From its opening shot, The Mandalorian has evoked classic Westerns and samurai movies, but it’s rarely been as explicit in its homages as in this episode. It’s also rarely gotten to nod to both genres at once, for as much as they have in common. “Chapter 4: Sanctuary,” however, essentially compresses the story of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai (and, by extension, John Sturges’s Western The Magnificent Seven and its own Antoine Fuqua–directed remake) into a 40-minute space Western. “Sanctuary” features fewer samurai, a much shorter training period, and tighter climactic battles (with no apparent casualties on one side). And, unlike its densely packed inspiration, this episode also only features one subplot of note, but it’s significant: Our hero finds himself drawn to an alluring widow named Omera (Julia Jones) and maybe, briefly, considers removing his helmet and leaving the Mandalorian world behind. It’s not to be this episode, but is it never to be? And if not here, then maybe somewhere else? Those questions will likely hang over the rest of the series.
When we first see the Mandalorian and the Child it’s unclear how much time has passed, but they seem to have settled into a comfortable groove. (And, again, he’s not officially named Baby Yoda, so let’s stick to the name he was given in a previous episode title, and the series’ subtitles, for now. We also don’t really know the name of our protagonist. It’s weird, right?) The Child likes to fiddle with the ship’s controls. The Mandalorian has gone from snapping at his bounty-turned-ward to gently admonishing him. And when he really wants to assert control, he just puts the little guy in his lap, a move central to any parent’s playbook. It’s all very sweet without seeming treacly, a delicate balance that the show continues to strike with this episode despite the Child being the cutest Star Wars creation since the porgs. (The stern-looking Mandalorian helmet probably helps.)
To evade capture from the bounty hunters still on their trail, the Mandolorian decides to land on Sorgan, a thinly populated, out-of-the-way planet without a starport or industrial centers. In fact, as he’ll discover, it seems largely populated by peaceful krill fishers who gently harvest their prey in nets as their ancestors have done for generations (with, apparently, a little help from droids). It’s, in the Mandalorian’s words, a “real backwater skug hole,” the kind of place a bounty hunter and a wide-eyed creature could chill for a while.
Except Sorgan has a problem. As the opening reveals, the peaceful Sorgans have issues with the thuggish Klatooinian Raiders, who mercilessly raid defenseless villages. (Though they’ve hardly been a central race to the Star Wars universe, Klatooinians have popped up in various stories since The Phantom Menace.) These include the quick-thinking Omera, who’s able to survive by hiding with her daughter Winta (Isla Farris) under a basket used to harvest krill. It’s a neat detail, in an episode written by creator Jon Favreau and directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, that the Sorgans appear as helpless facing their oppressors as the krill do to the farmers.
This situation clearly cannot stand, leading a pair of Sorgans to seek help near what passes for a town on their planet: a public house run by a genial proprietor (Ida Darvish) who doesn’t fully seem to understand how bribes work when the Mandalorian throws some extra coin her way in an attempt to discover how long the out-of-place-looking woman on the other side of the bar has been hanging around. She is, he’ll discover, Cara Dune (Gina Carano), a former Rebel Shock Trooper who saw a lot of action after the Battle of Endor but set off on her own once politics took the place of battling the “Imps.”
But before he finds that out, they tussle. And if you left Haywire thinking, “Sure, Gina Carano can take down Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, and others, but can she hold her own against an armored space mercenary?” Well, here’s your answer. Their brisk, brutal fight scene ends in a Mexican standoff the Child observes while sipping bone broth. It also gives the episode its best punchline: “You want some soup?”
Whether he’s hungry or not, the Mandalorian does not partake. He can’t, at least not in public, since he doesn’t remove his helmet in the presence of others. “The Sanctuary” uses this detail to fine effect later, when the Mandalorian, after privately removing his helmet, looks on wistfully at Omera and the chance at a life away from all this running and fighting. The detail reveals some new elements of Mandalorian life in general, and in our protagonist’s life in particular. Once the helmet comes off, that’s it. Their previous, Mandalorian life is over. (“This is the Way.”) And our protagonist seems to be a Mandalorian not by birth but because he was taken in by the Mandalorians after the death of his parents, an intriguing revelation that seems likely to have significance down the line. A character we know only as “The Mandalorian” in a show called The Mandalorian may not be, technically speaking, a Mandalorian. It also raises a practical questions. What if dining alone isn’t an option? Do the Mandalorians just starve? Do they have some kind of nutrient-delivery system built into that armor? We may never know.
What we do know: The Sorgans need help against the raiders harassing them. Though the Mandalorian wishes them luck and sends them on their way at first, he starts to see an advantage in hanging out in the middle of nowhere while being hunted. So he recruits Cara Dune to help him out because, after all, how hard could this job be?
Pretty hard, as it turns out: The Mandalorian and Cara Dune don’t know that the Raiders have use of a fully functional Imperial Walker apparently left over from the war. That might be a deal breaker under normal circumstances, since those things are tough. But the Mandalorian takes a liking to the Sorgans in general and to Omera and Winta in particular. And, besides, the Child seems pretty happy hanging out with the village kids (who are, of course, delighted to have him around). So, against their better judgement, the Mandalorian and Cara Dune set about training the villagers to fight. One training montage later, they’re good to go. Or at least as good as they’re ever going to be even though none of them, except Omera, know how to handle a gun. (If there’s a story there, we don’t get it in this episode.)
From there it’s all action and, typical of the series up to this point, impressive action to boot. Both the Mandalorian and Cara Dune’s stealth raid on the Raiders’ camp and the battle at the village’s edge work as tightly executed setpieces. The rough-and-tumble fight scene in the Raiders’ camp looks like it could be on loan from a martial arts movie, but the climactic battle, particularly the images of the Walker emerging from the trees, its demonic-looking eyes glowing as it looms over the village, wouldn’t look out of place in a Star Wars feature.
Yet both work within the series, which always feels like Star Wars but keeps reaching beyond the Star Wars we know to bring in other tones and influences. And even though the final battle plays like a miniature Battle for Endor, it’s part of a self-contained story that would have no place in a feature. That story also serves to send the Mandalorian on his way with some pain in his heart. He could see himself laying down the gun and the armor (and all the weaponry that comes with it) and making a life for himself and the Child here. That brief pause before he stops Omera from removing his helmet feels wrenching even though we never see Pedro Pascal’s face.
But the universe doesn’t want it, sending a message in the form of a bounty hunter out to take down the Child. And with regret — and a sweet hug between Winta and the Child — he’s on his way. He’s saved the day and earned a small reward for his troubles. But it’s come at a cost he’ll continue to pay wherever he goes.
• Howard is best known as an actor, but she’s been directing short films, music videos, and other projects since 2006. After Deborah Chow, who directed the previous episode, she’s the second woman to helm a live-action Star Wars project. That also makes her, thanks to her father Ron, half of the first father-daughter Star Wars directing team.
• Once again, the Mandalorian leaves his ship, the Razor Crest, unattended while he goes off on adventures. Did he learn nothing from the Jawa incident in the second episode? Is this a good idea even on an apparently Jawa-free planet?
• Tired: “I would die for Baby Yoda.” Wired: “I want to adopt a Loth cat and laugh as it hisses at Baby Yoda.”
• Spotchka seems to be a drink native to Sorgan. It also seems to be distilled from krill, which, eww.
• Here’s a question that will only be answered in future episodes: Is The Mandalorian as episodic as it appears? Specifically, will we ever see Omera and Winta again, or are they just dust along the Mandalorian’s trail? What about Kuiil? Greef Karga? And what of Cara Dune, whose appearance here establishes her as the Mandalorian’s mercenary equal and a valuable ally, should their paths ever cross again? But will they? Beyond casting announcements that make clear we’ll be seeing Giancarlo Esposito, Ming-Na Wen, and others down the line, the series has kept spoilers under wraps. It’s an example of how Disney+’s decision not to release full seasons of its show at once has helped make the show feel like an event. We’ll all have to tune in next week to find out.
• This week’s required viewing: The Seven Samurai, obviously.