Warning: Spoilers ahead.
“The Mandalorian” is everything cool about Star Wars. It’s clearly made by people who love, and more importantly, truly understand Star Wars and what it’s supposed to be. It’s also obvious that they’re having a lot of fun making this show.
The latest episode, “The Gunslinger” was written and directed by the man who is the master of Star Wars lore, Dave Filoni. I’ve written about Filoni several times, and I’m not ashamed to admit, I have a bit of a fan crush on him. The incredible experiences he has had in the Star Wars universe, the people he’s been able to work with, the stories he’s told, the characters he’s created, Dave Filoni is the perfect person to be carrying the torch for Star Wars right now.
This episode starts with a space dogfight, worthy of the best WWII movies. Mando is fighting another bounty hunter after Baby Yoda, in what might be a Z-95 Headhunter. After having taken some serious hits to his engines and fuselage, Mando lures in his pursuer with a move that Maverick from “Top Gun” would love, then blasts him to pieces. In need of an immediate port of call for repairs Mando heads to the closest planet, which happens to be the most famous planet in all of Star Wars: Tatooine, home of Anakin and Luke Skywalker, headquarters of the now departed Jabba the Hutt, refuge of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the resting place of the galaxy’s most feared bounty hunter, but we’ll get back to that in a minute.
After turning over his ship for repairs to comedian Amy Sedaris, as Peli Motto, and her prequel era Pit Droids, Mando heads into Mos Eisley and to one of the most famous watering holes in all of cinema, the Mos Eisley Cantina. Just like the rest of the Star Wars galaxy, the cantina we saw in the opening third of Star Wars way back in 1977, has changed in the intervening years, but it still has its soul. Gone are Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes providing that immediately recognizable “Cantina Music,” and it’s definitely not as packed and vibrant as it was at the dawn of the Rebellion, but it’s still inhabited by fascinating creatures. Tending bar now are droids, something that would never have happened under the care of Wuher, the human bartender who banned C-3PO and R2-D2 from entering.
Mando does find something familiar though, another bounty hunter sitting in the same booth that Greedo once shared with Han Solo, but his one is a human, and new to the game. In an effort to make it into the Bounty Hunters’ Guild, Toro Calican is hunting down Fennec Shand, a famed assassin “out beyond the Dune Sea” and employs the Mandalorian to help him bring her in. After picking up some gear on his ship and finding that Baby Yoda has escaped his bunk only to seduce Peli into taking care of him (because seriously, how can you resist, he’s incredibly cute), Mando and Toro head out into the dessert of Tatooine on speeder bikes that look a lot like the same type of Zephyr-G swoop bike Anakin used to mow down a village of Tuskin Raiders in “Attack of the Clones.”
This scene of Mando and Toro jetting out in the Tatooine desert really made me wish I was watching this on a big screen at the movie theater, and it’s proof that Disney didn’t know just how big, beautiful and amazingly popular “The Mandalorian” would be when they agreed to make it with Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni. If they truly understood what they had, Bob Iger would have insisted on making it into a “Star Wars Story” film, and marketed the hell out of it. I do think the format of 30 minute long episodes is actually ideal for this story, but I’m convinced Disney didn’t know just how big this would be or they would have handled the property differently.
Back to the desert, as Mando and Toro come across some Tuskin Raiders. Instead of scaring them, like Obi-Wan did, or slaughtering them, like Anakin did, Mando, simply negotiates with the Tatooine natives for safe passage through their land. The price: Toro’s sweet new binocs (the Star Wars version of binoculars).
The pair next encounters a Dewback, the Tatooine version of a camel, first seen being ridden by Stormtroopers in “A New Hope.” This Dewback is dragging a rider who seems dead. Upon investigation, Mando finds it’s a trap laid by Fennec Shand, played masterfully by Ming-Na Wen. Mando is shot at by Fennec and her “MK-modified” rifle. More on that in a minute. Waiting for the cover of darkness, Mando and Toro then assault Fennec on their speeder bikes with the help of blinding flash charges that make it harder for Fennec to see their approach.
Once Mando and Toro work together to take down Fennec they cuff her and move to return her to Mos Eisley. Since they don’t have enough room to bring their bounty back on the one working swoop bike left, Mando goes off into the desert to retrieve the Dewback they encountered earlier, leaving Toro to guard Fennec. While they’re alone, the master assassin convinces Toro that Mando is a much more valuable catch than she is, and by letting her go and bringing in Mando and The Child instead, Toro will not only become a member of The Guild, but also be made legend. Unfortunately Toro kills Fennec, and hightails it back to Mando’s ship to snag Baby Yoda and wait for the Mandalorian’s return.
When Mando returns with the Dewback and finds Fennec dead and Toro gone, he returns to his ship, where the budding bounty hunter is cradling Baby Yoda, and holding Peli hostage. After a quick distraction, Mando kills Toro, grabs Baby Yoda, then pays Peli for the repairs with money he pilfers off of Toro’s dead body. As his ship pulls away, Peli tells her Pit Droids to drag the body to Beggar’s Canyon, where Luke once shot Whomp Rats in his T-16.
This episode is proof that Favreau and Filoni did what every boy in the ’70s and ’80s did, played a lot of Star Wars in their backyard sandbox. It’s a who’s who of cool, but underutilized Star Wars action figures made real. The Jabba’s Droid as bartender in the Cantina, the Tuskin Raiders in the desert, the deadly assassin who generally only appears in the background on screen. When I was a kid, my best friend and I used to take our Star Wars guys and make awesome little home movies with them in the sandbox, or cities we built for them out of sticks, blocks, whatever we had handy.
That friend actually did something with the skills we learned, he now is a writer and director in Hollywood, although he hasn’t been quite as lucky as Favreau and Filoni are to make those sandbox adventures into a real life TV show. These two and their collaborators on this show, are the luckiest guys and gals in Hollywood right now. They’re making the show that millions of kids dreamed about as they played with their sun faded action figures in the backyard.
That brings us to the epilogue of this episode and the character I think it finally reintroduces. After Mando and Baby Yoda blast out of Mos Eisley, back into space, we see a figure in dark boots and a cape walking toward the slumped body of Fennec Shand. The boots of that figure have a distinctive clinking sound, almost like the sound of spurs would in an old Spaghetti Western. The figure kneels down to examine Shand and just before we may see who that figure is, the camera cuts away.
I’m willing to bet that figure is in fact Boba Fett. Here’s why.
First of all, Fennec mentions several things to Mando that illustrate she knows who he is and what cargo he’s carrying. She mentions, for the first time on this series, the name of the planet where The Clinet, the other Mandalorians, and the Guild were all located. Until now we didn’t know the name of that planet, now we know it’s Nevarro. She uses this story to bargain for her freedom with Toro, before he shoots her.
Second, Fennec is using a “MK-modified” sniper rifle according to Mando. This is a blink and you’ll miss it reference. “MK-modified” rifles are a very specific gun from Star Wars, a gun made by Mandalorians, a gun based on a weapon used by none other than Boba Fett himself. It’s no mistake that this gun was name dropped. It’s a breadcrumb.
Third, Fennec was meeting someone in nearby by Mos Espa. Knowing how much Mando and Baby Yoda were worth and that they were on the run, it’s possible she was meeting up with that person to hunt down the pair. She mentions to Toro that he would be legendary for bringing in Mando, but I bet the Guild would be willing to erase the bounty on her head if she was to bring in the man who betrayed them and his keen prize.
Fourth, this entire episode takes place on Tatooine, where Boba Fett supposedly met his end by falling into the gullet of the Sarlacc pit outside Jabba’s Palace in “Return of the Jedi.” In canon novels, it is hinted at that Boba Fett blasted his way out of that Sarlacc, but nothing concrete has been seen on screen. Why, story wise, would you send Mando to this planet if not to put him on the same planet as the galaxy’s most famous man to ever wear that armor?
Fifth, as the dark, caped figure enters the frame we hear a sound that is an awful lot like spurs on boots. It’s the same exact sound as when Boba Fett first enters the screen in “Empire Strikes Back.” Listen to the 2:46 mark in this video:
Finally, the synopsis for the season finale of “The Mandalorian” was released this week. The eighth and final episode this year is described thusly, “The Mandalorian comes face to face with an unexpected enemy.” If you’re the Bounty Hunters’ Guild and a Mandalorian has betrayed you, what better guy to send after him then another man in Mandalorian armor, a legend in the field, someone known for bringing in Han Solo? This would be the best way to reintroduce Boba Fett into the Star Wars universe. He and Mando can get into a duel, and Boba Fett can serve as the main villain for next season.
Introducing a new big bad guy at the end of a TV season is also the M.O. of Dave Filoni. He did it on “Star Wars: Rebels” at the end of the first season when he introduced Darth Vader as the big bad guy that would feature prominently in the following season. We may not see this mystery figure again until the final episode of the year, but when we do, I think it will be Boba Fett.