Part of what makes the Mandalorian such a compelling character is that he’s great at his job but he’s never superhumanly great at his job. Each episode finds him getting into a scrap he might not be able to escape, be it a showdown in which he takes on seemingly every bounty hunter hanging around Greef Karga or leaving the Razor Crest unattended again and again. (Okay, maybe he’s not that great at his job?) If he were invincible, it would be a far less intriguing show, no matter how cute the puppet at his side. Of course, the Child also helps make him vulnerable. The Mandalorian might be covered in Beskar steel, but the Child isn’t. When his charge is threatened, the Mandalorian may as well be naked.
This week opens with the first real dogfight of the series, and for a moment it looks as if the Mandalorian and the Child won’t get out of this one alive. His opponent has him in his sights, he loses an engine … even the Child looks worried. Then the rival bounty hunter makes the mistake of using the Mandalorian’s tagline (“I can bring you in warm, or I can bring you in cold”), and it’s game over thanks to some fancy (if self-destructive) flying. They win, but repairs and fuel loss necessitate landing at the nearest friendly(ish) port: a popular Outer Rim spot named Mos Eisley on familiar planet called Tatooine.
The Mandalorian offers us our first look at Luke and Anakin’s home planet after the fall of the Empire, and all signs suggest that it isn’t much missed. Stormtrooper helmets rest on pikes, still bearing traces of blood. Other than that, the place looks much as it always has, only quieter. The streets don’t bustle with Jawas and other dubious patrons, and the cantina, now tended by a droid, remains suspiciously quiet. (Maybe it’s the Modal Nodes’ afternoon off?) Perhaps Jabba’s death has thinned out the scum and villainy a bit.
Not that everyone hanging around is on the up-and-up. After landing, the Mandalorian meets Peli Motto (a previously unannounced Amy Sedaris wearing a spectacular wig). They reach an agreement that she’ll repair the Razor Crest without using any of her co-workers, a trio of seemingly unemployed pit droids. (Does this quieter Tatooine no longer have pod races?) When the Child comes wandering off the ship after waking up from a nap, however, Peli sees a chance to earn a little extra money.
These early scenes raise a couple of questions:
(1) Is Peli a threat to the Mandalorian and the Child? Sedaris isn’t an inherently threatening presence, and she’s playing a woman who enjoys spending her free time playing cards with cute droids. But she also doesn’t seem particularly scrupulous. Sedaris plays her as someone who’s happy to work the angles to her benefit and perhaps has learned not to worry too much about the moral implications of her actions. By episode’s end, she seems fully on Team Mandalorian (the money probably helps, to say nothing of the Child’s adorable little face), but Sedaris brings just a hint of threat to her role, which enriches the character.
(2) Does the Mandalorian know anything about parenting? He has become gentle and nurturing with the Child, keeping his patience even when the Child fiddles with the controls, and it’s sweet when he puts the little guy down for a nap. Then he just … leaves. You can’t wander away from a sleepy baby. That’s not even Parenting 101; that’s just common sense. If this weren’t the Outer Rim, someone should call whatever the New Republic equivalent of Child Protective Services is on him.
True, the Mandalorian does have to earn money, and he finds one potential opportunity after meeting a green would-be bounty hunter named Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale). He’s got a hot target, too, though he doesn’t realize just how hot: Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), whom the Mandalorian recognizes as someone who “made her name killing for all the top crime syndicates, including the Hutt.” That sounds like a good job for even an experienced bounty hunter to pass up, but Toro’s plea that he needs a win to join the Guild (plus all that money) convinces the Mandalorian to take him up on it.
One quick conference with Peli later — which includes the realization that maybe he doesn’t have to bring the Child along on all his kill jobs — and the Mandalorian and Toro are off on speeder bikes to look for Shand. They hit some snags, first in the form of some Tusken Raiders. It’s fun to see them again, and the episode — written and directed by Dave Filoni — uses their brief appearance to help flesh out their role in Tatooine life. Sometimes called “Sand People” — which, as the hosts of the Star Wars Minute podcast like to point out, sounds like a racial slur — the Tuskens have generally played the same role in Star Wars as Native Americans have in Westerns. They observe different customs, speak a different language, and are hostile to those who cross their paths. They’re even on the receiving end of a killing spree in Attack of the Clones that turns Anakin into John Wayne in The Searchers. Here, as in later Westerns that tried to get beyond depictions of Native Americans as bloodthirsty savages, we learn the Tuskens will communicate with outsiders via sign language and engage in bartering. One line even suggests they’re the indigenous culture and the other races are outsiders. When Toro says he has heard about the “filth” from locals, the Mandalorian replies, “Tuskens think they’re the locals. Everyone else is just trespassing.”
Once past the Tuskens, it’s just a matter of taking down Shand. That proves pretty difficult. Not only has she booby-trapped the body of another bounty hunter, it takes every trick in the Mandalorian’s playbook to take her down — but there’s still the matter of taking her back. Left alone with Shand, Toro learns about the price on the Mandalorian’s head, then double-crosses Shand in an attempt to keep the money for himself. To put it mildly, this doesn’t work out so well for Toro, who is ultimately revealed to be too dumb to be a bounty hunter when he tries to get the better of the Mandalorian. RIP, Toro. Enjoy Beggar’s Canyon.
But maybe not RIP Shand? The Mandalorian and the Child end the episode heading off to parts unknown but somebody pays a visit to Shand’s body. Is she alive? We don’t see her move, but she seemed too clever to be taken out so easily by a rookie. That answer likely awaits us, and the Mandalorian, somewhere down the line.
• The Mandalorian again expresses his hatred for droids. Is this just part of a widespread anti-droid sentiment or the result of a specific experience? Whatever the case, droids seem to be making progress in some quarters. In A New Hope, R2-D2 and C-3PO have to wait outside the cantina; now, a droid tends bar there. (Not that this stops the Mandalorian from addressing it disrespectfully as “Hey, droid.”)
• The cantina scene offers several callbacks and some new creatures, including some kind of giant insect. The red droid we see sliding up to the bar looks a lot like R5-D4. Maybe the Jawas repaired him after he conked out, fatefully leading Luke and his uncle to pick R2-D2 instead.
• This week’s required viewing: You can find the experienced gunslinger–callow-newcomer relationship in many a Western. It’s not an exact parallel, but this week put me in mind of Henry King’s great 1950 film The Gunslinger, in which Gregory Peck played a legendary gunfighter whose reputation as the fastest draw in the West has put a target on his back for up-and-comers trying to make a name for themselves.