TV Review: “The Mandalorian” Chapter 5 – “The Gunslinger”

Warning: this review contains thorough spoilers for episode 5 of The Mandalorian.

We’ve visited other Tatooine-like desert planets before on The Mandalorian, but this week (in an episode entitled “Chapter 5: The Gunslinger”) the Disney+ live-action Star Wars series actually set down on the famous former home of Luke Skywalker and his father Anakin– the first planet seen in the original Star Wars film.

After a harrowing space battle while being pursued by another bounty hunter mid-journey, the Mandalorian must land his yet-again-damaged ship the Razor Crest in Mos Eisley Spaceport (yep, that wretched hive of scum and villainy) and hires a local mechanic named Peli Motto, played with the usual amusingly oddball eccentricities by comedian Amy Sedaris of Comedy Central’s Strangers with Candy and Netflix’s BoJack Horseman. This series has a knack for casting unlikely guest stars, and Sedaris was indeed a welcome one.

Of course our protagonist foolishly leaves behind Baby Yoda sleeping in his ship, and Motto soon discovers him (her? it?), but instead of acting menacingly toward The Child, she cares for the adorable little creature– with the intent of charging Mando more for babysitting upon his return. Meanwhile, the title character pays a visit to another very familiar location from A New Hope, namely Mos Eisley Cantina (formerly known as Chalmun’s Cantina), which has apparently changed its no-droid policy to the point where the droid detector has been entirely removed and the bar is even being operated by EV droids.

Here, Mando is looking for work outside the Bounty Hunters Guild (since he kind of burned that bridge a couple episodes ago) but stumbles across a newbie hunter called Toro Calican, played by Jake Cannavale of Nurse Jackie. I didn’t think Cannavale turned in the best performance in this episode, but he’s the real-life son of series creator Jon Favreau’s buddy– and Chef costar– Bobby Cannavale, so he must have been doing the guy a favor. Anyway, Calican wants to join the guild, and he needs the Mandalorian’s help to catch the target that will grant him entry: Fennec Shand, an elite mercenary played by Ming-Na Wen of Mulan and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fame.

The two travel out past the Dune Sea on speeder bikes, cross paths with some Tusken Raiders, and I was half expecting them to come upon the wreckage of Jabba’s Sail Barge, but instead they enter into a sniper stand-off with Shand in the desert, wait out the night True Grit-style, and then spring a flash-charge attack that ends with Shand captured but one of the speeder bikes destroyed. Naturally where it goes from there is with the Mandalorian betrayed by Calican after he learns about the events on Nevarro (where Mando shot up the guild and escaped with Baby Yoda) and our hero having to ride back through the desert on Dewback. The final confrontation in Docking Bay 25– I guess they had enough restraint not to use 94– sees Calican dead and The Child reunited with his protector once again.

This episode may have been the most fan service-y installment in a series already built around fan service as a groundwork, but it still played wonderfully for me. I found it very interesting to see what changes have come to Mos Eisley in the years since Luke left, loved learning a little bit more about the Tuskens (are they the only actual native sentient species to Tatooine? Certainly this show has raised the question whether Jawas may be even more nomadic that we previously thought), and even got a giggle from seeing Motto’s pit droids goof around in a way that felt somewhat more organic than their appearance in The Phantom Menace.

I’ve heard complaints that these middle episodes aren’t moving the plot along enough, but I appreciate the effort to couch these smaller, self-contained adventures into the larger narrative. In a scripted television landscape mostly populated by heavily serialized series like Game of Thrones and Watchmen, it’s kind of refreshing to see a throwback to something where each chapter can be slightly more self-contained. Still, the final shot of this episode teases the promise that there will be more to come out of Shand’s untimely fate (I also think it’s funny how cavalierly The Mandalorian kills off its hyped-up supporting cast), so as always, we’ll have to wait until next week to find out where that goes. For now, I’m still excited that this show even exists and has thus far absolutely lived up to its boundless potential.

The Mandalorian Chapters 1-5 are now available to stream exclusively on Disney+.