Way back when The Mandalorian began I noted that the story is essentially a Western decorated with space opera trappings. Now that episode 5 – titled The Gunslinger – has been released I think it is safe to say that Disney is running full speed ahead with the Western tropes. That is not a bad thing as these elements are well suited to the story of a bounty hunter who is now the prey of other bounty hunters. Let’s take a closer look at this episode and as usual, expect spoilers.
As you may recall, the previous episode ended with the Mandalorian contemplating leaving Baby Yoda with a woman at a farming settlement. When an assassin attempted to kill the child, the Mandalorian realizes that they will both have to leave the planet and search for a safe refuge. The Gunslinger picks up at this point with a space dogfight against another bounty hunter. It’s kind of funny that dogfights in outer space are a staple element of star Wars and yet we made it all the way to the fifth episode of this series without seeing a proper ship-on-ship battle. It’s a nicely done scene with the ships doing rolls and evasive manuevers. The Mandalorian is protected by plot armor though and vanquishes his foe. His ship has sustained damage though and has leaked a considerable amount of fuel so he makes arrangements to land at a familiar place. He goes to Mos Eisley spaceport on the planet of Tattooine.
Leaving Baby Yoda to sleep on his ship, the Mandolarian enlists the help of a scruffy mechanic named Peli (played by Amy Sedaris) to repair his ship while he wanders off in search of work.
Ever since The Force Awakens premiered back in 2015 critics have accused Disney of going overboard with fan service moments by reaching way back into the Star Wars lore and that criticism would equally apply to this episode. The Mandalorian walks into the very same cantina that we first saw way back in A New Hope and I could swear that the bartender is the droid that served Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi. That is ironic since the former bartender was adamant that they do not serve droids. I suppose Tattooine has become more progressive since the fall of the Empire.
As if we haven’t seen enough nods to A New Hope in The Gunslinger, we find an aspiring bounty hunter named Toro (Jake Cannavale) sitting in the very same booth where a legendary scoundrel once relaxed before becoming involved in some minor tiff about shooting first. Toro wants to enlist the help of the Mandalorian to capture a well known assassin named Fennec Shand (pplayed by Ming-Wa Nen). Toro needs this capture in order to be accepted into the bounty hunter Guild and is willing to let the Mandalorian have all of the cash in return for his help. Meanwhile, Baby Yoda wakes up and Peli sscoops him up and much like real world fans of the series, falls in love with the little guy. Peli originally plans to chaarge extra for babysitting the tike but she is clearly smitten with Baby Yoda; it’s a sweet, humanizing moment in a series full of aliens and blasters.
Toro and the Mandalorian locate Fennec Shand and manage to subdue her (after making a comment about her having the high ground – yeah, you get it.) Toro stays to guard the assassin while the Mandalorian fetches a dewback they encountered earlier so they can transport their prisoner back to Mos Eisley. While he is gone Fennec attempts to bargain for her life by pointing out that capturing the Mandalorian would bring in a far higher bounty. I really love this scene as we see the wheels turning in Toro’s head as he realizes she is right. Not that it does Fennec any good. Toro kills her and leaves her body in the desert. When our hero returns and finds her body he instantly realizes what has happened and makes his way back to the spaceport. I want to point out how excellent Pedro Pascal really is in the role of the titular bounty hunter. He wears a helmet that masks his entire face and yet we can sense what he is feeling just from his body language. Trust me, it can be very difficult to convey emotion without the audience being able to see your facial expressions and Pascal does this very well.
Back at the ship we see why this episode was titled The Gunslinger as Toro tightly clutches Baby Yoda while aiming his blaster at the Mandalorian. It’s a classic standoff between the two but unfortunately for Toro, he is simply not as skilled or as experienced as our hero. Toro falls dead and Baby Yoda is reunited with his bounty hunter-turned-guardian. The Mandalorian pays Peli for the repairs and the two continue their journey.
The Gunslinger is an enjoyable episode in its own right but I cannot help but feel that this is an obvious filler episode. There are plenty of classic Star Wars throwbacks for longtime fans and while some may criticize the show for that, I love that the writers are reaching deep into the lore and giving this show more texture.