expanded universe material has always been allowed to tell smaller stories of conflict within the galaxy. The Mandalorian seems content to just show us corners of this universe we assumed existed, rather than trying to build character or incident to something bigger than the sum of its fetch-quests.
The good news is that this can change on a dime the moment the show decides it wants to have substance because if there's anything the past two decades of franchise film-making has taught Disney an episodic serial of weekly adventures becomes a franchise as long as it keeps coming back.
Putting a team together
Cameos abound on this week of The Mandalorian, some more obvious than others. Thanks to my Vanity Fair companion Joanna Robinson for pointing out that the actor who played Qin, the jailed Twi'lek, is the Puerto Rican actor Ismael Cruz Cordova (check out Miss Bala if you want to see him actually do something). If he doesn't look familiar to you, maybe he looks familiar to your kids (or children in your vicinity, or babys Yoda in your house, right now) because as of 2014 he played Armando on Sesame Street. Which -- yeah -- this seems like stunt casting. First off, he does a great job letting the make-up do a lot of work to make Qin feel slimy and untrustworthy right from the start. But second, when you're the star of a Sesame Street segment called "What rhymes with Mando?" and you end up on the Mandalorian, it begs the question: "Did your Sesame Street character nickname score you a Disney+ Star Wars job?"
Qin and his sister Xi'an (Natalia Tena) are both of the Twi'lek speices, which is why they have sharp teeth and those head tenticles. They're both purple Twi'leks, skin-color wise, which is a rare breed of Twi'lek as far as movies and TV shows go. The Twi'leks as a species are usually associated with their home-planet Ryloth, which is located in the Outer Rim somewhat near Tatooine. In the original trilogy, you might remember a green Twi'lek that Jabba the Hutt kept as a slave dancer before dropping her into the Rancor pit. Natalia Tena and Ismael Cruz Cordova do great jobs playing the aliens and manage to not make the head tenticles look to stupid. Never doubt Tena, veteran of Harry Potter's Tonks and Game of Thrones' Osha, who even manages to make some sharp teeth and penchant for hissing work in the context of the heist.
Comedian Bill Burr shows up as Mayfield, the cocky mercenary who built himself a non-pivoting gun arm that deploys from his back (great for cover fire, useless for hitting anything) and Clancy Brown grunts his way through the episode as Burg is a big red Devaronian (the alien species that is red with devil horns). Clancy Brown! Mr. Krabs himself! Richard Ayoade voices a droid named "Zero!" All of these talented people trapped in a 38-minute episode that allows them for no more character development than having names and gimmicks.
We can stop and admire Zero, though, because Zero is a modified LOM-series protocol droid that has been allowed to crew up with bad guys, much like another original trilogy bounty hunter: 4-Lom! That's right, The Mandalorian continues to check off each species of Boba Fett's fellow bounty hunters as glimpsed in The Empire Strikes Back. We got an IG unit in the first episode, some Trandosians in the second, Dengar's a human so that's represented, and 4-Lom is echoed here in Zero. Now it's time for the insectoid species that the bounty hunter Zuckuss was part of to show up and complete the set...especially if that really was someone wearing Boba Fett's armor at the end of last week's episode.
Arrested under what authority?
The Razor Crest shows up at a floating outpost at the beginning of this week, having fled Tatooine last week and getting some repairs on the short rest. Because the Razor Crest is a Republic-era ship, it's "off the grid" according to Ran, the scrummy boss who runs crews out of the base. This makes sense since the Empire was all about registrations and codes during its reign (remember Han and company sneaking to the Forest Moon of Endor with an old code that checks out?) and the New Republic at this point is frantically trying to put some system into place for the galaxy.
The New Republic does not have a standing army, which explains why the prison transport is manned by droids and one single human pilot. After the New Republic battled the remnants of the Empire, finally running them out of the galaxy at the Battle of Jakku (about five years before the events of The Mandalorian), Mon Mothma immediately disbanded the standing Republic Army, much to the chagrin of Senator Leia Organa. Mon Mothma thought that disarmament was important for the galaxy that had just thrown off the facistic rule of the Empire, while Leia (rightfully) was the Warrior Princess, seeing the pieces of the First Order starting to come together. That's why, in The Force Awakens, Leia is off with a splinter Resistance and not on Hosnian Prime to be blown up with the rest of the New Republic government: Leia realized they needed to fight while the New Republic remained focused on maintaining order.
The New Republic are the closest thing we've been shown on the series to a controlling government, even if they seem to have a tenuous hold on the Outer Rim. They have the authority to arrest people like a police force, but also don't have full representative control over the galaxy. We probably shouldn't think too deeply about this, lest we come to the conclusion that The New Republic is arresting citizens of smaller governments that disagree with them. Maybe The New Republic has a "most wanted" list of criminals who are, I dunno, stealing Imperial scrap? We're not given a reason in episode to think that Qin is a good person, so we're probably supposed to accept that The New Republic arresting people is just fine. Otherwise all law would be left to the Bounty Hunters (which, if all the bounties are "bail jumpers" might already be happening). We have a chain of what happens to those that the Mando captures: some go to private clients, others go to the new government.
Where to now?
These side adventures have been fun, but The Mandalorian has fallen into the streaming-television sarlacc pit of a mid-season slump. It's fun to see these small Star Wars stories every week, tally up the cameos and familiar elements, watch The Mandalorian get into a fight where the odds are against him (but he'll always win). However, The Mandalorian hasn't done a great job at balancing its stakes. The first three episodes told one narrative setting up that every bounty hunter in the galaxy was after Kid Green (Baby Yoda) except for our main guy, who decided to protect it. Since that decision, stuff has been happening, but we're no closer to a conclusion or even a statement of importance.
Kid Green (Baby Yoda) has paid off: it's made The Mandalorian a show that must be talked about and meme'd. This week, Hasbro finally unveiled the more official "The Child" merchandise, available for pre-order and shipped next May. The Child is a marketing goldmine that has been sidelined for two episodes so we could see Star Wars recreations of classic adventure stories. This week, The Child doesn't even show up until we're on the heist, and his purpose seems to be...just to be there?
Until, at the end of the episode, Mando turns to Kid Green and says "I told you that was a bad idea."
Is Kid Green calling the shots? It didn't even occur to me until the end of the episode that we didn't see whatever brought Mando into the job in the first place. Presumably the Mandalorian needs money for fuel (he gave all the money from last week to Amy Sedaris). Ran and his collective of criminals were somewhere that still pays in credits, so he must have stopped off to make some money on his way to find a safe place for Kid Green, but that line sounds like there was some discussion about what to do next? It's probably just babysitter like talking to a small child, creating a sidekick in your mind by projecting a personality on a child, but it's funny to think Kid Green is getting a taste for space crime.
The Mandalorian is a very simple show that wants to share all the Star Wars cake with its friends, but in struggling to be exciting without being definitive about anything, the questions start piling up: Is Boba Fett back? Where is Mando going to stash Kid Green? Are we going to see the whole flashback of our main character? How about just his face?
Oh, no, Midichlorians
This week, The Child holds up his hand to use The Force to protect itself when Zero discovers him...but Mando blasts the bot before anything could float, causing The Child to look at his hand like "Did I do that?" Or that's how the scene plays to an audience ready for cute baby moments from "Baby Yoda." Maybe that look at his own hand was more "why isn't this working?"
It has been a long time since we've seen Kid Green use The Force. A noticeably long time considering how helpful he wanted to be in "Chapter 2." The Child has been by Mando's side, in the care of a babysitter, or on the Razor Crest in his hidey-hole for most of the season -- except for the brief period of time he was given to Wener Herzog's The Client and the mysterious Dr. Pershing. We don't know what the Doctor or The Client wanted with Kid Green, we only saw him being medically scanned when Mando came back to rescue him.
If Kid Green has medically had the Force removed from him, that opens up a whole can of worms that has so far only been hinted at with the Kamino Cloning Facility patch on Dr. Pershing's arm. If you can remove the Force through science, that means there's a particle or being that you can identify that makes an individual powerful in the Force. We've had this discussion with Master Qui Gon Jinn before: it's the midichlorians in your blood.
When Yoda or Luke Skywalker talk about The Force, it's a binding power that exists between all things. Life creates it and it influences life. That's a mystical and beautiful way to think about something, but it's not a scientific way of thinking about something. Midichlorians were the Jedi's way of understanding The Force in quantifiable terms and like a lot of things the Jedi did in the Republic Era, it was an example of the order's hubris thinking it could control The Force.
It's possible there's nothing to be worried about -- either because Kid Green is choosing not to use The Force and I'm ascribing too much plot to a fun, if slight, space action show or because he's simply been drained momentarily and not fully Force-Nulled. The bounty hunters of the galaxy are still out to kill the tyke, so he's not a cute-but-useless husk of a Force user, maybe as he ages his...blood...naturally replenishes...midichlorians…sorry, typing that felt ridiculous.
At this point, I'd prefer it not be over-explained on the show (that's my job), but I'm not against some sort of heist to get The Child's Force powers back. At least that adventure would have consequences and stakes I understood.
This purposeful exclusion of more Force tricks is one of the only contributions to the full season plot these last three episodes have made as far as I can tell, so it's leading somewhere.
Other Stray Blaster Bolts
This week, I've come to terms that the Razor Crest literally has big yellow "R" shapes painted on its side. R for Razor Crest. Which...fine. A lot of ships in the Star Wars universe are named after what letter they are shaped like, so it's not the dumbest thing.
Xi'an the Twi'lek gets to do something not a lot of Star Wars characters get to do: kill Anakin Skywalker. Well, sort of. The New Republic guard who catches a knife to the neck this week was played by Matt Lanter, who voices Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Did those X-Wing pilots look familiar? They're Mandalorian director cameos! The white guy is Dave Filoni himself, the other guy is Rick Famuyiwa (director of this episode) and the woman is Deborah Chow who directed "Chapter 3."
The four-armed alien we see in a jail cell is called a Ardennian, the first of his species we ever saw was in Solo: A Star Wars Story with Rio Durant, a character voiced by Jon Favreau.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Where's Giancarlo Esposito and his Death Troopers?
Heads up! Next week's episode of The Mandalorian debuts on Wednesday the 18th, not the usual Friday drop date. It's almost like they want you to go see The Rise of Skywalker in theaters next weekend.