Titled “Sanctuary”, the fourth episode of Disney’s The Mandalorian dials back on the intense action of the first three episodes. Fittingly, it offers Mando and his Baby Yoda charge a small oasis of peace and tranquility for much of this episode, directed by actress Bryce Dallas Howard. Of course, this peace is short-lived as the duo just can’t seem to stay away from trouble, even when it isn’t directly looking for them.
Picking up where the last episode left off, “Sanctuary” finds Mando and the child (“Stop touching things”, Mando playfully scolds) looking for a backwater skughole to lay low for a while. It’s obvious Mando still has no plan as to where to go or what to do. Will he raise Baby Yoda on his own? Deliver him to the Resistance? Find him a suitable home where he can have a real childhood?
Spotting the planet Sorgan, Mando decides it’s just remote enough for them to hideout for a couple of months. Naturally, that means they’ll be spotted pretty quickly, right? It doesn’t help that Yoda doesn’t like to follow instructions. Warned to stay in the ship while Mando scopes out the area, the precocious kid is nevertheless right by his side just moments later. With curiosity in his big wide eyes, Yoda takes in the shabby little tavern Mando enters. It’s also where we first spot Gina Carano’s Cara Dune, eying them from a corner table. Mando is immediately wary of her, and when she vanishes goes out to take a look. She quickly gets the jump on them and they have an all-out brawl where we see, yet again, that Mando is a much better gunfighter than hand-to-hand combatant. She gets the better of him, but they end up pointing blasters in a close standoff, only to be interrupted by an adorable, green onlooker who had slipped outside to watch. Oh that Yoda!
Cara Dune is an interesting addition to The Mandalorian. An ex-Rebellion shocktrooper who saw most of her action post-Endor (meaning after Return of the Jedi), she gave up that life when politics started to intercede. She came to Sorgan to live a life of quiet solitude, and needs Mando to get out of town so she can do that. Turns out he and a Baby Yoda draw a lot of attention. But before they can depart, a pair of villagers from a nearby fishing village approach Mando with a request. They need protection from Klatoonian raiders, seen in the episode’s intro laying waste to the peaceful village. Mando rejects them repeatedly, until he comes to think it might be a suitable, out-of-the-way home for Baby Yoda.
One of my favorite aspects of Rian Johnson’s divisive The Last Jedi was that it offered a slice-of-life look at the impacts of constant war. “Sanctuary” offers some of that , too, as Mando let’s his guard down and fits naturally with the people he’s helping to protect. A conversation with Omera (Julia Jones), a single mother who takes a liking to Mando, reveals that he hasn’t taken off his helmet in front of another person since childhood. We also learn that his introduction to the Mandalorian culture may not have been 100% his choice, but it’s one he’s come to accept. “This is the way”, he says, repeating the catchphrase that could overtake “May the Force be with You” among Star Wars geeks. As Omera’s daughter Winta and the other children play with Baby Yoda, this place looks more and more like home.
But a home needs to be protected. The townspeople aren’t fighters…well, except for Omera who is sweet with a blaster. After giving them some basic training, Mando and Cara Dune do some scouting only to discover their problems are bigger than anticipated. The raiders have in their possession an Imperial AT-ST chicken walker. This will be no easy task. Breaking into the raider camp, a pitched battle ensues while the tick-tick of a bomb winds down. The explosion alerts the AT-ST, which is being drawn to the camp in hopes of falling into a well-laid trap, which it eventually does after some quick thinking and a heroic act by Cara Dune using Mando’s awesome disintegrator rifle.
Weeks pass, and Omera thinks Mando and Baby Yoda would be better staying where they are. It’s clear she wants him to stay, the “come hither” eyes she’s giving him say everything. But Mando doesn’t think he belongs there, even if Baby Yoda does. He plans to leave the little kid behind to be cared for, live a normal life. That plan is interrupted by a bounty hunter hiding in the forests. His sniper scope trained first on Mando, then horrifyingly on Baby Yoda. When the shot fires and we fear the absolute worst, we can’t help but be relieved to see that Cara Dune has taken the would-be assassin out. But it’s all the proof Mando needs that Baby Yoda won’t be safe there, or anywhere, and only he can keep him safe.
As The Mandalorian continues to veer from Eastern and Western influences with a plot taken straight from Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven, it also sets up a purely episodic status quo. While things could change in the final few episodes, it has mostly stuck to a standalone, low-stakes structure and I think that’s pretty cool. Important threads carryover, of course, including more revelations about Mando and the Mandalorian culture, but we may be wrong to expect the series to get swept up in huge intergalactic battles and Imperial intrigue. More than any other, “Sanctuary” also shows the evolution of Mando from a cold-hearted warrior into a protector, not just of Baby Yoda but of anyone who is defenseless. This doesn’t seem natural to the Mandalorian code, and I wonder if conflicts will arise from it.
While this episode dials things down a little too much on occasion the action we do get is bolstered by Carano’s MMA background, lending credibility to Cara Dune as a badass. This is also the first episode where we see the effects budget pushed to the limit, and while that shot of the AT-ST looming ominously in the forests is pretty awesome, it’s clear the concessions that had to be made elsewhere because of it. Now that we’ve had our breather, the return of Dave Filoni as director means we can expect The Mandalorian to go full throttle once again, and I can’t wait to see what trouble Mando and Baby Yoda have to free themselves from.