With the main Star Wars saga concluded in Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, the question is now: where do you go next? How different can you be whilst staying true to the galaxy George Lucas created in 1977? For the most part, The Mandalorian has felt like Jon Favreau and crew making up adventures with their Star Wars action figures, and while there’s an undeniable charm to this approach, I had been hoping that the show could explore new ground in the Star Wars mythos.
Chapter 6: The Prisoner is that episode, courtesy of writer/director Rick Famuyiwa (who also directed Chapter 2: The Child) and his co-writer Christopher Yost. Perhaps the brilliance of this episode is that it takes the core conceit of a Mandalorian travelling round the galaxy trying to look after himself and the Child (AKA Baby Yoda) but merges it with a heist concept. Mando (Pedro Pascal) is hired to work with some old friends in order to release someone held captive by the New Republic, but the mission doesn’t quite go as the bounty hunter had intended, leading the episode to spiral off into interesting twists and turns in the most tightly-plotted, well-paced episode to date.
Mando, in need of some money after costly repairs in last week’s chapter, is recruited by Ran (Mark Boone Jr.), whom he used to work with “back in the day”, presumably before the Guild. There’s instantly a sense that this episode is offering something new, a hint of Mando’s past from someone who actually knows him, instead of treating him as an enigma. He’s set up with a team, all comprising of interesting characters with unique looks and characteristics, including Mayfeld (Bill Burr), who’s an ex-Imperial sharpshooter (Mando even cracks a joke about his aim); Xi’an (Natalia Tena), a former associate of Mando’s interested in toying with him; Burg (Clancy Brown), a hulking demonic creature who looms over everyone; and their droid pilot Zero (Richard Ayoade), who operates the Razor Crest for the mission.
Despite being introduced in a few minutes, this is dynamic ensemble and everyone acts slightly differently around each other. Because of this, Mando is somewhat on the back-foot, waiting to see what’s going to happen. It’s a testament to the cast but also to Famuyiwa’s capabilities as a director, managing to offer a sense of scale but not sacrificing on the intimacy of the situation. I’d argue that Famuyiwa is the standout director of the series so far, with both this episode and Chapter 2: The Child. He seems to know exactly what he wants and focuses the camera on what he wants the audience to look at. That’s by no means a dismissal of the other episodes’ directors but I’m amazed he hasn’t been hired to make a Star Wars feature film yet.
We also get a fantastic set-piece with Mando tearing his way through a squad of New Republic droids, a tense exchange as the group encounter a New Republic Officer (dressed in a similar costume to the Rebels at the start of Episode IV: A New Hope), and then the big turning point in the episode. It’s revealed that the mission has been a set-up for Mando, and as the prison cell opens to reveal old acquaintance Qin (Ismael Cruz Cordova), Mando himself is thrown inside and locked away. Quin hints that Mando “left him behind” on a previous mission, which makes for a nicely under-written motivation and backstory. You don’t need to know more than this, and it sells the stakes in the rest of the episode.
Naturally, Mando breaks out (and destroys a perfectly innocent droid in the process), and decides to go full John Wick on his crew, locking them in different parts of the ship and picking them off one-by-one. It’s a surprisingly tense sequence, sold by some great music from composer Ludwig Göransson, and a brilliant shot as Mando sneaks up on Mayfield (as the lights flicker on and off, disappearing and reappearing like Batman). This is accentuated with the parallel sequence of Zero hunting Baby Yoda on the Razor Crest, giving us some surprisingly intense Baby Yoda antics this week. The Child himself is still an undeniable highlight of the show, and he did feel under threat from the cold, emotionless Zero. Having hunted down everyone else though, Mando figures he might as well keep Qin around in order to get paid, and does so – leaving a New Republic tracker on Qin in the process. As Mando and Baby Yoda leave, a small squad of X-wings (piloted by series directors Dave Filoni, Deborah Chow and Rick Famuyiwa in some nice cameo roles) attack Ran and Qin, and its revealed that the rest of the crew are locked away safe and sound…for now.
I think what’s so ingenious about Chapter 6: The Prisoner is how the story is constantly developing in inventive ways. Not only do we get elements of a heist episode, but we also get a Mando-goes-after-everyone episode and we get a Baby Yoda under threat episode. It never rushes itself nor slows down so that the pace falters. Despite my concerns after Chapter 4: Sanctuary that the show’s episodes were just too short accomplish satisfying and standalone adventure-of-the-week installments, Chapter 6: The Prisoner proves me wrong. I was consistently engaged and never felt cheated at all. I also love how much the design of the New Republic ship and the guard we meet reminded me of the aesthetics in A New Hope, not in an obvious way but it really felt like an extension of that particular film, with small differences to demonstrate that it is several years later. Also Baby Yoda trying to use the Force is always great.