Part of the success of The Mandalorian so far is the familiarity of the world. In each episode of Disney Plus’ series, audiences hang out with a familiar face (er, helmet) and a baby resembling Yoda. It’s Star Wars.
But they also get to go places in the Star Wars universe they’ve never gone before. It’s been an adventure into the dangerous unknown, with the laconic Mando as our guide. Up through episode 4, all of the fan service has been tucked into the corners of the frame. Chapter 5, however, slathers it on. The result is 30-odd minutes that play almost like a Star Wars parody, complete with a Han Solo cosplayer.
[Ed. note: This article contains spoilers for The Mandalorian chapter 5.]
“The Gunslinger” opens on a dogfight between the Mandalorian and an unnamed bounty hunter in deep space. I got a bad feeling about this episode when they cut inside the enemy cockpit to reveal an actor dressed in a flack helmet and a modern fighter pilot’s oxygen mask, like he was an extra from Sewer Shark. The overall production quality of episode 5 seems a bit lower than previous entries.
After the screaming is over, the Mandalorian radios down to Mos Eisley for clearance to land. When he does, Amy Sedaris (wearing hair inspired by Richard Simmons) is waiting to repair the Razor Crest. Trouble is that Mando’s come up short on credits, so he sidles on into the cantina — yes, that cantina — to find work.
For the next few moments The Mandalorian proceeds to ape one of the most iconic scenes in science fiction history, right down to someone sitting in Han Solo’s favorite spot with his feet up on the table. The creature work is excellent, truth be told, with a lizard-man and an ant-like thing in the background nursing drinks. But it’s all framed so precisely and so deliberately that it almost looks like a goof.
Inside the cantina our hero meets a rookie bounty hunter, played by Jake Cannavale, who needs help running down his first mark. The pair then proceed to mount up on two old-school, lean-back speederbikes and cruise out over the Dune Sea to hunt Fennec Shand, played by a woefully underutilized Ming-Na Wen. Just like inside the cantina, the camera work, the sound effects, even Cannavale’s flat delivery proceed to evoke the original movies. Except this time, it’s the worst moments from the prequel trilogy. The sight of Hayden Christensen, his Jedi robes flapping in the breeze as he rushes off to do some murders out beyond the Jundland Wastes, echoes through “The Gunslinger.”
The small scenes in between all these long digital crane shots is where Pedro Pascal’s performance blossoms. At one point he actually communicates with a pair of Tusken Raiders, the infamous “sand people” who have spent 40-odd years as Tatooine’s itinerant bad guys. But Mando actually speaks their language and negotiates safe passage for him and the rookie. There are so clearly other opportunities for storytelling to be found in the margins of the canonical Star Wars films.
The rest of chapter 5 is just okay, but it barely makes up for the cringes induced by the lead up. To be successful, The Mandalorian needs to keep going down the path of discovery. It needs to tell stories that run perpendicular the the famous films, branching out to show us something new. Simply walking along the well-trod paths that Star Wars fans have been ambling down for decades now isn’t going to earn Baby Yoda a second season.