A review of this week’s The Mandalorian, “The Sin,” coming up just as soon as this is the way…
For the most part, “The Sin” plays out exactly as someone who had watched the first two installments might expect. Our nameless, faceless hero — who for the time being I will refer to as “Mando,” just as Greef does — hands Baby Yoda over to his mysterious client, has a brief pang of guilt, then slips back into Werner Herzog’s compound to rescue the kid, even if it puts him in the crosshairs of every other bounty hunter in the system.
But The Mandalorian is going for an elemental pulp vibe, where surprise is not only besides the point, but may be counterproductive to the point. This is a story meant to hit all the familiar beats, both because they’re beats that have worked forever and a day, and because they’re a relative novelty in the Star Wars universe. We want to see Mando get his full suit of Beskar steel armor, because it looks cool — Boba Fett is beloved by generations of Lucas fans almost entirely because of his cool armor — but we also want to see him save Baby Yoda(*), because Baby Yoda is too adorable for this world.
(*) Yeah, yeah, yeah, Yoda is the name of a character from the films, rather than the species of alien that both he and Baby Yoda belong to. But since the species and the baby both don’t have a name — and since the entire Internet is doing this, too — Baby Yoda it is until further notice.
And the advantage of playing a familiar tune is the room it gives you to play around between all the expected notes. So in between Mando handing Baby Yoda over to Imperial scum and staging a nighttime rescue mission, we get another visit to the Armorer’s forge, where we learn a bit more about Mandalorian culture. At first, it seems as if one of Mando’s peers might be out to steal his haul of Beskar, but they’re just curious where it came from and what it says about Mando’s adherence to their very strict code of honor(*). Though the series’ primary framing is that of a Western, the Mandalorians are presented as ronin — samurai who have lost their masters (or, in this case, their entire world) and are forced to take whatever jobs come along, hoping they can stick to their code in the process. There’s enough crossover between Western movie tropes and samurai movie tropes — particularly in the films of Kurosawa, Sturges, and Leone — for it all to fit neatly together in a galaxy far, far, away. And it recontextualizes this story not as that of a thug who discovers he has a heart of gold, but of a man trying to rediscover the noble spirit he was born with after a lifetime of ignoble deeds.
(*) This code includes never removing his helmet or allowing it to be removed by others. It still feels like the show has unnecessarily handicapped itself by keeping Pedro Pascal’s face hidden for this long, but at least we seem to be heading to a place where Mando has to choose to break that code for some reason. Let’s just hope the payoff is worth it.
That’s a more compelling way to go, and it nicely sets up the climactic moment when our hero is surrounded by Greef and all the other bounty hunters who initially failed to nab Baby Yoda. We have already seen him surrounded once before in the episode, when he uses his gauntlet’s new “whistling birds” (seeing-eye mini-missiles) to take out the Stormtroopers who outnumber him. So that method seems off the table, and it would fly the series down a bad hyperspace byway if we again got Baby Yoda Ex Machina. Instead, salvation comes from above, as the other Mandalorians swoop down on their jetpacks to hold off the bounty hunters long enough for Mando and Baby Yoda to escape. It’s a thrilling sight not just as a dream realized for many Star Wars fans who long wished Boba Fett could have used his own jetpack more, but to signal to us what the Mandalorians as a people are about. They will, as Mando points out, have to relocate their entire enclave as a result of stirring up trouble. But, as Mando and his former antagonist agree, “It is the way.”
Cutting-edge digital effects mixed with timeless storytelling tricks about heroic sacrifices. Satisfying, that was.
Some other thoughts:
* By helming this episode, Deborah Chow becomes the first woman to ever direct a live-action Star Wars film or TV show (following Rick Famuyiwa becoming the first person of color to do so with last week’s installment). Mando’s one-man raid on the client’s compound is lit darkly to better convey that our gunslinger can also operate like a ninja, but in the process it made the action there a bit harder to make out than some of the fight scenes from the two previous weeks. But the episode more than makes up for it with the jetpack rescue, and the overhead shot of the Mandalorians continuing to hold off Mando’s enemies even after he has made it to the ship.
* I haven’t yet mentioned Ludwig Göransson’s work on the score, but it’s really terrific. With the Creed movies, Göransson laces pieces of Bill Conti’s famous Rocky music into his own compositions, and he probably could have attempted something similar with John Williams’ work. (Not the main Star Wars fanfare, because that’s reserved for Skywalker stories, but some of the Boba Fett music from Empire Strikes Back.) Instead, Göransson’s stuff all sounds new, while also — particularly in the more triumphant music we’ve gotten near the end of these two most recent episodes — feeling very much in the spirit of Williams’ work. Nicely done.
* Finally, a nice touch to have Greef survive a shot from Mando’s blaster because he had some of his own Beskar in his breast pocket — a throwback to every hard-boiled detective story where someone survives a bullet to the chest thanks to their trusty whisky flask. Also, it was fun to hear him tell Mando, “I’m your only hope” — flipping Princess Leia’s famous line to Obi-Wan Kenobi from A New Hope, because this is a very different context, and a very different corner of the galaxy.