We’re halfway through the first season of The Mandalorian, and the series just delivered what is probably its most fan-servicey episode to date. Chapter 5, “The Gunslinger,” finds Mando landing on the oh-so-familiar desert planet of Tatooine to get his ship serviced, then heading over to the Mos Eisley Cantina to look for work. That’s, like, a straight flush of Star Wars references, instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever even heard of A New Hope — all it’s missing is a drive-by of Uncle Owen’s old moisture farm ruins. Mando could have landed on any planet and walked into any bar and the plot would have worked out the same. Using Tatooine just allowed the series to coast on our recognition so it could cut to the chase (literally, in this case) while guaranteeing we got a solid dose of warm fuzzies along the way.
Hiring Ming-Na Wen to play the dangerous mercenary Fennec Shand was another sort of fan service, if you’re in the camp that believes Disney should continue putting Agent May in everything all the time (I most certainly am) — which is why it came as a bit of a shock to see her character killed off by the end of the episode. I realized that I’d sort of taken this season’s incredible roster of guest stars for granted, assuming that The Mandalorian was just stacking its universe full of familiar faces that it could bring back when it needed to, and her character was the one I was most excited about. On the other hand, the manner of her death was itself a sort of shout-out to the original trilogy as far as I’m concerned. After all, Fennec Shand was built up as this massive threat, only to be defeated by a newbie thanks to her own advice. Forget Mando — she’s the Boba Fett of this tale, and she may as well have fallen face-first into a Sarlacc Pit.
And then there’s the fan service that was targeted specifically to me: Amy Sedaris playing
a mechanic named Peli Motto Jerri Blank doing a goddamn Ellen Ripley impersonation, all while cooing at Baby Yoda like its one of her real-life pet bunnies. That’s the moment that broke me, and made me realize that I’m just not going to be able to be unbiased about this show whatsoever. It was one thing when I could sort of separate the way Baby Yoda shakes me, from my eyeballs down to my uterus, from the rest of the goings-on, but then Sedaris recreated her Strangers With Candy strut and I just… could… not… breathe. Star Wars is fine and all — I like it! It’s neat! — but Sedaris is MY Jedi, and the fact that The Mandalorian gave her to me in this package means that it’s got me in the bag completely. Just tell Werner Herzog to stick a fork in me, cuz I’m DONE.
So yes, I love this show, but I say that while knowing that certain elements are overshadowing the overall narrative. If I set aside the meme-able content and “oh sh*t!” moments, what’s left? Outlaw dude on the run with a baby. That’s it, and it’s enough for me, but I’m sensing that other people’s mileage may vary. Not much has happened so far, and I think the show has gotten away with that by keeping the episodes at a spare 30 mins each. Mando has no end goal in sight, and he has no plan. We don’t know why Baby Yoda is important other than maybe midichlorians or whatever. The villain is the remains of the Empire, but really it’s whatever nameless bounty hunter has taken their commission and tripped into Mando in any given episode. This status quo is inexhaustible, really — or at least it relies not on Mando’s actions but on the outside forces stepping up their game to change things. Our heroes are a faceless man who is just getting by, and a powerful child who can’t talk. The pace is oddly meditative. It’s impressive that the show works as well as it does, but it’s also obvious that at some point, something gotta give. Or at least happen.
Which brings me to the end of the episode, when a mysterious figure approaches Fennec Shand’s corpse in the desert. Most fans are speculating that this character will be revealed to be Moff Gideon, the Imperial officer played by Giancarlo Esposito. At one point Shand mentioned she was on her way to a rendezvous in Mos Espa, and the theory is that she was supposed to be meeting with Gideon — perhaps to take a job from him, the same way Mando originally took the job from The Client. When she didn’t show up, he came looking for her. What this will mean for Mando, I’m not entirely sure. He’s already got the remnants of the Empire looking for him, so what’s one more part of that organization going to matter? Besides, he isn’t the one who killed Shand — though that likely won’t matter, because as soon as any signs point to his involvement, he becomes the most important piece of the puzzle regardless. The point is that, one way or another, things might finally be starting to heat up for Mando, just in time for the last three episodes of the season.
Just don’t go expecting any real resolution. After all, The Mandalorian has already been picked up for a second season, so there’s plenty of time for this Bounty Hunter & Baby team to continue wandering aimlessly around the galaxy.
Header Image Source: Disney/LucasFilm