This review contains spoilers for The Mandalorian, “Chapter 5: The Gunslinger.”
Last week I was fairly certain that The Mandalorian would have a few one-and-done episodes after its initial premiere, and it turns out my guess was mostly accurate. Like last episode, “The Gunslinger” is another self-contained episode, this time taking place on Tatooine and seeing the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) hunt a bounty alongside a rookie named Toro Calican (played by Jake Cannavale, son of Bobby Cannavale). Like in the previous episode, not much happens, but where that episode felt fairly dull and uninteresting, “The Gunslinger” is able to stand out for two central reasons.
First is the comedy. The Mandalorian hasn’t exactly been a barrel of laughs up to this point, which is perfectly fine. Not every show needs humor. However, this episode was filled with some pretty well-placed jokes and one-liners, usually at the expense of Toro. As a comedic pair, the Mandalorian plays a great straight man to Toro’s inexperienced, still green bounty hunter who seems to be more bluster than skill. I didn’t think I would enjoy the pairing of these two polar opposites, especially for how monotone the Mandalorian has been thus far, but the results prove otherwise.
The second reason was the sheer amount of Star Wars references at play here. While the series has been somewhat cautious about dipping too much into fan service, “The Gunslinger” feels like the creators just went all out with it. Setting it on Tatooine serves no purpose other than to give the show an excuse to reuse that familiar setting once more and mine fans for cheap thrills and callbacks.
And yet it works. There’s a charm to seeing the pit droids back again (this time working for a repairwoman named Peli Motto — played by Amy Sedaris of Bojack Horseman), heading back into the cantina, and encountering a few Tusken Raiders in the desert. Out of every planet in the grand Star Wars universe, Tatooine is probably one of, if not the most, iconic planets, so getting a chance to return to a familiar location feels like a homecoming of sorts.
There’s something to be said about having too much fan service in an episode, but considering that “The Gunslinger” is a literal pit stop, I see no reason not to indulge a bit. The themes introduced in this episode aren’t anything new. In fact, they’re recycled from previous episodes. By the end, the Mandalorian is being targeted once more by a bounty hunter, this time by a traitorous Toro, reemphasizing that The Mandalorian and the Child will never be safe. The Mandalorian learns (I think?) to be a better father figure to the Child, and they go flying off into space. Peli is a new ally to the pair, but the odds of that making a difference in the future seem slim to none. Since the show is treading familiar ground, the fan service is what kept me engaged.
I love to see some classic Star Wars imagery. Who ever thought the Tusken Raiders could be so civil? Watching the Mandalorian and Toro race across the Dune Sea in landspeeders filled me with memories of watching the prequel trilogy, but my favorite moment had to be seeing droids allowed inside the cantina. So much progress has been made for droid rights!
But as fun as those throwbacks were, the main plot of the episode felt half-hearted at best. The main antagonist of the episode, an elite mercenary by the name of Fennec (played by Ming-Na Wen of Mulan), feels underutilized — especially given how she’s played by Wen, who is a wonderful actress in her own right. She appears for only a few minutes, and while she does plant the idea for Toro to target the Mandalorian instead of her, her appearance feels perfunctory given that the results barely amount to anything. Her role is to just be a villain of the week, and a forgettable one at that.
As far as the Child is concerned — because that’s all that anyone on the internet seems to want to talk about now — he’s hardly in the episode. Some people may be sad about the lack of new “Baby Yoda” memes that “The Gunslinger” fails to produce, but this episode is more of a Mandalorian-focused episode. He’s not worried about protecting the Child; he’s more concerned with keeping his ship functional. Sure, it’s to keep the Child safe, but leaving him alone in his ship shows that he has a lot to learn about watching over kids — a sentiment that Peli echoes before they depart. In that regard, this episode feels similar to “The Child” a few weeks back, where the Mandalorian had to repair his ship and defeat a villain of the week in order to do so, but this episode trades in tense action for fan service and one-liners.
I enjoyed my time with “The Gunslinger.” It’s not a huge leap forward for the show since last week’s installment, but if the show is going to spin its wheels for a little bit, then they might as well have some fun with it and play with all of the coolest toys in the sandbox. I’m shocked that there are only three episodes left, and with plenty of avenues for the show to explore, I’m interested to see where The Mandalorian may take us.