After the excellent and action packed first 3 episodes, especially the fantastic last episode The Sin, The Mandalorian slows things down in its latest instalment. After his change of heart, and ensuing battle to retrieve Baby Yoda from certain death at the hands off the former Imperials, our titular bounty hunter decides it’s best to lay low for a while. So Mando and his ward head to the backwater planet of Sorgan to hide out until the heat cools off. Obviously things don’t go quite to plan and soon they are thrust into a plot so familiar you’ll think you’re watching a sci-fi show from the late ’80’s or early ’90’s.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous review George Lucas was friends with legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa and his influence can be felt all over A New Hope. Also, as previously noted, The Mandalorian wears its spaghetti western influences right there on its heavily armoured sleeve. It probably shouldn’t come as any surprise then when as you’re watching Sanctuary you instantly realise the plot is ripped off from (sorry, plays loving homage to) Akira’s masterpiece Seven Samurai. This was of course famously remade as the classic western The Magnificent Seven. Years later this would inspire the definitive circus bugs versus grasshoppers movie A Bugs Life. Yes it’s the years old story of a peaceful village being terrorised by evil marauders who then enlist the help of tough mercenaries to help them defend their homes. Throw in cult sci-fi Battle Beyond The Stars and Tsui Hark’s Seven Swords and you can see the influence Kurosawa’s original has had. The A-Team definitely used the same plot numerous times, hell even Star Wars: The Clone Wars did the exact same thing in its season 2 episode Bounty Hunters. So perhaps in this instance we can forgive the makers of The Mandalorian for going back to such an already well established story telling tradition. Slightly less forgiving are some of the character decisions made which, when coupled with some less than convincing performances, threaten to derail all the good work done previously.
Sanctuary is the directorial debut of actress Bryce Dallas Howard. More well known from being chased by rampaging dinosaurs in the Jurassic World franchise her direction is perfectly fine. It’s just shame that the script doesn’t really give her a chance to do anything particularly interesting. Perhaps as a debut director the producers felt a less complicated episode was a good way of easing her into things. Whatever the reasoning she certainly shows some promise as a director and it will be interesting to see what she can do with some better material. The best sequence in the episode is the end battle when an AT-ST emerges from a shadowy forest to attack the village. Filmed at night with heavy fog and smoke effects it’s very much like a dinosaur itself complete with growls and groans as it lumbers forward. Howard has imbued it with an animalistic sense of menace which is highly effective. In a nice touch it has been animated in a style not too dissimilar from the stop motion used to create the original AT-ST’s, thus helping to keep a continuous visual style.
This instalment is also the debut of Cara Dune, an ex-Republic trooper played by former MMA fighter Gina Carano. Making the best use of her talents, Carano’s character is involved in several unarmed combat situations during the episode. Her introduction is a fight with Mando seemingly provoked by nothing more than an instant distrust of each other. Strangely after trying to kill one another they just become friends for no real reason other than the story needs another character for Mando to hang out with. This is the episodes main problem, characters act in ways that don’t seem appropriate or consistent with their personalities. You could argue that Mando has started to develop a conscience as shown by his rescue of Baby Yoda last episode but in Sanctuary he suddenly starts trusting people he’s never meet and deciding to help out complete strangers. It’s hardly the behaviour of a fearsome and ruthless bounty hunter. It maybe would have been better to have stretched this transformation out over the course of the season. As it stands Mando goes from being a mercenary anti-hero to just a plain old hero in a very short span of time. Carano is fine with what she’s asked to do in this episode and she certainly has the physicality to portray a warrior. Her acting is a but hit and miss and, a bit like Bryce Dallas Howard, it will be interesting to see what she can do with better material.
It’s quite nice to see a side of Star Wars we haven’t really been shown before. The quaint little village that is under attack is not really something we’re familiar with in the galaxy far far away. They are simple folk farming krill, a bioluminescent type of shrimp, with the help of some bipedal retro looking droids. They are all mostly nondescript background players with the exception of Omera, played by Julia Jones. She stands out as a potential love interest for Mando, even getting him close to removing his helmet at one point. This is probably the episodes most interesting scenes as we learn more about the Mandalorian culture. Our hero begins to soften in his exchanges with Omera and reveals he has never shown his face to a single person since donning the helmet as a child. If he ever does this he is forbidden from ever putting it back on again. As the oft stated Mandalorian creed goes “this is the way”. The village scenes are also a treat because of Baby Yoda exploits as he worms his way ever deeper into our hearts. Watching him mischievously playing with the village children and trying to eat a frog in one gulp is a delight and somehow manages to tread the fine line between being cute and kitschy without ever overstepping it. Whoever came up with the concept of Baby Yoda, I’m assuming Jon Favreau, deserves all the merchandising money Disney is raking in.
With such a familiar plot it’s not hard to see exactly where the story is going. Our heroes teach the villagers to fight (in a cliched training montage which amusingly made me think of Ash teaching the ‘primitive screw heads’ in Army of Darkness) and the village is saved. For a while it looks like maybe Mando is going to leave Baby Yoda behind in an effort to give him a safer life but another bounty hunter turning up soon puts the kibosh own that plan. There is a fake out moment where you aren’t quite sure of Baby Yoda’s fate and it’s a genuinely tense scene. I was surprised that Cara Dune doesn’t elect to join our heroes as having more companions for Mando would seem the obvious thing to do. Instead the bounty hunter and his little green accomplice take off alone leaving behind a slightly filler but still entertaing episode that ultimately brings nothing new to the table.
On a side note Bryce Dallas Howard revealed in an interview that she never actually directed Pedro Pascal as he had prior work commitments. Instead The Mandalorian is played entirely by his stand in who interestingly enough is the grandson of John Wayne. Pascal’s only contribution to the episode was dubbing his lines of dialogue in a recording booth. Good work if you can get it.
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