Howard is particularly good at delivering satisfying homage. With “Sanctuary,” Howard gave us Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai on an alien planet. Written by Favreau, the episode has strong characterization and stakes for Din Djarin, with the peaceful town and the villager Omera symbolizing a life he could have if he gave up bounty hunting. The chemistry between Omera and Din, the scene-setting, and the action (this episode also introduces MMA fighter Gina Carano as Cara Dune) make it a strong showing. It’s not quite original, as it pulls from classic samurai films, Star Wars itself, and a host of other stories to create a battle of underdogs against a more highly mechanized enemy, but Howard’s direction — especially of the climactic nighttime battle, with its AT-STs, brights lights and fiery sparks, and thick shadows — makes the episode pop. “Sanctuary” remains one of the most memorable episodes of the show’s first season
Her season two episode “The Heiress” (also written by Favreau) handles Star Wars influences in a different way: by directly connecting the look and feel of the episode to another part of the sprawling saga. Howard ushers in the first live-action appearance of animated character Bo-Katan Kryze, a Mandalorian warrior from The Clone Wars, and directs the action on the screen in a way that nods to the animated series: Mandalorians zooming through the sky with jet packs, the exchange of blaster fire across long hallways, highly coordinated gravity-defying maneuvers to board an enemy ship. The episode fully embraces the fantasy of being an armored warrior against overwhelming numbers, a setup found quite often in the animated series.
Howard has had a lot of time to learn how Star Wars works, of course. She’s the daughter of Ron Howard, a longtime collaborator of Lucas’ who also directed Solo: A Star Wars Story. In the behind-the-scenes interviews in Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, she tells a story about having dinner with her father, Lucas, and Kurosawa when she was five or six years old.
Just like Filoni, Howard learned directly from Lucas as an adult, too. She shadowed her father on Solo and saw the importance of collaboration on Lucas’ Willow.
“The people are just all in, give everything, own it, own the process themselves, and then are like, ‘Your turn,’” she told Variety in 2019 about directing The Mandalorian. “It is so exhilarating and grounding and it doesn’t ever get about the ego, because it’s all about Star Wars, which it needs to be.”