This review contains some spoilers for season 3, episode 2 of The Mandalorian, “Chapter 18: The Mines of Mandalore.”
I’ve always had a soft spot for whenever Star Wars dips into horror. Luke’s spiritual journey into the Cave of Evil – a pretty good canonical name for an evil cave – and the bat-like mynocks attacking our heroes in The Empire Strikes Back are a pair of standout scenes in a movie filled to the brim with them. And my fear of murky underwater creatures in the 64-bit era of gaming was punctuated by the giant dianoga that lurked in the sewers in Shadows of the Empire.
That’s probably a big reason why I enjoyed this episode of The Mandalorian, “Chapter 18: The Mines of Mandalore,” so much more than the season 3 premiere. While I was initially terrified at the idea that we’d have to spend yet another hour on Tatooine, that quick dip into Star Wars’ past gave way to a spooky adventure written by Jon Favreau and directed by Rachel Morrison that was filled with effective tension, rad creatures, and a brisk pace that left me surprised at how much ground was covered in a single episode.
The descent into the ruins of Mandalore is deeply sad. As we look out at the remains of a civilization, the catacombs of a city, and the tomb of a people, it brings to mind shades of Frodo and company first glimpsing the desolation of the Mines of Moria in Fellowship of the Ring. Mando (Pedro Pascal) and Grogu are both beings without a home, and their search for purpose in the ruins of the past is an emotional one.
Of course, this melancholy quickly gives way to horror, first in the form of a group of bipedal marauders that recall the subterranean Morlocks of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. Their initial scuffle with Mando showcases how he’s still truly awful at defending himself with the Darksaber, and at this point in his journey, he really needs to consider taking up fencing lessons, hurling that thing into the bottom of an ocean, or hiding it in Bo-Katan’s (Katee Sackhoff) backpack, because it’s not doing him any favors at the moment.
From here, things only get worse, as Mando gets caught in the galaxy’s most obvious trap since the Ewoks’ giant net in Return of the Jedi. But on the plus side, we’re introduced to my new favorite character who doesn’t say a single word and whose name I don’t even know. But that doesn’t matter, because this alien / cyborg / Grievous-thing is rad as hell, he uses a modified crab droid from the Clone Wars as his own personal mech, and he seems to be draining Mando of his blood like some sort of an underground vampire. Between this guy and last week’s excellent Pirate King Gorian Shard (Nonso Anozie), I’m thrilled to have a bunch of new weirdos in my Star Wars.
I appreciate how the script was flipped in this episode, with Mando being the one who’s been abducted and Grogu having to be on the saving end of this rescue mission. Along with this week’s episode of The Last of Us, it’s a big week for Pedro Pascal being saved by the children in his care. That said, the season premiere’s tendency to feel like a video game popped back up again this week, with Grogu’s reverse trek out of the mines, followed by his return with Bo-Katan giving off heavy backtracking vibes, which was ironically something that 2019’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order had in spades.
Once the pair make their way back to an incapacitated Mando and my new favorite fictional character ever, Bo adeptly wields the Darksaber and takes care of business. I’m not sure how Darksaber ownership transfer goes, but given that the creature beat Mando, and Bo defeated the creature, it seems like she might finally have the claim over it that she’s been so bummed out about since the end of last season?
Now as much as I dug the creepy critters and spooky vibes of “Chapter 18: The Mines of Mandalore,” the lack of natural lighting deep within Mandalore meant some of the action and tension had a tendency of getting lost in the darkness. This was especially glaring during the final sequence where Bo rescued Mando after he plunged down into the waters.
I had a hard time parsing out any details of this moment, and it wasn’t until I rewatched it on a different device that I spotted the reveal of the living mythosaur, the ancient beasts thought to be extinct and whose skulls became the iconography of the Mandalorians themselves.
Lighting aside, I’m thankful we didn’t have to spend the entirety of the season tagging along with Mando as he fulfilled various objectives before finally unlocking the ability to take a dip in the Living Waters. And while it was strange that so much of last week’s episode hinged on our hero needing that one specific IG droid to accompany him on his journey, only for this week to have him quite quickly settle on the dingy R5-D4 astromech we first met back in A New Hope, I’m honestly fine with not dwelling on that for too long.
Since the beginning, my favorite aspect of The Mandalorian has been exploring new planets, meeting new creatures, and seeing how our pair of heroes get themselves out of precarious situations. “Chapter 18: The Mines of Mandalore” had that in spades, while also expediting the overarching story that I was worried might slow the pace of season 3. For that, as well as the time I got to spend with my new favorite cyborg (RIP), I’m thankful.