This review contains full spoilers for episode one of The Mandalorian Season 3, now available to watch on Disney+.
The Mandalorian emulated Game of Thrones in the worst possible way in Episode 2 of Season 3, making it nearly impossible to see the ruined planet of Mandalore or the many fight scenes that happen there.
It seemed like Din Djarin’s quest for redemption was going to be a season-long plot involving a side quest to rebuild IG-11, but ‘The Mines of Mandalore’ speeds things along while reviving Bo-Katan’s quest to retake her homeworld. There are a lot of callbacks in the beginning of the episode, with the return to Tatooine and the grungy charms of Amy Sedaris’ Peli Motto.
The decision not to replace the tooth she lost in the finale of The Book of Boba Fett suits the character as much as the scam she’s running with the Jawas. After Andor largely eschewed alien characters, The Mandalorian returns to mundanely slotting them into the galaxy as Peli negotiates with an unfortunate Rodian talking animatedly with his well articulated fingers.
The planet is celebrating Boonta Eve, the same holiday commemorated by the podrace in The Phantom Menace, which is subtly referenced in the race wrapping up in the beginning of the episode. The giant fireworks show happening when Din leaves is striking, but it feels like meaningless pageantry compared to Andor’s “The Eye,” which perfectly married spectacle and plot.
Boonta Eve is a holiday established by the Hutts and this episode could have examined how the celebration has changed with them no longer on Tatooine, something that would fit well into the episode’s dive into the importance of a planet’s culture. Instead the action zips on, with Din reluctantly accepting the help of the glitchy, cowardly astromech R5-D4 (yep, the very same) instead of his busted murderbot friend.
There are some tender moments on the ship as Din describes what Mandalore means to him as a foundling who never actually set foot on the planet. Din’s tone has shifted since being reunited with Grogu in a way that shows he’s truly embraced the child as an adopted son who needs to be fully initiated into the Way of the Mandalore. These lessons, along with those Grogu got from Luke Skywalker, will serve him well as he starts taking a more active role as a character rather than an unpredictable asset sometimes capable of bailing Din out of trouble. It is unfortunate then that the show emulates the awful Attack of the Clones Yoda fight scene when Grogu Force hops out of Mando’s ship and into Peli’s arms.
Black Panther cinematographer Rachel Morrison looks to establish a horror vibe in her first episode of The Mandalorian. With his helmet pressurized to protect him from the potentially toxic atmosphere, Din resembles Dead Space’s Isaac Clarke as he explores the dimly lit ruins of a once great civilization. But while the limited perspective of his helmet flashlight helps establish a mood, it strips the impact of the setting and makes its battles nearly impossible to follow.
Morrison could have alternated between the tight views and more sweeping vistas to show the ruins, or turned up the lights when the action was happening. The dragon-like creature that emerges from hiding to ambush Grogu shows she’s capable of this shift, cleverly setting up its lurking presence while still delivering a start when it attacks. It looks great in the pale light of Mandalore’s blighted surface, its snapping maw almost matching the hue of the planet’s striking mountains of green glass.
Instead the episode features a handful of often obscured fights with troglodyte-like alamites. The giant-buglike robot that captures Din and its bizarre pilot — which is reminiscent of the dianoga from A New Hope’s trash compactor — make for appropriately creepy antagonists that almost shed enough light to allow me to track the sequence. But the fights are mostly frustrating blurs of vague movement against black backdrops.
With Din captured, Grogu seeks help from Bo-Katan, who saves Din’s life twice in 15 minutes. She also gets to show off just how much better she is with the Darksaber than Din when she takes it off the creature that captured him, reestablishing her claim to the weapon that can finally reunite her people. Her conversations with Din dig into the conflicts between their approach to what it is to be a Mandalorian and also what it means to be a people in diaspora. Are you defined by where you live, where you grow up or the code that you live by? It makes sense that Din clings more to the culture as a child of exile while Bo-Katan defines Mandalore more as a physical place to rebuild.
Unfortunately the darkness didn’t just detract from the spectacle but also the episode’s emotional core. It’s too hard to see Katee Sackhoff’s face to see how she reacts as she listens to Din explain his values. Obviously Pedro Pascal has had a lot of experience emoting without being seen, but it’s pointless to put another actor under the same handicap through bad lighting.
The Darksaber passing back to Bo-Katan gets to a core issue with Star Wars, which is how much the series is focused on a few powerful bloodlines. The Armorer noted that Bo-Katan broke with the normal way of Mandalore by making a claim to power based on heredity, but this episode makes it clear that she’s got the skills to back it up. It’s hard to say if the more reluctant hero Din would be a better standard bearer for his people, but there’s something inherently regressive about nostalgia for a lost monarchy.