This Star Wars: The Mandalorian review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: The Mandalorian Episode 6
It’s hard to believe we’re more than halfway through the season already. With the emotional heart of the story established in the first five episodes, it’s time to get back into the Star Wars underworld with “The Prisoner.” There’s something to be said here about creating an eight-episode bounty-of-the-week show — some bounties are bound to feel disconnected from the rest. But with a dull cast of guest characters and not a lot to do even for our darling Baby Yoda, “The Prisoner” feels especially out of place.
With bounty hunters still tracking the Child, Mando retreats to a space station run by a suspicious old friend named Ran, a former bounty hunter who has a history with the Mandalorian. Ran wants a favor: rescue one of his associates from a New Republic prison. (New Republic world building ahoy?) He sends Mando and four underworld toughs to do the job. They couldn’t do the job without him, because the Razor Crest is the only ship they have which isn’t on either ex-Imperial or New Republic radar.
There was some good to be had here: the action scenes of the last third of the episode effectively turn the Mando himself into a bogeyman. Red lighting and white strobes add tension. The direction by Rick Famuyiwa is competent and, mostly, clear. The space station is nicely dingy, the New Republic jail a spotless white landscape reminiscent of THX 1138.
The central question—whether Mando will or won’t kill a relatively innocent man—is tense. From what we know about him so far, it could go either way. I appreciate that the character-building has created someone fun to root for who still makes the audience feel a sense of danger and moral ambiguity.
But the bad…is pretty much the rest. The new crew members and their shaggy-haired boss are, without exception, neither funny nor charming nor scary. There is little to no mystery to them. Each is a type: here is the brash leader, here is the muscle, here is Harley Quinn. Their dialogue is straightforward exposition with little in regards to nuance. The droid listing off the qualities of the Razor Crest pretty much sums up the style of the dialogue in this episode: explain what is in front of you and make a bloodless boast about it.
These characters also didn’t work for me because I didn’t believe in them as mercenaries. They’re so hapless. The leader even says he didn’t expect them to get as far into the job as they did. How did these people survive without Mando around? Haven’t they all just cost their boss a ton of money? On Mando’s ship they bicker without any sense of discipline, seemingly enjoying antagonizing the person who brought them to the job.
Clancy Brown stands out as the Devaronian heavy; even if he has one joke, he inhabits the character convincingly. In fact, this is a good episode for aliens: both Devaronians and Twi’leks are Star Wars staples in comic books and crowd scenes, and it was fun to see them front-and-center here. The aliens’ prosthetics are amusingly rubbery. I love that the Twi’lek hisses at her enemies, showing fangs at the most unexpected moments. But the characters are cartoonish, which…brings us back to the discussion of what this show wants to be.
If it wants to be a straightforward action show, “The Prisoner” is technically competent. There’s a fun episode in here somewhere, and I don’t want to review this one too harshly for being technically fine. But thematically, the episode feels empty.
There were a couple opportunities to work on Mando’s existing themes about family and personal choice. He has some kind of history with the leader of the space station’s mercenaries and with the Twi’lek member of the crew. Maybe something here could talk about his trouble getting close to people, or explain that he has tried to create a found family before and failed. But none of these characters have enough chemistry with him for it to work, and the dialogue doesn’t try to push in that direction.
Of course, the character who does represent Mando’s heart is Baby Yoda, but his role here is small and repetitive. I kept expecting the droid chasing him around the ship to turn into either a gag or a moment of pathos, but instead it’s more of a ticking clock than anything else. If Mando doesn’t get back soon, the droid will find the Child. But that’s been the driving factor of the entire show, and playing it out in miniature doesn’t add to it. There is a fun moment toward the very end of the episode, but even that feels like a repetition of what has happened before. (How much the Child understands and/or can control his own Force powers remains a delightful question, perhaps the one that left me most on the edge of my seat.) And the episode ends by literally repeating a moment that happened earlier in the season, with Mando handing the Child the round piece from the ship’s controls.
In a less bland episode it might have been a heartbreaking confirmation of their bond, but in this one it just feels repetitive. We already know that Mando has a heart. “Sanctuary” pushed that by inviting him to intentionally show his face to someone. He’s not ready for that yet. Does “The Prisoner” show that he doesn’t fit in among scoundrels any more? I’m not sure.
Yes, there are Star Wars delights here: that messy space station, the casual inclusion of aliens in the team, a fleet of new droids, a rare on-screen appearance of the New Republic at its height, and a surprising cameo near the end. The action scenes are competent, the visuals crisp and memorable, and the music continues to be perfect. Maybe I’m looking for too much to dig into when I should just be along for the ride. But this week’s ride felt flat.