This review contains spoilers for The Mandalorian, “Chapter 4: Sanctuary.”
After an initial trio of episodes that felt like classic Star Wars, “Sanctuary” feels like a palate cleanser. With the Child back to being a wanted fugitive, the Mandalorian decides to lay low for a while on a backwater planet, helping a village of farmers deal with a group of Klatooinian Raiders assaulting their village regularly. Unfortunately, as fun as the episode may be at times – delving into more Samurai-inspired imagery – there are a fair amount of problems that not only make this the weakest episode of the show thus far, but may also be a concerning sign of things to come.
First things first: While this is the weakest episode of The Mandalorian, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. The cinematography, as well as the action and various locations, are all distinct and interesting. It’s clear from every frame of this episode, as well as all previous episodes, that Disney is throwing a lot of money into The Mandalorian. The design of the fishing village feels very comforting and quaint, yet the interiors feel lived in and homely. While there is far less action on display here, limiting just how much the show can flaunt its special effects budget, the set design and most importantly the makeup for the Raiders feel top-notch.
But while the show continues to look great, we’ve reached a point where the show’s minimalist approach is becoming more of a hindrance than a benefit – most notably with the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) himself. Yes, he’s slowly but surely developing a relationship with his surrogate son, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still about as warm and engaging as the armor he’s wearing. While it’s not uncommon to have an antihero protagonist, the titular Mandalorian has little-to-no personality to speak of. We do learn a few tidbits about him this episode, like how he was adopted into the Mandalorian clan when he was a child, but that’s backstory, not characterization.
His lack of characterization only stands out more when you stack him up against the rest of the characters who debuted this episode. The Mandalorian encounters a mercenary named Cara Dune (Gina Carano of Deadpool) who adds a bit of humanity with her sarcastic yet honorable nature as a former member of the Rebellion. But the real emotional heart of the episode belongs to widowed farmer Omera (played by Julia Jones of Westworld). Whether it’s trying to convince the Mandalorian to take off his helmet and settle down in the village, or that the farmers will do whatever it takes to protect their land, she provides more emotions in the episode’s runtime than any episode of the series has contained thus far.
Pedro Pascal is doing a good job of playing the silent and tough badass, but that can only work for so long. Back during the original trilogy, there was a loud and vocal sect of fans who were head over heels for Boba Fett, the best bounty hunter in the galaxy, known for being a tough and silent villain. However, there’s also a large group of fans who have written off Boba Fett as being boring. He didn’t do all that much, being mostly style with no substance. The Mandalorian does have substance to him, but there are times when he feels like a pale imitation of a character without much character.
Meanwhile, in the past two weeks, the Child / “Baby Yoda” has been blowing up online, with memes and gifs aplenty about him. Lord knows that “Sanctuary” has plenty of cute moments that will surely be made into memes – like him eating a frog, or following the Mandalorian even when he told him to stay – but it’s telling how people seem to care more about a cute little green alien than the epic Space Western unfolding in front of them.
I did enjoy the shift to more Eastern influences in this episode, like the villagers living in a very Japanese-inspired location, with the training montage and overall structure taking a lot after Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. However, the longer I watched “Sanctuary,” the less interested I was regarding what would happen next for the series.
The first three episodes told a pretty good story that could easily be combined into a single two-hour movie. The Mandalorian gets a bounty to hunt the Child, gets stranded with the Child, becomes a surrogate father for him, and makes himself a target for bounty hunters across the galaxy in order to protect him. It’s a solid, if predictable, narrative that was executed pretty well. But then came the dreaded question: What comes next? Now that the Child is under the Mandalorian’s protection, where do they go from here?
According to “Sanctuary,” what’s next was a one-off episode that feels at odds with what came before it. It’s not until the very end of the episode where the bounty hunter attempts to assassinate the Child that the Mandalorian sees a grim reminder that he’ll have to protect the Child no matter what. The Child can never know peace; he’ll always have a target on his back for the crime of being alive. A haunting lesson to be sure, knowing that he has to take care of a target being pursued by remnants of the Empire, but one that will hopefully have some more impact moving forward.
“Sanctuary” functions as a one-and-done episode with most of the events here probably not having any long-term impact on the show moving forward. I would be okay with that if the episode had some engaging moments to it, but “Sanctuary” felt like The Mandalorian pumped the brakes on a show that needed some gas. I’m not saying that the series moving forward needs to have more pulse-pounding action, but it needs to have something to keep viewers more engaged than just watching an emotionless hunk of metal look after a cute little green alien baby.