Returning to 'Star Wars' Western Roots

Episode 4 of 'The Mandalorian', "Sanctuary"

Returning to 'Star Wars' Western Roots

With episode four, The Mandalorian moves on from worldbuilding for a contained adventure fully cognizant of Star Wars’ roots in the western. In “Sanctuary,” Mando takes Baby Yoda to the remote planet of Sorgan, so they can lay low. He’s intrigued, not by the farmers’ plea for protection, but by their available lodging in such a distant area where he can avoid the bounty hunters’ guild and the former Imperial soldiers, as they search for Baby Yoda.

He and former Rebel shocktrooper Cara Dune (former MMA star Gina Carano) find themselves fighting off Klatooinian raiders with homemade barriers and scavenged weapons. The ragtag group of farmers who need the warrior to help the fight off attackers is a staple of westerns, as well as celebrated fannish franchises like Seven Samurai or Firefly. This show has it all—the charming widow and her daughter who houses the lone warrior. The gunfight. The plucky locals in need of training. The fellow lone gunfighter who gets how their lifestyle works and acts as a confidante. Cute Baby Yoda is just a bonus.

His scenes where he plays with the local children increase his appeal for young viewers while also establishing his character. He gets in his moment of cuteness while also slurping up relatives for the crowd of kids to watch with a chorus of “ewww!” Along with being little and curious, he’s appealing and friendly (and certainly is contributing the holiday merchandising, ahead of The Rise of Skywalker). He’s very happy when playing with the children and exchanging hugs, so much so that Mando decides to, in grizzled western fashion, do the right thing. “I’m leaving him. Here. Traveling with me is no life for a kid.” He insists the baby won’t mind. “He’ll get over it.” Of course, someone else hunting the child changes his mind—on the run as he is, Baby Yoda needs a real protector.

The episode also establishes that he was adopted into the culture—thus his devotion to the foundings to whom he donates some of his fee but also to the baby himself, another orphan. Asked when he last showed his face to anyone, he replies, “I wasn’t much older than they are,” gesturing to a group of nearby kids playing. “I was happy that they took me in. My parents were killed and the Mandalorians took care of me.” This adoption also links him with Boba Fett and his father Jango, who aren’t from Mandalore but wear its armor. Unlike them, Mando adheres to the culture’s traditions, determined to be one of them by adoption if not birth. An outsider, he knows he has more to prove than those born to it.

In this episode, the Mandalorian reveal the price for removing the helmet: he could never restore it and would be stuck in an ordinary life. The widow tempts him to settle down, and puts her hands on his helmet. He seems to consider for a moment before turning her down. This too is a western staple—the wandering gunman who keeps the townsfolk safe but can never settle among them.

In fact, this is still the rough frontier…even more so with the destruction of the Empire. Once they kept order, but now the shaky New Republic lacks its authority. Clearly, the last remnants of the Empire linger on – with sinister implications for Baby Yoda. He will need a powerful protector in this lawless new universe.

The buddy comedy—with one world-weary and tough, the other playful and innocent—works well in the genre as the characters continue exploring. And, in one case, snacking on the wildlife.

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Valerie Frankel
Valerie Frankel
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