A lot has changed since the Death Star blew up. We’re in the weird limbo period between Return Of The Jedi and The Force Awakens, and the universe of The Mandalorian is in a state of flux – with the Empire all but destroyed, the New Republic a bit of a joke, and the evil First Order still just a distant rumour. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Luke Skywalker’s local, the cantina in Mos Eisley.
Once a “wretched hive of scum and villainy”, the bustling cantina is now a quiet, slightly boring-looking bar run by monotone droids. It’s the equivalent of seeing your favourite old pub turned into a Tesco Express – and it’s a bit of a shock for Star Wars fans when Mando walks through the door.
Ship shot-up in a dogfight, Mando lands on desert planet Tatooine to fix his engines and look for another job. Everywhere you look in episode five, the ghost of the original trilogy looms large. This is, after all, the birthplace of Darth Vader, the childhood home of Luke Skywalker, the hiding place of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the setting for some of the most iconic scenes in George Lucas’ canon, so it’s easy to forgive director Dave Filoni nodding and winking at every opportunity he gets.
Leaving baby Yoda with the mechanic (a nice turn from Amy Sedaris) and ignoring the rows of stormtrooper heads set on spikes, Mando heads to the bar and finds someone else sitting in Han Solo’s chair. This is Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale, son of Bobby), a wannabe bounty hunter and a second-rate hero – a chancer who somehow convinces Mando to help him track down a fabled outlaw who’s rumoured to be hiding in the desert.
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Less Solo than Billy The Kid, Toro stands in for the annoying young guy in every western that Filoni spends the rest of the episode paying homage to. Riding out into the sunset on a pair of speeder bikes, avoiding a scrape with the local Tusken Raiders, Mando and Toro catch up with ex-Empire assassin Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen, Melinda May in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and, for Disney buffs, also the original voice of Mulan).
Silent drifter, old gunslinger and pushy kid thrown together, most of episode five plays out like a great, nasty bit of cowboy fiction. Everyone double-crosses everyone else, the dusty desert visuals look great and Mando walks away looking even more like Clint Eastwood than he did before.
As fans of Rebels already know, Filoni loves a good standalone episode, and this one sits a lot better than the hokier “rescue the village” plot that we got last week. There’s something slightly too small-scale about the tight corners of Mos Eisley we actually see (almost like this is a TV show and not a movie…), but it all feels nicely nostalgic enough for anyone who misses the smell of the place.
With only three episodes left, the main plot is starting to feel a bit left behind. The last two shows have been nice filler, but Mando must be running out of babysitters for baby Yoda soon? Is Shand going to play a bigger role in the series as a recurring baddie? Has Mando even got a plan? When is The Client going to catch up with him again? Will we find out why he wanted baby Yoda in the first place? Too many questions, maybe not enough episodes left in this season for answers…
‘The Mandalorian’ arrives on Disney+ in the UK in March 2020