After acquiring a droid to help him navigate the surface of Mandalore, Din Djarin – The Mandalorian – and Grogu arrive to try and get far below to the mines that he needs for his cleansing ritual. However, the route down is littered not just with less successful travellers but a host of threats including organic and technological obstacles.
As Djarin battles a foe that seems to be both technological and organic, can Grogu summon help in time?
Chapter 18 of The Mandalorian, entitled The Mines of Mandalore, certainly channels that broad-stroke, derring-do of the Saturday Morning Serial ™ format, though it largely feels like an oddly-paced and erratic filler that is simultaneously full of mythological nods and yet curtailing some of the elements we might presume would form the backbone of this third run. IG-11? Yesterday’s news, needed for spelunking but passed over for an older Star Wars veteran of sorts. Mando’s quest for the ‘magic’ waters of Mandalore? Yup, it finds its source rather quicker than expected.
The pre-titles sequence involves a quick, almost literal ‘drive-by’ to Tatooine and the junk-pile that is Peli Motto’s repair shop. It’s mainly played for quick laughs, complete with stereotypical double-dipping, double-dealing and a junk droid R5-D4 who is so desperate not to be taken by Din Djarin on an adventure that he shakes. (For deep-diving Star Wars junkies, R5-D4 is the droid that Uncle Owen tried to buy before settling on R2-D2… so continuity and possibly the only reason the droid isn’t spare parts by the end of the episode)
The dialogue in this particular episode still feels so heavy and hokey (can we call Mando’splaining?) that it could have come directly from the keyboard of George Lucas himself (because, Grogu bless him, Harrison Ford was right about the fact George had great ideas but often clunky exposition-heavy scripts). “Our people are scattered like stars in a galaxy…“and “Look, that tunnel heads down!” feel like oblique stage directions rather than conversations. Djarin’s arrival on Mandalore seems far easier to get to than any of the previous chapters had indicated (after tales of its devastation, one suspected that Mandalore’s precious bathing waters were somewhere in a safe, in a castle, surrounded by armed guards, enveloped by a moat on fire, all inside a black hole, but all we get is some clouds and mild turbulence and a surface that doesn’t look any bleaker than half a dozen planets we’ve visited so far…though a background mountain-range evokes a crashed-ship shot from Alien). Djarin gives us a bantha-load of scripted reasons why he’s needed to bring a droid along at all (all that way just to check the air-quality – really?) and then decides within a few minutes of the droid disappearing around a corner (wheeling itself on terrain it couldn’t be less suited to navigate), to get out of his ship himself and just switch on his helmet’s safety-functions (seriously, that wasn’t a first option?). Minutes later he’s being attacked by Morlock-like creatures called Alamlites who’ve clearly lost their time-machine and then we find out the air is breathable anyway (so largely wasting a good 15 of the 40 or so minutes allocated for something that seems it should have been an e-mail not a quest).
Grogu hovers around on the floating dish he borrowed from the Mekon, following his father-figure around like he’d seen him on The Last of Us and figured he was the reliable type. The little green one’s powers seem to come and go as needed. One minute he’s incapable of opening the spit-like cage in Djarin’s finds himself trapped, the next he’s speedily backtracking the entire maze of passages which took us far longer to get through originally, Force-throwing one of those pesky Morlocks in a way that would have been much more helpful several scenes prior and then piloting himself and R5-D4 halfway across a star-system to fetch help from Bo-Katan. It’s always good to see Katie Sackhoff in anything and this episode requires Bo-Katan to take some time off from her epic seat-slouching marathon to help. There’s also some background information about her family for those who have / have not been aware of her lineage in other Star Wars series. She keeps on her helmet when outside – until she simply decides not to – and yet Din even keeps his firmly attached when drinking Pog-soup which, frankly looks stupid and just underlines the total absurdity of the whole Mando-mandate on the never-removal of headgear. This episode also sees Katan get to finally wield the Dark Saber, which I thought she wasn’t allowed to do unless she ‘won’ it in combat, but, in all honesty she does far better than ‘Mando’. (Then again, in this episode, everyone’s doing better than him at just about everything).
The main adversary of the piece is a decent concept in and of itself – a diminutive alien that keeps using ever-bigger armour to fight his enemies and it’s almost a shame that it ultimately doesn’t take a climactic battle to finally finish him. Alert: Action-figure collection opportunities! Quite what the creature is and why he’s draining some bodily-fluids from Djarin for some arbitrary reason, is never really explained.
Even more so than the third season opener, this is a chapter that draws the demarcation lines between the type of Star Wars projects available and what an individual viewer might want. Both harmless and mythologically reverent, The Mandalorian is glossy, stylish and fun enough… but doesn’t seem to have much to say. It’s technically well made, enjoyable in the moment and there’s obviously a market for such a tonally old-fashioned production… but it also seems utterly disposable and stilted and still feeling like a costly commercial for action figures that are ironically more articulated than the narrative itself…
- Production Design / VFX9