On the run from bounty hunters, Mando barely survives an attack on the Razor Crest and manages to limp to Tatooine with a damaged engine. He lands in Mos Eisley to get repairs from a local named Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris, providing the character a welcome quirkiness), who doubles as a babysitter for Baby Yoda. While in town, Mando wanders into the Mos Eisley cantina first made famous in a little movie called Star Wars, where ambitious young bounty hunter Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale) asks him to help capture the dangerous, wanted assassin Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), which Toro can't do on his own. Shand would be a big enough prize to get the young man into the bounty hunter's guild (the very one that used to employ Mando and that now wants him dead). Naturally, they have this conversation in the same booth where Han first met Luke and Obi-Wan, and famously shot Greedo (first, last, or whatever).
"The Gunslinger," despite taking us back to the most famous planet and cantina in the franchise, is for my money the weakest episode of The Mandalorian's first season. There just isn't enough "there" here. The plot is: Mando helps a young man capture his target, is betrayed when the young man is convinced by the target to instead make Mando his target, and so Mando defends himself and serves the young man his deadly comeuppance. It's a thin plot, but this is a series known for taking thin plots and then executing them with exciting detail and panache. And there's a certain amount of detail here that keeps this very watchable, as when Mando negotiates passage across the sand people's land using their sign language, or when Fennec turns the kid against Mando by convincing him he's a bigger prize than she is.
But Jake Cannavale as the hopelessly ambitious and in-over-his-head youngster is not interesting enough to drive the betrayal plot, and he's so clearly outmatched by Mando that there's minimal suspense in their final showdown. It's like watching a gazelle go up against a tiger, while the story pretends the gazelle might actually have a chance if it can take the tiger by surprise.
Also, considering Fennec Shand is played by a recognizable actor in Ming-Na Wen, having her go down in such a lackluster manner feels like wasted potential (although the last shot before the credits implies she may not be dead). "The Gunslinger" continues this series' modus operandi of deliberately keeping the stakes low, which I appreciate, but this episode just can't rise above its formula conventions.
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