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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

The Mandalorian Season 3 Review

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This is a mostly spoiler-free review of The Mandalorian Season 3 that doesn't include specific plot details for the episodes, but it will mention broad character arcs in general terms. Read our spoiler-filled reviews for every episode of The Mandalorian Season 3 below for a deep dive into each episode, and for a trip down memory lane, check out what we said in our full Mandalorian Season 2 review


In an interview with IGN, The Mandalorian executive producer and director Rick Famuyiwa said that the show’s title was no longer just referring to the bounty hunter Din Djarin and, in fact, could apply to any Mandalorian the writers were focusing on. But with the protagonist of the first two seasons relegated to a supporting character – or co-lead depending on the episode – season 3 lost track of what made the series so good in the first place. While the story of the disparate clans of Mandalore reuniting to retake their home planet eventually drew to a satisfying conclusion, this inconsistent season alternately felt lacking in direction and like it was juggling too many plotlines meant to tie what was once a refreshing, standalone show into the ever-growing Star Wars universe.

If the ambition is to explore what it is to be Mandalorian through telling the tales of different beskar-wearers, it’s odd that it went this way instead of anthologizing the series. It’s easy to imagine a world where The Mandalorian ended logically after season 2, with Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) defeating Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) and delivering Grogu to train as a Jedi under Luke Skywalker. So would have concluded The Mandalorian: The Book of Din Djarin, to be succeeded by The Mandalorian: The Book of Boba Fett and its exploration of the criminal underworld of Tatooine, and then The Mandalorian: The Book of Bo-Katan Kryze following the princess’ more militaristic and political adventures, all with crossovers galore and expectations set accordingly. Instead, The Mandalorian became a mashup of lore-heavy space opera and the episodic adventures the show was built on, while largely abandoning its original space western tone and theme.

The problems with season 3 of The Mandalorian started before it even premiered, with Din Djarin and Grogu taking over a big chunk of The Book of Boba Fett to reunite and undo much of the work of the past two seasons. Its eight episodes largely focus on the fallout of the finale of season 2, tracing Bo-Katan’s (Katee Sackhoff) ambitions, the implications of Din Djarin claiming the Darksaber that serves as such a powerful symbol for the Mandalorian people, and the New Republic’s inability to handle the dangers of powerful imperial remnants like Gideon.

The problems with season 3 started before it even premiered.


There is some depth given to the ways Bo-Katan and her followers (who lived on Mandalore before the Great Purge) interact with the Children of the Watch (an orthodox splinter sect who believe they are the true stewards of the planet’s culture, even if many of them have never actually set foot on its surface). But most of the hard work of reconciliation is handwaved by having them team up to fight monsters, pirates, and Imperials. A common enemy can bring sworn enemies together, but the constant supply of foes, coupled with the Armorer’s surprising willingness to see Bo-Katan as a chosen one rather than a heretic, made the alliance between sworn enemies feel too easy.

It’s understandable that The Mandalorian wanted to lean on its strengths. Its action and creature work remain top notch, and most episodes are filled with thrilling battles against enormous beasts, dramatic dog fights, and small skirmishes that show off just how lethal Mandalorians are. But the plot moved slowly as too many episodes were spent hiding the identity of the big threat, even though it was obvious early on, meaning action could feel like a shiny distraction in the same way as the parade of big-name guest stars.

But whatever Grogu's doing, he’s adorable and capable of charming nearly anyone.


Grogu remained the emotional core, with Din Djarin coming to truly embrace him as his charge and a Mandalorian foundling. At the same time, the writers and directors seemed to be struggling a bit as to what allowing the kid to be a more active character and combatant should entail, alternating between having him float, toddle, leap around using the Force and, bizarrely, piloting an assassin droid. But whatever he’s doing, he’s adorable and capable of charming nearly anyone into helping Din Djarin.

But the Lone Wolf and Cub dynamic also took a backseat as The Mandalorian dug into larger worldbuilding. There’s an episode that mostly takes place on Coruscant exploring the failures of the New Republic, a cameo by a Rebels character, name-dropping of the primary villain of Ahsoka, and plots that connect to Star Wars Resistance and Episodes VII through IX. Even as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is beginning to show signs of collapsing under its own weight, Star Wars seems to have failed to learn its cautionary tale about making entertainment that can’t properly stand alone and is burdened with setting up endless sequels and spinoffs.

Every Upcoming Star Wars Movie and TV Show

Yet for all of that, The Mandalorian remains one of the most beautifully produced shows on television. It captures the wonder of Star Wars, from the glee Grogu experiences hanging out in the astromech port in Din Djarin’s new ship, to the ruins of the Great Forge of Mandalore hidden beneath a surface of fused glass. Its version of Coruscant is a stunning study of contrast, melding the aesthetics of Star Wars and Blade Runner with a bureaucratic nightmare.

The frustratingly disparate parts of the season also came together beautifully in the final two episodes, directed by Famuyiwa, which upped the action to spectacular levels in space and on the ground, and even set up a way for the series to return to form. This may be the weakest season of The Mandalorian so far, but it could find its way again if it can return to the tight focus on a bounty hunter and his kid finding episodic adventures on the Outer Rim, away from the baggage of the rest of the Galaxy.

Verdict

While The Mandalorian continues to deliver excellent action and beautiful settings, this season felt pulled in too many directions as the focus shifted from Din Djarin and Grogu to Bo-Katan and her quest to retake Mandalore. Season 3 also spent too much time connecting other Star Wars stories, but an outstanding finale hints at the plans to get back to the basics in season 4.

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