This Star Wars: The Mandalorian article contains spoilers.
Star Wars: The Mandalorian Episode 7
Sometimes, tropes are good. The Mandalorian delivered its best episode yet this week. Cara Dune and Kuill are back, and with relationships established and stakes clear, the characters seamlessly support an eventful, engaging episode.
In “The Reckoning,” directed by Deborah Chow and written by Jon Favreau, Mando receives a message from Greef, the leader of the Bounty Hunters’ Guild. He’s alive and he’s supposedly on Mando’s side now and planning to take down the Client. Mando doesn’t trust him, so he gathers allies: brawler Cara Dune as muscle and Kuill the Ugnaught to take care of Baby Yoda. The plan doesn’t go as expected, even when you’re expecting double crosses.
Cara and Kuill both play to type, but in a way that feels fun and refreshing instead of dull. She and the Mando continue to have great platonic chemistry; she’s one of the only people he seems comfortable sharing his space with. (And the show has effectively created a fictional taboo that feels real to me — the banter about Mando’s helmet in this episode is ominous, and the Client touching him feels like an intrusion.) He doesn’t want to let people get physically close, and Cara Dune is effortlessly fine with that. Her willingness to show her cards—from grappling with an opponent tied to her by a cord to her disinterest in covering up her Rebel tattoo— works well as a contrast to Mando’s literal and figurative distance from the people who might get close to him. She remains one of the show’s best characters. “I’m already free of worry,” she says, even though both the New Republic and the Empire have targets on her back. What poise!
Kuill also shines because of his warmth toward others. He’s absolutely a trope: the one who mentored Mando will now mentor Yoda, and knows more about the Force than he at first lets on. He’s the Obi-Wan Kenobi, and, right now, that’s okay. Nick Nolte’s acting and Misty Rosas’ performance make the little alien utterly convincing, and his reluctant kindness is endearing. He’s found a near-dead IG-11 and restored the droid, a welcome if small role for Taika Waititi’s character. The droid re-learning to function makes for funny, awkward appearances. It also shows Kuill’s penchant for “patience and affirmation,” the core of his character and part of what makes him so delightful. This crew is such a contrast to last episode’s bumbling, cruel mercenaries.
Of course, the character who is most a blank slate on this team is also the most beloved. Baby Yoda’s powers are growing, or he’s decided this is the time to shine. A low-stakes use of the Force could have come off as tone-deaf but is instead funny and fitting for the character.
The dialogue is the same straightforward, pulp science fiction banter Star Wars is known for, with the exception of Kuill’s koans. It’s functional, with characters often asking questions to explain possible plot holes as if in an effort to keep fans from asking about them. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. All of the actors make the lines work gamely. Pedro Pascal and Gina Carano inhabit their characters so fully, they elevate the script.
This episode has four major action scenes, including the sport brawl in which Cara Dune is re-introduced. Chow’s directing does not stand out in this episode as much as in her first Star Wars effort. The camera is unobtrusive, the fights easy to follow but not exhilarating. (In a particularly strange edit, Cara’s opponent flips over off screen.) An attack by dragon-like creatures makes for some fun visuals but is muddy and difficult to see in the night-time setting. Other reviewers have noticed that the planets built with the show’s digital sets feel empty, and I agree: they could use more flora and fauna unconnected to the plot. Instead, the deserts are lifeless.
It was a bit disappointing to me initially that the Client isn’t the big bad. The rest of the episode did such a good job returning to and elaborating on characters that I expected more from him than a speech about why he supports the Empire. One does not simply stop using Werner Herzog. But instead, a brand new character strides in from a sleek new type of TIE fighter, Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon. The Empire is technically stateless, so he’s likely one of those warlords Cara mentioned. More importantly, he’s the archetype of the Empire: of a cleaner type of deadly than the bounty hunters are, of overwhelming force, of everything the Client’s speech primed the script for. And it’s a surprise in a carefully paced and exciting episode. The most powerful piece in this game has just arrived.
With the big bad here and the team assembled, The Mandalorian has shown that it can create fun personalities, even if takes a while to pull them together, as many shows do. (I trust that “I need your eyes,” means “You’re my best friend” in Mandalorian.) With one episode left, I can’t help but compare the show to what the trailers primed viewers for: a lone gunman, neither good nor evil, flitting around the galaxy. The show has succeeded at creating the atmosphere of a Western, and the Mando himself is pleasantly unpredictable, with a heart of gold. I’m also so glad to see that the script does allow for exploration of other characters, and of affection between them.
Kuill raising the mind-wiped droid parallels Mando raising Baby Yoda. There’s an implication that, while Mando himself is a killer for hire who isn’t good at getting close to people, his “patience and affirmation” have made the baby learn to switch from attacking Mando’s enemies to healing his friends. Even if the show does feel like a tossed-together toy box, it’s also focused just enough on likable characters to make them feel like real people, invested in each other and, in their own ways, making their dusty little corners of the galaxy feel safer.
I have spoken.
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