Ah, the heist episode. A time-honored tradition in long-running episodic television (not to mention an entire cinematic genre unto itself so well-worn that Rick and Morty had an entire parody episode about it recently) and the basic structure for the latest installment of the Disney+ live-action Star Wars series The Mandalorian, entitled “Chapter 6 – The Prisoner”.
It seems Mando (played by Pedro Pascal, though perhaps mostly in voice-over) is still looking for some work to help pay for his new life as caretaker of Baby Yoda, so he pays a visit to an old friend that we, the audience, haven’t met before: gang leader Ranzar Malk (ubiquitous character actor Mark Boone Junior of Christopher Nolan’s Memento and Batman Begins, among 150+ other roles in TV and film). Malk has heard about our protagonist’s recent dust-up with the Bounty Hunters’ Guild, but he’s still willing to hire Mando for old times’ sake, so he hooks him up with a new crew led by a bald-headed, trash-talking ex-Imperial mercenary named Mayfeld (stand-up comic Bill Burr, who also had a recurring role as Saul Goodman’s lackey Patrick Kuby on Breaking Bad).
Other members of Mando’s temporary new squad include a possible ex-fling Twi’lek named Xi’an (Natalia Tena of the Harry Potter movie franchise), the “muscle”: a Devaronian called Burg (Clancy Brown, another prolific character actor best known for his parts in The Shawshank Redemption and Starship Troopers), and a no-nonsense pilot droid known as Zero voiced by British comedian / filmmaker Richard Ayoade of The IT Crowd. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of immediately recognizable faces and speech patterns, which is also the point of a heist, right? Putting together a crew of some of the best people in the business to pull off a difficult job?
And this time the task at hand is to rescue a prisoner (hence the chapter’s title) from a New Republic correctional transport ship manned only by more droids– or so the gang believes. It turns out the detainee is Xi’an’s renegade brother Qin (Ismael Cruz Cordova of In The Blood and Mary Queen of Scots), but the specifics of the mission aren’t of much importance to the grand scheme of things. What matters is this episode puts the Mandalorian squarely out of his element. He’s the low man on the totem pole, bullied by his teammates and forced to prove himself to people who don’t really give much of a hoot about him.
In a cast of ringers, the scene-stealer here is undeniably Bill Burr, playing an overbearing intergalactic hooligan who becomes a villain the moment he drops Baby Yoda when the Razor Crest unexpectedly comes out of Hyperspace. Burr, like Werner Herzog before him, is not the type to enjoy Star Wars prior to his own involvement in it, which makes his performance all the more interesting, especially in little gags like when Mayfeld does an impromptu impression of a Gungan. And yes, as usual, this episode features a long list of Easter Egg-style nods to other Star Wars media, like a reference to the casino at Canto Bight from The Last Jedi, but to my mind these serve a dual purpose of furthering the world-building and establishing this galaxy as a real place traveled by seasoned characters.
The heist, of course, does not quite go off without a hitch and the crew ends up somewhat predictably betraying our hero, leaving him to rot in one of the ship’s prison cells after they extricate Qin. But despite having seen a display of his combat prowess earlier on against a gaggle of security droids, the group underestimates Mando and finds themselves in something of an Alien situation, being picked off one-by-one in eerie corridors with blinking lights. This also mirrors the situation aboard the Crest, where Baby Yoda toys with Zero by essentially haunting the ship after the droid discovers The Child’s potential value, thanks to a leftover holo-communication from Greef Carga (Carl Weathers, appearing in recycled footage from a previous episode).
There are so many wonderful wonderful visual moments in this action-packed episode it may take several viewings to fully absorb them all, but suffice it to say that the Mandalorian reinforces his willingness to be ruthless when necessary in more than a few scenes, though the final reveal suggests that hanging out with Baby Yoda may in fact be softening him just a tiny bit. And the third-act cameo appearances by series producer Dave Filoni and directors Rick Famuyiwa and Deborah Chow as New Republic X-Wing starfighter pilots seal the deal that this is the chapter everyone wanted to put their stamp on, in a series that somehow continues to one-up itself.
With only two installments remaining in The Mandalorian’s first season, I would guess we’ll be seeing more of Herzog’s character “The Client” soon enough, and we still haven’t even met Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon. The more impatient viewers who want the overarching plot to move forward rather than enjoy these pesky excellent stand-alone episodes will probably want to tune in over the next couple weeks.
The Mandalorian Chapters 1 through 6 are now available to stream exclusively on Disney+.