|Rick Famuyiwa, Rachel Morrison, Lee Isaac Chung, Carl Weathers, Peter Ramsey, Bryce Dallas Howard
|Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, Noah Kloor
|Pedro Pascal, Katee Sackhoff, Emily Swallow, Carl Weathers, Giancarlo Esposito, Jack Black, Lizzo, Christopher Lloyd
|March 1 – April 19, 2023
After a long two-year wait, The Mandalorian finally returned this spring, with the character having briefly appeared in three episodes of the critically reviled Book of Boba Fett. Disney+’s Star Wars efforts have widely begun to be met with audience antipathy, with the general public’s fascination with “Baby Yoda” seemingly decreasing and the quality of shows not meeting the expectations of fans. The only critically acclaimed project, Andor, was seemingly completely ignored by audiences.
While the upcoming Ahsoka and Skeleton Crew shows are drawing some fan interest, Disney appears to be forging ahead with plans for a massive Dave Filoni-led crossover film in the near future, in addition to new films by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, James Mangold, and Taika Waititi. In the meantime, though, Star Wars fans are largely unhappy with the current direction of the adventures of Mando and Grogu.
Violence/Scary Images: TV-14 action violence, shooting, explosions, deaths, stabbing, and characters being eaten
Language/Crude Humor: Some crude language, limited to none
Drug/Alcohol References: Characters drink alcohol
Sexual Content: None
Spiritual Content: The story grapples with the spiritual concept of “The Force” and an order of religious warriors who worship combat and their Mandalorian identity
Other Negative Content: Limited to none
Positive Content: Themes of unity, conflict resolution, growth, forgiveness, and mentoring
The new season of The Mandalorian has been hit with unusually harsh scorn from Star Wars fans over the past two months, as the plot of the show slowly unfurled. It has been a curious phenomenon to watch play out, given the show’s first two seasons were held up as a breath of fresh air in the aftermath of the sequel trilogy failing to stick the landing with The Rise of Skywalker. With the subsequent critical bombings of Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Book of Boba Fett, this show should’ve been in a strong position to clear things up, yet it drew a shrug from the community.
Part of the problem may have been the way the show was released. Disney has been one of the few streaming networks to maintain weekly content releases in place of dumping entire seasons of a show onto streaming, much like Netflix. As a result, fans had to watch this slow, somewhat meandering story play out over the course of two agonizing months while I watched it over a weekend, well after the negative reception had dampened.
In my estimation, the third season was pretty good. That comes with the caveat that I think it is more broadly reflective of the series’ overall trends than most Star Wars fans tend to give it credit for. The first two seasons of The Mandalorian were incredibly inconsistently written. Both seasons begin and end with enormous splashes and huge setpieces, but mostly string the middle plot along with side stories, fetch quests, and fanservice appearances by extended-lore characters.
Season 3 mostly functions the same way, albeit with the caveat that the show is operating with a serious disadvantage — the plot was effectively resolved offscreen. The final episodes of The Book of Boba Fett resolved the largest abiding mystery from the second season by revealing Grogu was going to abandon the Jedi to stay with his surrogate father and become a Mandalorian foundling. Without the core drama of Dinn struggling to care for Grogu, discover who he is, and forge a path forward, the series had no story. Season 3 thus has to awkwardly transition into a new functional status quo and try to rely on the character’s deep lore to make it passable.
Coming off of the end of the prior seasons, Dinn begins the season as a disgraced Mandalorian warrior attempting to earn his way back into his extended religious order by going on a dangerous mission to his home planet of Mandalore, alongside his ally Bo-Katan, to bathe in the living waters of the mines of Mandalore, in what amounts to baptism and purging his sins. In doing so, he discovers his people’s mythological belief that the planet was cursed and poisoned was wrong, and accidentally positions Bo-Katan as a prospective leader who could unite the disparate factions of his people and allow the religious Mandalorians and the monarchical Death Watch mercenaries to collectively conquer Mandalore from the Imperial Remnant.
Throughout this story, we start seeing the early stages of a new arc for Grogu and Dinn, with the newly redeemed bounty hunter taking on the young child as an apprentice who can be trained as a foundling Mandalorian. The actual execution of this story arc and the myriad of confusing lore references and contrivances leave something to be desired, particularly with the way the story strings this narrative along haphazardly and rarely advances the plot toward the finishing line.
Narrative cohesion has never been the strength of The Mandalorian, going back as far as the first season. The show has always thrived off of the Sisyphean struggle of its lead character, a burdened everyman caught between the realities of being a working-class bounty hunter on the run from the Empire and a father figure who happens to stumble into historically important figures in the Star Wars universe and get caught up in their problems against his will.
At its best, The Mandalorian gives us peak-era Luke Skywalker destroying the Dark Troopers and rescuing Grogu. At its worst, it gives us a bizarre, fake-looking, and uncomfortable dystopian society run by Jack Black, Lizzo, and Christopher Lloyd that becomes unnecessarily important to the overall story progression.
The series appears to be setting up a new story going forward — the story of Grogu’s training to become a Mandalorian in Season 4. This will be set against the story elements from Gina Carano’s canceled Rangers of the New Republic before spinning off into a Dave Filoni-directed Heir to the Empire adaptation down the line, and likely crossing over with the sequel trilogy story in Star Wars: Episode X. There is a lot of potential, but it needs a stronger emotional motivation than space pirates and fan service.
The Bottom Line
The third season of The Mandalorian has been met with a shrug, but it continues its standard of excellent special effects, fun stories, and deep-lore story building.