Prior to this week’s episode of The Mandalorian we’ve seen a lot of death — dog-faced men impaled on spears; dozens of anonymous thugs gunned down with an automatic blaster; the hot smoking wreckage of a stormtrooper hit with a flamethrower — but it’s never been quite as sudden or graphic as it is in episode six.
Star Wars has a history of getting away with high body counts. Lightsabers and blasters yield bloodless kills, with a shower of sparks instead of fountains of blood. We never see the billions sacrificed on Alderaan, or the thousands of contractors that went up with the second Death Star. But Lucasfilm has pushed audience comfort levels in the past. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, which torched Anakin Skywalker in order to turn him into Darth Vader, earned a hard PG-13 from the MPAA. And yet, Lucasfilm has somehow managed to keep this galaxy far, far away family friendly.
The Mandalorian episode 6 plays out like an interrogation of the way Star Wars has tiptoed to the gory edge over the years. In the end it’s the Mandalorian himself who pulls up short and refuses to step over.
In “The Prisoner,” the Mandalorian joins up with a group of mercenaries to rescue one of their crew from a prison ship, which he’s told is manned entirely by droids. It’s an action-packed heist film through and through, with actor Pedro Pascal’s stunt team doing some of their best work in the series. Mando eviscerates a half-dozen droids while the mercenaries look on, using all of the weapons in his arsenal and even bits of the droids themselves to accomplish the task. Later in the episode, our hero rips the arm off another droid, spraying a fountain of oil all over the walls of a pristine white starship.
There’s no way that Lucasfilm would ever show the Mandalorian doing something like that to a group of humanoid creatures. Just like The Phantom Menace, which features one of the largest ground battles ever seen in the history of the franchise, traditionally droids are the targets of Star Wars’ most grisly deaths.
But there’s a moment, midway through the episode on the bridge of the prison ship, when the mercenaries realize that they got some bad intelligence. Turns out there’s a human onboard after all, a young and frightened New Republic officer, and the only way to complete the mission and get out alive is to kill him.
The Mandalorian tries to intervene. “Nobody has to get hurt here” is a very odd thing for a hired gun whose shot his way into a prison ship to say, and yet here we are. It seems like our hero has gotten a bad case of the ethics since his break with the bounty hunters guild.
In a flash, one of the other mercenaries throws a knife. The officer falls dead, and the tone of the entire episode shifts uncomfortably into PG-13 territory.
At that moment “The Prisoner” effectively transitions from Oceans Eleven into The Predator. The Mandalorian methodically isolates each of his enemies and proceeds to silently hunt them down. The confrontations are brutal, but each one of them stops just shy of showing the bodies hit the floor.
Honestly, it might be just a bit too short for my liking. One moment in particular it looks like a guy gets his head smooshed by a blast door. It definitely made me jump. I’m honestly not sure that my kids are going to see this one for a few years.
But, even though the audience doesn’t see the moment of impact, the mercenary’s deaths have already been alluded to. We saw what Mando did to those droids. As the lights go down, alarm klaxons begin sounding and flashing red lights turn the interior of the ship bright red, and we know that the Mandalorian could just as easily paint its walls with the blood of his humanoid enemies.
And yet he doesn’t.
In the final moments of the show we learn that our hero doesn’t kill anyone. The only person who dies was that solitary New Republic officer, and the Mandalorian makes those mercenaries pay for what they did by locking them in a cell and leaving them stranded on the derelict ship. It honestly makes me wonder if they even needed all the ultraviolence as he hunted them down, or if they could have gotten the same message across and toned it down somewhat for all the children Baby Yoda invited into the room.
It’s all water under the bridge for what amounts to another stellar episode, but it’s a signal to audiences about how far Lucasfilm is willing to go to make The Mandalorian an adult experience. Human characters will die as the story unfolds. Baby Yoda will be put in harm’s way. It all adds up to a show that comes very close to PG-13 territory, but similarly refuses to step over.