In my last review, I discussed how Chapter 4 of The Mandalorian straddled the line between character development and action — only to fall short of effectively portraying either. Chapter 5 tightens its focus, and it feels much more successful.
The episode starts with a brief shoot-out between the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and a bounty hunter. This scene excels because of its brevity: unlike in past space chase scenes, many of the blasts hit their target, and the ships demonstrate realistic levels of vulnerability. The blasts hit, the ship suffers, and our masked protagonist has to make a risky maneuver to take out his enemy. The dialogue may sound cheesy, but I suppose one cannot expect too much from words exchanged over spaceship gunfire.
With a damaged ship, Mando lands on Tattooine and enlists the help of a repairwoman named Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris). The show continues to highlight Mando’s dislike for droids, making me wonder whether this dislike will culminate in a key plot point in later episodes. Meanwhile, Motto maintains a fun relationship with them, and I appreciate how the Star Wars franchise continues to positively portray relationships between humans/aliens and their robotic companions. I also appreciated that Motto is a woman — this portrayal of a female technician helps erode sexist stereotypes regarding what fields women ought to work in.
When the Mandalorian meets Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale), Calican reveals a dangerous bounty by the name of Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen). In my previous review, I mentioned how the training montage on Sorgan reminded of Mulan (1998). Now we have the voice actress of Mulan herself, and I appreciate this cross-over for two reasons: the show continues to highlight strong women in characters like Cara Dune and Fennec Shand, and Ming-Na Wen perfectly fits the role of an infamous space assassin. Can we talk about how Wen has played a Disney protagonist as Mulan, a Marvel agent as Agent May in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and now a Star Wars character? Badass.
On their journey to find Shand, Mando and Calican encounter a pair of Tusken Raiders. Previous installments of the Star Wars franchise heavily vilified the Raiders by portraying them as ruthless savages shooting at our favorite characters and emitting primal cries. This portrayal of them as the “other” echoes Westernized perspectives of indigenous peoples all over the world. George Lucas has cited the Bedouin people of North Africa as the inspiration behind the Raiders, making their inhumane portrayal especially problematic when we consider the fact that he intended to portray humans — yet he portrayed them as savages.
Fortunately, society has made progress, and Mando champions a more progressive view by bargaining with the Raiders in their sign language and pointing out that, from the Raiders’ perspective, the humans of Tattooine are the true trespassers in their land. The same could be said of Westerners in countries like America, where the prevailing sense of this land being “our” land is rooted in bloodshed and genocide of the natives here before us.
Perhaps it is fitting, then, that the white, male character of Calican proves himself an opportunist of loose morals. After a well-executed action sequence that culminates in the duo capturing Shand, Shand convinces Calican to turn on his partner. I was pleasantly surprised to see Calican shoot Shand instead of unlocking her cuffs — he displays the street-smarts of a more seasoned bounty hunter. I was more glad, however, to see Mando outsmart him and shoot him dead, as he was also an annoying character.
While I may have given the show an additional nod for “grittiness” had Shand simply died so abruptly, it would have been a waste of Wen’s talent. A mysterious figure approaches her body at the end of the episode, and I am relieved to know that we have probably not seen the last of Fennec Shand.
Although the episode does not appear to serve any overarching role in developing the Mandalorian’s character, it delivered an engaging narrative, introduced a compelling character, and demonstrated progress in the representation of women and indigenous peoples in mainstream media. Chapter 5 shows how execution remains the most important part of creating a great television series, and I hope this level of execution persists to the end of the season.