[Editor’s note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Mandalorian” Episode 4, “Chapter 4: Sanctuary.”]
It’s becoming pretty easy to predict how “The Mandalorian” plays out: The titular protagonist finds a new unlikely ally — this time it’s the no-nonsense but easily likable merc Cara Dune (Gina Carano) — and Baby Yoda does some cute stuff that set the internet on fire for another week. There are action sequences with lasers and explosions. It’s like the “Star Wars” movies, just on a smaller screen and with a shorter runtime.
Though it’s never groundbreaking or otherwise containing subversive thrills that will win over those who are apathetic towards the franchise, “The Mandalorian” is unarguably well-polished, perfectly enjoyable sci-fi entertainment with a “Star Wars” paint job. For the vast majority of viewers, that is probably more than enough.
Where “Chapter 4: Sanctuary” differs from the series’ preceding episodes is its dialogue, which is plentiful. This is the wordiest episode of “The Mandalorian” yet, and all the talking aptly fleshes out its characters and the worlds they live in without ruining the sci-fi mystique that the series and the broader Star Wars franchise thrives upon.
The episode centers on Mando (Pedro Pascal) and his diminutive stowaway (aka The Child, aka Baby Yoda) attempting to find shelter on a forest world, and it doesn’t take long for the reluctant hero to agree to aid a hapless village of farmers from alien raiders in exchange for lodging. It’s an episodic plot, but proper attention is given to the unnamed world and its people, without detracting from the Mandalorian’s quest.
For a series defined by space magic and powerful bloodlines, it’s nice to see attention given to comparably ordinary people in an otherwise fantastical setting. A reluctant hero helping the townsfolk is basic adventure stuff, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great fun to watch such a basely agreeable concept play out in the world of “Star Wars.”
As fun as the “Star Wars” galaxy building is throughout the episode, the latest installment of “The Mandalorian” doesn’t quite excel in the action department. The lighting is oppressively dark in the lengthy action sequences in the episode’s latter half, and it becomes difficult to discern the good guys from the bad, let alone keep track of what else is happening on screen. Lasers, explosions, and fire lightning up the dusky battlefield makes for a duly dramatic set piece, but it’s all disappointingly routine, especially after the fairly memorable shootouts in the series’ prior episodes.
Although there’s plenty to critique in the episode’s more explosive scenes, significant praise should be given to the crew who brought an AT-ST — which the antagonistic alien raiders have co-opted — to life on the small screen. The iconic Imperial combat walkers were no match for Ewoks in “Return of the Jedi,” but there are no Ewoks in “The Mandalorian, and the Disney+ series’ latest episode does the towering vehicle justice. While the murky lighting in the episode’s action scenes obscure too much of the action, the darkness is effective at shrouding the AT-ST; it’s glowing red cockpit pierces the shadows like a monster’s eyes in a horror film, and its janky, heavy movements make it truly seem like a terrifying war machine.
Speaking of good designs: Baby Yoda. Episode 4 has already been out for a few days, and you’ve probably already processed the viral-baiting scenes of the little alien tinkering with the Mandalorian’s ship and sipping on soup. It’s all very cute and precious, and the puppet continues to steal every scene it’s in. There’s a tease that the Mandalorian will leave Baby Yoda with the villagers after the raiders are dealt with, and there’s even a moment where a bounty hunter nearly assassinates the poor thing. Of course, neither of those things happen, but even the most curmudgeonly viewer will breathe a sigh of relief when it’s clear there’s more Baby Yoda goodness to come.
Of course, Baby Yoda was engineered by Disney to evoke such emotions and serve as easy viral marketing for the company’s new streaming service, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a fun and memorable part of the series. It’s a testament to the thing’s cuteness and “The Mandalorian” as a whole that Baby Yoda continues to be such a pleasure to watch.
“The Mandalorian” Season 1 is now at its halfway point, and outside Baby Yoda, the tentpole hasn’t done much to subvert audience expectations about the first live-action “Star Wars” show. Regardless, you’ll still be hard-pressed to find even casual “Star Wars” fans who aren’t eager to see how this all turns out. “The Mandalorian” is still playing things safe, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a consistently enjoyable affair.
“The Mandalorian” debuts new episodes every Friday on Disney+.