Through the first 17 chapters of The Mandalorian—hell, let’s throw three Book of Boba Fett episodes in there and call it an even 20—Grogu was always the one on the receiving end of a rescue. Don’t get me wrong: Grogu certainly saved Mando on several occasions, whether from a mudhorn or a flamethrower or a Scorpenek droid or a rancor—not to mention from a mercenary lifestyle devoid of the love of a little green moppet. (Oh, and he healed Greef Karga, too.)
But when Mando and Grogu were pulled apart, it was invariably Grogu getting abducted and helplessly held captive, while Mando rode to the rescue. Din liberated the little fella from the encampment on Arvala-7 in the series premiere; from Dr. Pershing’s lab in the Client’s base on Nevarro; from the arms of short-lived bounty hunter Toro Calican on Tatooine; from Zero the droid’s blaster sights on the Razor Crest during the raid on the Republic prison ship; and from Moff Gideon’s flagship. Throw in IG-11 snatching the baby back from the scout troopers who killed Kuiil, and Grogu was typically the object, not the author, of the series’ daring recoveries.
Season 3’s second episode, “The Mines of Mandalore,” snaps that streak. This time, Mando is ensnared, and Grogu is the one who springs him from his prison. (Much as the younger Ellie looks out for Pedro Pascal’s Joel on this week’s The Last of Us.) Yes, Grogu has help, courtesy of Bo-Katan Kryze, but then Mando needed backup—Bo-Katan included—to mount his rescue missions too. The role reversal is a sign of Grogu’s progression: He’s no less cute than before, but he’s increasingly capable. Part of that capability, of course, is a testament to Mando’s guidance; Din has taught Grogu well. Three seasons into their relationship, Din and Grogu are less lone wolf and cub than coordinated wolf pack.
Just as significant as Grogu’s growth and its implications for the bond between the series’ leading duo is where the rescue takes place: the underground ruins of Mandalore. After spinning its wheels slightly at the start of last week’s episode, The Mandalorian burns narrative rubber in the follow-up episode, which was written by Jon Favreau and helmed by first-time Star Wars director Rachel Morrison. The Mandalorian, and the Mandalorian, rarely proceed directly from Point A to Point B; as Din told Grogu last week, “You never know where you might be headed next.” There have always been bounties to claim, allies to recruit, repairs to make, or coordinates to obtain before Din’s quests could be completed, so it seemed probable that we would have to wait a while before Mando touched down on Mandalore, mended fences with Bo-Katan, took a dip in the living waters, and met a mythosaur.
Instead, he did all of those things this week, which throws into question the shape that the rest of the season could take. “You ready for an adventure?” Mando asks Grogu. “The Mines of Mandalore” asks its viewers the same question, and makes it easy to answer “Yes.” Let’s dive as deep as Bo-Katan when she plays Mandalorian lifeguard to save a drowning Din.
Unlike R5-D4, this episode is built for adventure. For the second straight week, though, Favreau faked me out in the opening scene. “The Apostate” opened with what appeared to be a flashback to Din’s induction to the helmet-having ranks of the Children of the Watch, but turned out to be a ceremony for the tribe’s newest recruit. Similarly, “The Mines of Mandalore” begins with Mando touching down on Tatooine in search of a Jawa-scavenged memory chip for IG-11—and while that is his purpose, it doesn’t pan out.
Past seasons might have spent an episode on reactivating IG, and perhaps some screen time will still be set aside for that side quest; the capable droid would indeed have come in handy in Mandalore’s depths. But this week it was a red herring, and the episode’s subsequent shift in direction, stakes, and pace made it feel as if Favreau had pressed an N-1-style nitro-boost button on the script. “Boring,” Peli Motto declared when Din announced he needed a droid part. Many fans would have felt the same way about an extended crusade to revive a droid whose first-season sacrifice was so meaningful. Fewer will say “boring” about exploring Mandalore.
In order to sightsee in subterranean Mandalore, though, Din does need some droid to test the air down there. Motto makes sure that he doesn’t leave Tatooine without one. The Mos Eisley mechanic is also a master salesperson/swindler, which we know not only because she shook down a Rodian in this episode’s first scene, but because she already upsold Din on the N-1. Aesthetically speaking, the restored starfighter is a sweet ride. It’s handy in evading New Republic traffic patrols and ambushes by pirates, and admittedly, Mando no longer needs space to store bounties he brings in warm. Even so, the ship is the Star Wars equivalent of a midlife-crisis sports car, impulse-bought by a single dad who’d recently lost custody. Now he’s taking care of a kid (albeit a tiny one) full time, yet he’s still basically living out of his car. If the Outer Rim were regulated, Star Wars CPS would definitely be sniffing around.
Granted, Grogu’s been in worse situations, but I still have a lot of logistical questions. Doesn’t Din ever want to sleep lying down? Where does he shit, shave, and shower? Is he eating only rations, and is the cockpit full of crumbs? Din and Grogu wear the same thing every day, so they don’t need much closet space, but does this thing have a trunk? Mando tells Motto he has “no complaints” about his purchase, but if he wants to win friends and influence Mandalorians, he can’t keep living like this. I’m not saying he should ditch the vintage hot rod, but he should consider keeping it in the docking bay of a more practical craft.
Just as the N-1 is unfit for a bounty hunter or a family man, R5-D4 isn’t designed for spelunking. In the Season 2 premiere, Peli apologized to Mando for R5’s dawdling: “No, take your time,” she said. “Seriously. You just can’t get good help anymore.” On this visit, she tries to convince Din that the droid will be a great help—at least until her customer is about to take off, at which point she confides, “I wouldn’t rely too much on this one. Its circuitry is a little fragile.” (All sales are final at Peli’s, apparently.) Of course, Mando didn’t need Consumer Astromech Reports to tell him that R5 might be a lemon; the aged droid was clearly sold as is. According to canon, R5 blew its top on purpose in Episode IV, after R2-D2 persuaded the red droid to end its brief affiliation with Luke for the good of the galaxy. This time, R5’s motivator might really be bad. Either that or the droid just lacks motivation to endanger itself again.
As the droid rides along in the N-1’s reinstalled astromech port, Mando points out the Mandalore system’s sights to his son: Concordia, the moon where Din grew up and the Children of the Watch weathered the Night of a Thousand Tears; and Kalevala, the planet where Bo-Katan is busy sulking about losing the Darksaber. “A Mandalorian has to understand maps and know their way around,” Din tells Grogu, gesturing at the blips on the starfighter’s instruments. “That way, you’ll never be lost.” Even if, say, some unfortunate fate should soon befall your father, forcing you to fly off to get help!
Most of Mandalore is obscured by thick cloud cover, an artifact of the fusion bombs from the Purge that disrupted the planet’s magnetic field. That roiling atmosphere also stops signals from the surface from reaching space. “Down here, we’re completely cut off from the rest of the galaxy,” Mando explains. In this case, a communications disruption can mean only one thing: Somebody’s going to get into trouble and be unable to signal for assistance.
As the N-1 nears the ground, the clouds part enough for light to illuminate the surface, which is blasted, barren, and seemingly deserted. R5 has a bad feeling about this, but Mando makes it trundle over to an opening in the earth above the ruins of Sundari and, deeper down, the mines. When the droid disappears from the N-1’s radar, Mando follows in his pressurized helmet and is ambushed by bipeds that we later learn are Alamites, which aren’t mutated monsters but creatures that used to live in the wastelands outside of cities. Evidently they’ve moved into town now that the cities have turned into wastelands themselves. Mando still struggles to lift the Darksaber, let alone swing it, but he hacks and slashes his way through the cluster, looking like a noob trying to button-mash through a Soulslike.
After overcoming the Morlock-looking Alamites, Mando rights the fallen droid, which confirms what the Alamites’ presence suggested: Mandalore’s air isn’t toxic. “The charts were wrong,” Mando says. “The atmosphere is breathable. Bo-Katan was right. Mandalore is not cursed.” Start printing the pamphlets for the visitor center now. SEE SCENIC MANDALORE. NOT ACTUALLY CURSED! (What’s left of Sundari really is striking, in a Pompeii sort of way.)
Judging by one of Jedi: Fallen Order’s most annoying levels, Peli’s BD droid would have been a better choice of sidekick for the rest of Mando’s mission; even IG-11 would have a hard time keeping pace with Din and Grogu as the duo descend via jetpack and repulsorlift cradle, respectively. Although beasties peer out from pipes at the passing companions, no Mandalorians remain in the shattered city’s dripping rubble. However, a helmet lies on the ground, drawing Din’s hand. As he holds up the dirt-encrusted visor, the ground erupts beneath him, and a monstrous machine’s pincer clasps him tight. The helmet was the bait in an antlion-like pit trap, and Mando is immobilized. The mech carries him back to its lair, where its operator emerges. Din’s captor appears to be a cyborg, a hunched, General Grievous–like being whose organic, vaguely Dianogan eye looks out from a metal carapace. Like Grievous and his MagnaGuards, it stalks on clawlike feet and wields a glowing electrostaff.
The thing stashes Mando in a metal cage that not even Grogu can rattle; when the “little critter,” as Greef Karga called him, extends his hand and tries to Force it open, he succeeds only in causing a clang that gives him away. Alerted to the attempted prison break, the cyborg fires a bolt from the electrostaff, which Grogu vaults away from, drawing on his drill with Luke’s training remote in The Book of Boba Fett. Heeding Din’s instruction to “get to Bo-Katan,” the baby books it back to the N-1, swerving away from the pipe predators and Force-pushing an Alamite on his way. In the cockpit, Grogu calls on his newfound navigational prowess to point to Kalevala on the map, and R5 lifts off, bound for Bo-Katan’s castle.
Having ended last week’s episode by bidding goodbye to Din with an air of finality, Bo-Katan isn’t pleased to see his starfighter touching down again uninvited. (Some people hate the pop-in.) But her anger is predictably defused by the sight of a solitary Grogu, who could really use a booster seat if he’s going to make a habit of being ferried from planet to planet in the cockpits of autopiloted starfighters. The last time Bo and Mando talked, she called him a fool and told him to go home, but he doesn’t have a home; maybe Mandalore can become one, though it doesn’t seem hospitable so far. Despite her differences with Din over Mandalorian creed and the Darksaber, Bo scraps her plans to glower at her empty throne room for the rest of the day, and she and Grogu get in her ship for the return trip to Mandalore. (Bo’s Gauntlet starfighter is small enough to be maneuverable in combat, but big enough to double as a troop transport—and also spacious enough for her and Grogu to share the cockpit without Grogu sitting in her lap. Take a note, Mando.)
Speaking of Jedi: Fallen Order: Backtracking through levels was one of the worst parts of the game, especially because enemies mysteriously respawned, forcing players to fight the same battles repeatedly. (Supposedly, traversing the map will be a less tedious part of the forthcoming sequel.) The same could be said of “The Mines of Mandalore,” given its visits to familiar settings in Peli’s hangar and Bo’s castle, Grogu covering the ground between Mandalore’s surface and the cyborg’s den three times (in two different directions), and multiple Alamite fights. However, his second descent is made more tolerable by Bo’s small talk about how picturesque Mandalore was before it became a “tomb,” the Jedi she used to know, and Grogu’s burgeoning Force powers. “I know that you’re frightened,” Bo tells Grogu. “But I need you to guide me to him.” Sure enough, the
bad brave baby gets his cradle in gear and proceeds down the dark path, as if to tell Bo that This is the way.
The most memorable line from this sequence might be Bo’s question to Grogu after she makes quick work of the Alamites: “Did you think your dad was the only Mandalorian?” Various characters have previously referred to Grogu as Mando’s kid; the Armorer told Mando that until his foundling came of age or was reunited with its kind, he’d be “as its father”; and Ahsoka told Din, “You’re like a father to him.” But according to my exhaustive research—which consisted of ctrl+f-ing “dad” in 20 episode transcripts—this is the first time a character in this series or its spinoff has called Mando Grogu’s dad, or, for that matter, used the word “dad” at all. Considering Din is now, I would argue, the most legendary dad in the Star Wars saga who’s not also a Sith Lord, this is a major milestone.
When we (and Bo and Grogu) rejoin Din, his predicament has grown more dire, and much more disturbing. As he lies inside the narrow cage, the cyborg jabs him with a surgical drain, essentially tapping his body and draining it of fluids, presumably to sustain the cyborg’s organic components. (It has to be hungry, given that the bowels of Mandalore don’t do a thriving tourist trade or get a ton of foot traffic these days.) By live-action Star Wars standards, this setup—coupled with the cyborg’s unsettlingly Phyrexian appearance—is quite Cronenbergian; Din looks like he’s trapped in a pod from The Matrix and guarded by one of that franchise’s red-eyed Sentinels.
Bo takes on the monster that seems more machine than man (or than whatever it was originally) and seems outmatched—until, of course, she recovers the Darksaber, which her foe had discarded after imprisoning Din. With the blade in hand, she quickly cuts the creature down. Like any good video game boss, though, this one has three forms. The head detaches from the body and scuttles back to its insectile tank, which the tiny being drives like the Arquillian that hides inside a human frame in Men in Black. Aided by a weak warning from Din, Bo anticipates and parries its attack and then methodically disassembles it, slicing off its limbs and destroying the head. Then she fixes Din some soup.
First, it’s surprising that there’s no discussion of the thing that almost killed all of them. Bo explains the Alamites to Grogu (and, by extension, the audience), but she and Din don’t discuss the nightmare-fuel foe that was waiting under the floor for someone to stroll along. If you’d just been kidnapped by a cyborg that siphoned your fluids for sustenance, wouldn’t you have some questions? Like, What was that? or Is this kind of thing normal on Mandalore? Then again, if you’d just been kidnapped by a cyborg that siphoned your fluids for sustenance, maybe that’s the last thing you would want to talk about. Plus, sometimes there’s just strange shit in Star Wars that’s better left mysterious (until the inevitable lore dump in a secondary source). In Return of the Jedi, no one announced what a B’omarr monk was. Everyone on screen seemed to take it in stride that disembodied brains suspended in red liquid were walking around in spidery carapaces, which wordlessly communicated the anything-goes vibe of Jabba’s palace. The lesson here, perhaps, is that Mandalore is dangerous: Anything can kill you, including Alamites overhead, cyborgs underground and, just maybe, mythosaurs underwater.
Second: Bo is so much better with the Darksaber than Din. Mando holds the blade like Sir Ector and Sir Kay trying to pull out the sword in the stone. Bo makes it look like an elegant weapon from a more civilized age. The contrast between his clumsiness and her skill brings to mind what the Armorer told Din at the end of their lopsided sparring session: “Maybe the Darksaber belongs in someone else’s hands.” It’s hard to see why those hands shouldn’t be Bo’s. Sure, maybe Mando showed that he deserves to rule (even if he doesn’t want to) because he earned the blade by defending his friend, not by pursuing power. But Bo was also reluctant to lead when she was offered the blade in Rebels, and she still seems motivated more by concern for her people than personal status. Plus, if aiding a friend for selfless reasons is the sign of a worthy wielder, hasn’t Bo demonstrated the same quality by rushing to Din’s side, even though she thinks his mission is a waste of time?
Third: Isn’t Bo arguably entitled to the Darksaber now? As Moff Gideon explained to Din, “It must be won in battle. In order for her to wield the Darksaber again, she would need to defeat you in combat.” Well, Bo didn’t defeat Din, but the cyborg defeated Din, and Bo defeated the cyborg. Does a surprise attack not count as “combat,” because Din didn’t get a chance to fight? Does it matter that the cyborg tossed away the Darksaber and didn’t use it to duel Bo? Would the story of simply picking up the Darksaber and using it to cut down an unidentified cyborg lack sufficient power? You have to wonder how thick the owner’s manual for this thing is, what with all the fine print about who’s entitled to claim it, and how. Transferring power among Mandalorians is more complicated than Operation London Bridge. Even if Bo doesn’t think she’s technically entitled to the blade, wouldn’t the thought at least cross her mind? If so, she hasn’t shown it. We don’t even get a shot of her reluctantly, covetously handing the Darksaber back to Din, like Boromir returning the ring to Frodo.
What we do get is more musings about Mandalore’s past, and its present sad state. Din and Bo debate whether the planet is cursed—if not in some supernatural way, then in the sense, as Bo says, that there’s “nothing to cling to but ashes.” They also resume their exchange about whether the living waters are really magical. Just as Bo maintains that the planet is clearly cursed in a figurative sense, Din argues that there’s a kind of magic in myths, even if that’s all they are. “Without the Creed, what are we?” he asks. “What do we stand for? Our people are scattered like stars in the galaxy. The Creed is how we survived.” If the Empire intended to wipe out the memory of the Mandalorians, then the surviving Mandalorians may only play into their conquerors’ plans by abandoning their traditions.
Without so much as a power nap to recuperate from having his blood drained—pog soup must be strong stuff—Mando sets off for the living waters once more. Along the way, Bo rehashes her earlier laments about Mandalore and relates some (extremely selective) personal history, including a reference to her father’s death defending his homeworld that makes Din pause and bow his helmet in a touching display of “This is the Way.” As for Mandalore’s internecine squabbles, Bo calls them “too confusing to explain,” which—as someone who’s seen The Clone Wars and Rebels and still has a hard time recalling the twists and turns of the timeline of Death Watch—I can confirm. (So far, at least, The Mandalorian is mercifully limiting its Mandalorian history lessons from the Filoniverse to extremely high-level summaries.)
Before long, the trio arrives at the living waters. For Mando, this visit is a religious experience, but Bo is blasé; to her, the place is a hokey former tourist trap. As she reads a plaque commemorating the “ancient folklore” that told of Mandalore the Great taming the mythosaur, Mando is already stripping off accessories and preparing to take a dip. As he wades in, armor on—as someone with a pale complexion and a family history of skin cancer, I too wear my beskar at the beach—he swears fealty to the Creed. As we learned last week, though, bad things happen to Mandalorians who make vows while standing in bodies of water.
Before Mando can tell Bo, “Come on in, the living waters are warm,” he either sinks like a stone due to ill-chosen swimwear or is dragged under by something very big. (Last week’s crocodile was large, but there’s always a bigger, um, prehistoric, scaly, subaquatic creature.) Bo dives in to save Mando for the second time in the episode—this time, from the ironic indignity of dying in living waters—and as she rockets him back to the surface, she comes helmet to tusk with something that opens its eye like Smaug at the end of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. You know what they awoke in the darkness of the mines of Mandalore: a mythosaur. “If they survived, I wonder what else might have, too,” Bo speculated earlier in the episode, after dispatching the Alamites. By the end of “The Mines of Mandalore,” she has her answer. That mythosaur stuff in Bo’s “children’s stories”? (Or should we say Children’s stories?) It’s all true.
In the first season of Foundation, the middle-aged clone emperor completes a perilous pilgrimage to a sacred cave that contains a pool whose waters are said to grant visions. If he has one, it will prove that he has a soul. When he finally reaches his destination, he’s devastated to see nothing, and he invents a vision rather than confess to his possible soullessness. (I’ll link to the scene, if only for shirtless Lee Pace.) By contrast, Mando’s faith has been fully rewarded on his trip to the holy land. Almost drowning seems a small price to pay.
Let’s close with an electrostaff round of questions and comments:
- Is Mando or Bo going to tame the mythosaur, ride it as their ancestors did, and become the Toruk Makto of the Mandalorians … or is Grogu? After all, Grogu is the one who’s able to bond with animals (when he isn’t eating them), and he’s just as much a Mandalorian as Din, even if he’ll have trouble finding a helmet that fits over his ears. Odds are Grogu will help make the mythosaur into a mount for one of his companions, but I say let the tiny green guy ride the giant greenish-brown guy. Or at least let them ride it together, given that the mythosaur appears to be plenty big enough for both of them. For now, at least, Mando—who may not have seen the mythosaur yet—has the Darksaber, one powerful symbol of the right to rule. He shouldn’t get greedy. (While we’re on the subject of Grogu: Bo notes this week that Din’s kid is “quite the navigator,” which lends a little credence to a theory I floated last week about Grogu being the one to commune with the purrgils and lead Ahsoka and Sabine to Ezra Bridger on The Mandalorian’s next spinoff.)
- OK, this isn’t the most crucial question, but: What was the mythosaur called before it was believed to be a myth? They can’t have called it the mythosaur when it was known not to be mythical, right? I’m gonna go with the realosaur.
- The charts were wrong about Mandalore’s atmosphere being toxic, but why were they wrong? Did the air clear up on its own in less than a decade, or has it always been breathable? If its ecosystem has supported Alamites, mythosaurs, pipe critters, and cyborgs, then it can’t have been uninhabitable. Did someone tamper with the records so that refugees would stay away from the planet, à la Count Dooku deleting Kamino from the Jedi Library? If so, who and why?
- I know the Mandalorians have been through a lot lately, but I have to say: I’m not too impressed with their scouting skills. For one thing, how hard can it be to find a massive monster—presumably a long line of massive monsters, unless this thing is extremely long-lived—the size of the Loch Ness mythosaur in an underground pool? Have they failed to find a mythosaur because swimming is unpopular among armor-clad warriors, or were mythosaurs extinct until one of those pipe creatures mutated into a mythosaur, Godzilla-style, after fusion irradiation?
- Furthermore, all Mando had to do to find the mines was land on the planet’s surface and take an air sample to see that it was safe to breathe. Sure, it may be painful to return to the scene of the Night of a Thousand Tears, and the Children had already relocated to Concordia before the bombing, but what was stopping them from doing a little recon, as Bo-Katan did? The living waters are the most sacred site in your religion, which you’re so devout about that you won’t take off your helmet, and yet you’re like, “Yeah, I don’t know, someone said it was destroyed”? You’re already wearing a pressurized helmet, so go see for yourself! Where is the Armorer getting her intel?
- The Children of the Watch’s whole ethos seems to be based on the honor system; the Armorer would never have known that Mando removed his mask if he hadn’t admitted it. But if Din is worried about being believed about what he’s seen (considering he can’t cram the mythosaur into his N-1), he could bottle a sample of the living waters. Judging by the Armorer’s pre-smelting ritual of decanting a few droplets into her cauldron, she may be able to tell that the stuff is authentic.
- According to Mandalorian lore, the mythosaur rising up would “herald a new age of Mandalore.” It also seems to herald a new age of The Mandalorian. If Season 3 isn’t about making it to Mandalore and finding the mythosaur—check and check, though the mythosaur may still take time to domesticate—then what will its arc be? The planet isn’t actually lifeless, but it’s far from a Nevarro-esque real-estate opportunity. Will anyone want to move back there when they learn that they can? If the planet is mostly unoccupied, then what’s to stop them, aside from their own differences? Has the series done enough to make Mando leading his people, healing the rifts among Mandalorians, and playing hot potato with the Darksaber emotionally satisfying story lines on par with the growth of the bond between Din and Grogu, given that Mando himself is only just starting to care about the planet and his weapon’s symbolic significance? And when will Moff Gideon escape, which could give the Mandalorians a mutual enemy to unite against other than strange cyborgs, while also potentially leading to revelations about Grogu and tie-ins to Ahsoka?
- Grogu has begun to babble! We’ve all been waiting for Grogu’s first word, but I definitely didn’t hear him say “Peli.” As the father of a real-life youngling, I can confirm that distinguishing words from meaningless vocalizations can be difficult at first, but if Grogu said “Peli” before “Mando,” “Din,” or “dad,” I would be deeply wounded on Din’s behalf.
Your Mandalorian mileage may vary, but unlike a lot of people, apparently, I’m not finding it any harder to enjoy this series post-Andor than I did before—and I say that as someone who considered Andor a revelation. Before Andor, I argued that genre stories like the ones told inside Star Wars shouldn’t be created or evaluated on a curve—that they could be as sophisticated, subtle, and meaningful as any other narrative. After Andor, I’d argue that they can also sometimes still be space adventures in the old-school-serial style.
Andor gives me great writing, nuanced character development, and devastating personal stakes; The Mandalorian gives me warm, fuzzy feelings, exotic creatures, and links to a larger universe. There’s room in sci-fi for practical effects and special effects; street-level antiheroes and sympathetic Force users; tear-jerking tragedies and silly sight gags. Although Andor and The Mandalorian target different pleasure centers, they’re two great tastes that taste great together or apart: While we’re letting other people enjoy things, we can also each indulge in different flavors at different times. I’m glad that this franchise can encompass both, because between the two of them, most of my Star Wars itches are scratched. I wouldn’t say this season has hit peak Mandalorian yet (though this week was close!), but it’s great to get more of Mando and Grogu’s great adventure—and it’ll also be great to get more Andor in 2024. There’s never been a better situation about which to say, “Why not both?”