The Mandalorian’s new episode channels Metroid’s moody exploration
It’s no secret that The Mandalorian often feels like a video game. The show has it all: fetch quests, escort missions, gear upgrades, and even difficulty spikes. That’s probably why ol’ Mando feels right at home in an actual video game. The opening of the third season of the show got away from the gameplay in order to do some scene setting that felt like one of those lengthy cutscenes Naughty Dog loves. But in episode 2 — aka chapter 18 — the cutscenes are over and we’re back to the action. The episode doesn’t just feel like any video game, either: it’s very Metroid.
Note: this article contains light spoilers for the first two episodes of The Mandalorian season 3.
At this point in the story, Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and his little green buddy Grogu are still trying to get to Mandalore, the ancestral homeworld of the Mandalorians, so that he can bathe in the “living waters” beneath the surface in order to atone for the transgression of taking off his helmet. Before heading there, he taps Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris), everyone’s favorite crooked mechanic, to get a new droid that can help him explore safely given that the planet is believed to be poisoned and lifeless following a devastating attack.
With the droid secured (though, honestly, the droid seems pretty insecure), Din and Grogu head off to Mandalore to find that it is indeed in ruins, though things aren’t as bad as he first thought. Sure, the once bountiful environment and thriving civilization are no more, but at least the air is breathable. What follows is basically the Star Wars equivalent of a dungeon crawler, with Mando venturing deeper and deeper underground in order to find the living waters.
There are action scenes. Din wields the Darksaber to fight off some hungry cave dwellers. Later, he’s confronted with the episode’s boss, a creature with a glowing red eye and various forms to transform into over the course of the episode. But the most interesting part is the moody exploration, as the Mandalorian quietly stalks through the remnants of a city, ancient mines, and other long-forgotten places.
Much like in Metroid — particularly Metroid Prime — this proves to be an excellent storytelling technique. You’re told some things about Mandalore, including how Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) was once part of a ruling family during the glory days (something Clone Wars fans are already well aware of). But much of the lore is inferred. Instead of being told every detail, you instead see the remains of the civilization as they explore, from the vast underground cities to the ancient mines and grand places of worship. The episode is a bit of a lore dump, but for the most part, it’s done in a way that feels natural as you piece things together visually.
That’s a big part of the appeal of the best Metroid games — they let you discover the story yourself instead of bombarding you with cutscenes and exposition. Chapter 18 of The Mandalorian isn’t quite as quiet or thoughtful — and obviously, it’s not interactive in the same way. But it has a lot of the same energy. It’s also the rare example of something from Star Wars becoming more interesting after you learn all about it. Midichlorians took some of the magic out of the Jedi, and Boba Fett became a lot less cool when he got a real job. But even after visiting the homeworld, I still want to learn everything I can about the Mandalorians and the strange, strict culture that Din came from.
Even better: give me a Metroidvania set on Mandalore so I can learn it myself.