It comes with great pleasure to say that The Mandalorian has been anything but stale so far. Each week has delivered new surprises that have only hooked viewers’ investment deeper. Last week’s episode, The Sin, was action-packed and gratifying on different levels. The show puts much-needed pressure on the brakes with Chapter 4, subtitled Sanctuary. Everyone could feel the break in pace approaching, but director Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World) subverts expectations with ample nuance.
After rescuing the child, now known as “Baby Yoda” to the fans, from the clutches of the imperial renegades and horde of bounty hunters- the Mandalorian seeks a safe place where they can both lay low. They find themselves on Sorgan, an agriculturally focused planet with very minimal political presence. Hiding there seems like the perfect plan until he comes across a face from his past. Gina Carano (Deadpool) finally makes her series debut as the mercenary Cara Dune. The duo compromise in putting their grievances aside when simple villagers reach out for aid against raiders who threaten their way of life.
Much like Chapter 2, The Child, many will be quick to label this episode as a “throwaway’ or “side mission”. Those statements are widely misguided because just like its predecessor, Sanctuary could not be more relevant to the series. On the surface, sure the main conflicts of these episodes do not really correlate with the overreaching series goal. However, every conflict in the show thus far has only pushed the narrative forward. Time is never felt wasted, on the contrary, viewers are more likely to want to savor more time in episodes like these.
Sanctuary features the most dialogue spoken by the titular character. Pedro Pascal’s delivery and physical performance have been very noteworthy, but it was about time for the lead character to reveal more layers. Due to the circumstances at hand, viewers finally get to see a softer and more personal side to the Mandalorian. Pascal makes the unveiling feel natural and series showrunner Jon Favreau makes it flow smoothly within his script. It makes sense as to why viewers are getting this exposure now and it juxtaposes well with the setting. It would finally be fair to say that this lead is one of the most favorable Mandos in Star Wars canon.
Carano’s Cara Dune leaves fans excited for more by the episode’s end. Just with this introduction, one can feel the potential lying within the character. Not only does she come from a fascinating unexplored background, but Carano nails at balancing sternness with a distinct personality. Admittedly, there could have been a bit more clarity within her debut. The script does not tread on giving too many details on her origin, but there is enough to get the gist. Hopefully, this side of her story is not left untouched in the future. Furthermore, Sanctuary proves how the show works best when Pascal and supporting characters bounce off each other in dynamic duos (Baby Yoda, Kuill, and Greef Karga for example).
This episode would not be such a stand out entry if not for Bryce Dallas Howard’s direction. She crafts Sanctuary to be so admirably quaint. The style, tone, and plot harken back to western serials and special one-shot comics. Fans will also be quick to notice how the episode calls back to certain arcs from the Clone Wars animated series. She uses this quaintness to her advantage as a director, honing in on the narrative’s humanity with style and joy. She makes the planet Sorgan feel alive with relatable inhabitants with purpose. The production design shines with invoking this reality. Without these elements, the episode could have fallen flat.
The work she does with cinematographer Barry Idoine (who worked on the second unit of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) is particularly deserving of praise. The camera flexes between capturing moments of suspense and levity with ease. One can tell how delighted Howard is to be filming certain subjects (especially Baby Yoda). Seriously, prioritizing filming Baby Yoda with puppetry is one of the best decisions Lucasfilm has made this year and it really shows here; the character could not feel more vital. Idoine’s touch behind Howard’s ecstatic framing makes for the most wholesome visuals. How quickly the episode can then turn to riveting action with just as engaging cinematography is impressive. Point short- bring Howard back to direct at all costs.
Sanctuary will definitely be one of many’s favorite episodes of The Mandalorian. Star Wars in a post Return of the Jedi universe keeps proving to be rich and viewers could not be more satisfied to explore it with a Mandalorian and Baby Yoda. Each episode defies expectations in one way or another. Ludwig Göransson’s original and evolving music continuously pumps the series with zest. Things could not be more exciting heading into Chapter 5. Howard is now only the second woman to direct live-action Star Wars content. She joins Deborah Chow with nuance further proving that the brand has been long overdue for more diverse voices behind the camera. Who would have thought that the first two female directors would deliver ace content? (P.S. everyone did)
Read our review of Chapter 3 and watch new episodes of The Mandalorian every Friday on Disney Plus!
Follow writer Andrew J. Salazar on Twitter: @AndrewJ626