Some minor and necessary spoilers for The Mandalorian “Chapter Three: The Sin” below
Well with hindsight, the second episode was merely the calm before the Imperial storm, and one gets the distinct impression that The Mandalorian “Chapter Three: The Sin” was only the first few raindrops of the smallest cloud. When the lightning finally strikes, it will surely bring some stormtroopers with it.
More on that later. First, The Mandalorian “Chapter Three: The Sin” has a couple of perceived sins its eponymous Mandalorian has to atone for, and one crime the show itself perpetrated and now serves penance for: “Chapter Three: The Sin” is the “Character Actor Carl Weathers Showcase” promised by Greef Karga’s introduction two episodes ago.
“Chapter Three: The Sin” is the least subversive episode so far…but this is still immensely satisfying Star Wars…a traditional blowout in a hive of scum and villainy.
Director Deborah Chow wisely wrings as much screen-time out of Greef Karga as she possibly can, because Weathers inhabits Karga with the same swagger and verve of a character in an Elmore Leonard novel. If Karga becomes the Boyd Crowder to the Mandalorian’s Raylan Givens (“Ahhh, Mando!” as Karga exclaims), at least in scenery-chewing spirit if not dialogue and character, then The Mandalorian really will be a full-on Star Wars Western in all the genre’s forms. Tangentially, dear reader, if you have no idea what these references are to, this is a public service announcement to watch Justified.
Karga is immediately set up as Mando’s foil for the episode, with a hologram communiqué to meet him after the still-absolutely-adorable Yodaling is delivered to the Imperials. Evidently Weathers isn’t used to green-screen, because his performance here is slightly awkward and stilted, compared to his zeal in the rest of the episode. From the moment he chastises another bounty hunter and then welcomes his “friend” back to the cantina with a roar, Weathers’ flourish takes hold of the scene, inviting Mando to the “Twi’lek healing baths” amongst other rich pleasures; Karga becomes the delightful and distinctive sort of secondary character that Star Wars has built a multimedia empire out of over the decades. Except for this time, he’s not a man of few words who will need a book or comic to delve into his personality. Mando is a man of few words, and Karga’s persistent mild annoyance that Mando won’t indulge in his fanciful ideas is amusing.
Karga’s flamboyance is not simply there just to contrast Mando’s silence, it’s also the mark of confidence in how the bounty hunting business is run and his morally indifferent place in it. The same cannot be said of Mando, whose conscience has been pricked by the tiny, clawed fingers of his infant charge. Upon delivering the Yodaling to the still-unnamed Werner Herzog, he riles his employer by questioning his plans for the child. As stormtroopers enter the room, he says in dead-eyed fashion, “Is it not the code of the guild that these events are now forgotten? That Beskar is enough to make a handsome replacement for your armour. Unfortunately, finding a Mandalorian in these trying times is more difficult than finding the steel.”
It’s a quintessentially Star Warsian villainous exchange, one not so far removed from the guile musings of Sheev “Definitely Not a Sith Lord” Palpatine. A few more puns, and Darth Vader could have said it.
This episode as a whole is probably most alike to the known Star Wars template, at least in terms of story structure, character beats, and monologues, all the while mirroring moments from “Chapter One”. For example, after taking the bounty back to the Mandalorian forge to create a new suit of Beskar steel armour, Emily Swallow’s Armourer has another philosophical discussion with him. They muse on the idea that “secrecy is [their] survival” and “[their] survival is [their] strength”, as well as confirming that apparently Mandalorians never remove their helmets (which is not really true in other media and sort of undermines the secrecy bit). Moreover, Mando refuses a proper signet because the Mudhorn beast he slaughtered in “Chapter Two” was not a “honourable kill”—the Yodaling aided Mando when “it did not know it was [his] enemy”. His decisions perturbs him, and inner turmoil is furthered by accusations by other, formerly mute Mandalorian bounty hunters that he is a “coward” for working with the Empire that “shattered” Mandalore.
If there’s one quibble with this episode’s script, it’s that the Mandalorian culture in the show hasn’t really been fleshed out enough for this deep betrayal of Mandalorian ideology to hold much weight in terms of swaying Mando, from the audience’s perspective. Allusions to the unseen Great Purge aren’t sufficient given that the flashbacks (the motif of anvil strikes causing traumatic reminiscence reappears) concern Mando’s home being destroyed by Federation droids. For anyone who has only seen the films, their exposure to a (false) Mandalorian is Boba Fett, famously contracted by Darth Vader to capture Luke Skywalker.
While Mandalorians in greater canon have retained a very independent streak in ancient eras, the suitably stern and venomous reprisal for Jon Favreau’s voice-acting (playing Paz Vizla, a descendent of his older Clone Wars’ role, Pre Vizla) only recalls the acts of “Death Watch”, a terrorist Mandalorian group who allied themselves with former Sith Lord Darth Maul. In Rebels, another former commando of Darth Maul, Gar Saxon, was Governor of Mandalore in the name of the Empire. Point is, Mandalorian people have historically been about as loyal to the idea of not serving Imperial interests as they are to the idea of restraining themselves from fighting amongst each other.
However, Jon Favreau’s lambasting speech is a good one, and the guilt trip works. So while his new steel suit glints with the opulence of a deserved prize, Mando is unable to repair his emotional armour. He abandons the chance to get “far away” and goes off to rescue the Yodaling. Is it cliché that the initially ruthless Mando would have a change of heart? Absolutely. Does this neuter Mando’s appealing ambiguities? Perhaps. Yet it’s a testament to The Mandalorian’s tone thus far—and the thrall of the moment—that one could even consider that a classic Star Wars redemption would be denied, and that maybe Mando would forever leave the Yodaling in Imperial clutches.
But it’s also culminating expression of character growth that the past two episodes have been building towards; the Yodaling has been his moral compass and softened his resistant demeanour. Pedro Pascal has subsequently evolved his character’s physical mannerisms to be slightly more tender, but still gruff (at one point, he grabs the Yodaling by the cloak as a lioness holds the scruff of her cub’s neck). His voice regularly has a wavering note of uncertainty and is less clipped. It’s a subtle transformation on Pascal’s part, but were Mando to really go through with selling off this innocent child, it would be odious character regression at this point.
So begins the most thrilling sequences in The Mandalorian “Chapter Three: The Sin”: Mando infiltrates the Imperial stronghold and tries to escape. The cinematography is quite clever here: echoing the idea of an earlier sentiment that “[w]hen one chooses to walk the way of the Mandalore, you are both hunter and prey”, as Mando enters the building, the unsuspecting stormtroopers occupy the foreground of the shot, so that Mando can hunt them from behind. When he leaves, Mando is kept to the foreground, and becomes the prey.
Furthermore, the composition takes significant inspiration from Ralph McQuarrie’s art. The reverential treatment given to original Star Wars concept artist Ralph Macquarrie’s design aesthetic is never understated. Its influence shapes the series to this day, with every director and Lucasfilm executive creative director Doug Chiang noting precisely which McQuarrie pieces and sketches inspired certain design decisions. It’s genuinely been promotional material for the Sequel Trilogy, even The Mandalorian, signalling a return to “true” Star Wars (and The Empire Strikes Back actually used his paintings as its first teaser trailer).
What’s less appreciated is the important role the dynamism and staging in McQuarrie’s artwork still plays. McQuarrie’s art is striking in part due to how it plays with heights and distance, and always suggesting motion. One of his favoured depictions was to have a character ducking and hiding behind a corner, or a crouching David to the Goliath bearing down on him. The shadows are accentuated amongst the hallways of spaceships.
One of the more interesting qualities in the Original Trilogy’s production is just how faithfully McQuarrie’s concept art was translated to screen, not just in design, but shot composition—the use of tight close-ups and mediums, and especially characters lurking behind corners in the foreground. It’s a small thing, but the notorious reliance on languid wide shots in the Prequel Trilogy made the absence notable. Therefore, McQuarrie’s darkened corners are as essential to capturing traditional Star Wars as his designs are. While The Mandalorian has been making use of corners and coves, Director Deborah Chow and Director of Photography Greg Fraser make the latter half of the “Chapter Three: The Sin” a stream of McQuarrie-style live-action paintings, and it’s rather beautiful to watch.
The Mandalorian “Chapter Three: The Sin” is the least subversive episode so far—Mando’s contentious relationship with the other Mandalorians in the guild is neatly resolved, Carl Weathers lives to fight another day due to some well-placed Beskar ingots—but this is still immensely satisfying Star Wars. Each episode has queried the “essence” of Star Wars and what capturing it means, going from a Sergio Leone Western, to an atmospheric sojourn in the desert, to now a traditional blowout in a hive of scum and villainy. What unifies them then is the strong emotional interrogation of the central character, and if Mando’s arc remains this deliberate in its unfurling, and as engagingly filmed, this series can probably run the full gamut of styles and genres going forward.
I say Greef Karga doesn’t need a spinoff, but I’d really like one co-starring the theatric pirate Hondo Ohnaka (and his partner Ugnaught, Melch)
To the episode’s credit, it does give us a few more idiosyncrasies about Mandalorians: “This is the way” is an immediate peace-making, fight-quelling mantra.
Omid Abtahi’s Dr. Pershing’s place in all this is hard to parse exactly, but this episode suggests there are still layers to uncover. Or he was bluffing.
The Imperial Remnant want Midichlorian extracts from the Yodaling, right? I personally hope they do go this route, because I’ve always thought that extracting Midichlorians from younglings to increase Force sensitivity would be a properly gruesome villainous aim.
The Yodaling takes a backseat in this episode, but its few antics are still as cute as anything.
Deborah Chow is also directing the upcoming Obi-Wan miniseries, and on the strength of this episode’s action, it’s something to look forward to. However, first, we’ll get to see what she does with Chapter Seven!