Unlike the fun adventures in the first two seasons of The Mandalorian, during which I enjoyed taking a deep dive through each episode, for the third season I decided to shift gears and review it all as a single season. Unfortunately, after a brilliant first two seasons of the show –which portray a lone gunslinger venturing across the galaxy, slumming through “scum and villainy,” collecting bounties and protecting a mysterious youngling named Grogu or “Baby Yoda”– the third season is anti-climactic, frustrating, messy, and just downright bizarre. What happened here? The Mandalorian was the show that made Star Wars feel familiar and inspiring again, in particular, the end of the second season was a high point in the series with the triumphant return of everyone’s favorite Jedi, Luke Skywalker. It was a powerful cinematic moment that brought tears to the eyes of Star Wars fans the world over.
However, after two years of silence from The Mandalorian, the hype was high for a new season in 2023. Sadly, the third season represents a massive drop in quality for the show –echoing the messy mediocrity of shows like The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The overarching plot for the third season of The Mandalorian is simply all over the place and every episode is awkward and inconsistent, containing almost none of the brilliant Western and Samurai allusions (nor the “Lone Wolf and Cub” metaphors) which were peppered throughout the first two seasons. When questions began to swirl from fans, internal rumors surfaced that Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy once again foisted a corporate narrative upon the show by dictating that it focus more on Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) rather than its already established main characters, and that Grogu be pushed back into the forefront of the show in order to satisfy merchandise sales. In contrast, Jon Favreau had a different vision for the show, and conflicts emerged among producers and directors (who were apparently given too much control over certain episodes), Favreau even threatened to quit as Kathleen Kennedy continued to revise the program. Apparently, he walked away from much of the show during the third season, disappointed with Kathleen Kennedy’s corporate micro-management, as well as other creative cooks piling into this lucrative kitchen. In addition, lead actor Pedro Pascal also threatened to quit since his character was essentially being relegated to a background figure in his own show. Notably, unlike in the first two seasons, Din Djarin never even takes his helmet off in the third season, leading to much speculation about whether or not Pedro Pascal ever actually appeared onset during filming, or instead if he merely lent his voice to the show. Will Pascal return to the show in the future? Who knows, but the future remains uncertain for this once-great show.
The third season begins with “The Apostate,” an episode which sees Din Djarin and Grogu reunited suddenly. Recall, the last we had seen of them in The Mandalorian –Grogu had departed with Luke Skywalker– but Grogu has since been handed back to Din as part of an odd episode wedged into The Book of Boba Fett (the best episode of an otherwise terrible show, but this was still an anti-climactic way to reunite the characters). At any rate, despite confusion among viewers, both Mando and Grogu suddenly appear outside Din Djarin’s Mandalorian covert (the Armorer) in order to save the group from an attack by a humungous “Dinosaur Turtle.” Then, for some reason, Mando and Grogu head for the planet Nevarro to meet Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), who is now the high magistrate of his prosperous planet. While declining to serve as Marshal for Nevarro, Mando nevertheless helps Karga fight pirates led by Gorian Shard who are plaguing his planet –for some reason they allow one of the pirates to escape after killing all the others? This is absurdly contrived. Meanwhile, Mando spots a statue of IG-11 now standing in the middle of the town square. Again, for some reason, Mando wants IG-11 to join him on a quest (and not any other droid, perhaps owing to his general distrust of droids, but this is just a ridiculous plot-point). Anyway, Din randomly meets up with a jaded Bo-Katan at her large echoing castle on Kalevala and then he flies off to the planet Mandalore where he plans to bathe in the waters beneath the planet so that he can re-enter his Covent (the penance for removing his helmet in Season 2).
In “The Mines of Mandalore” Din Djarin returns to Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris) on Tatooine… why? Apparently, he is now searching for a new memory chip for IG-11. However, Peli Motto doesn’t have one so Mando settles for a slightly malfunctioning R5 unit –how is this possible? Why would he settle for a mediocre droid when embarking on an important personal quest? None of this makes any sense. Anyway, Mando heads to Mandalore which is a strangely underwhelming experience. He sends R5 out onto the planet surface first, but of course, the droid fails. So Mando heads out into the mines of Mandalore himself, but he is soon captured by an odd cyborg creature, but then he is miraculously rescued by Bo-Katan. They venture deep into the mines together where Mando can redeem himself in the Living Waters below Mandalore, however he is pulled underwater and is once again rescued by Bo-Katan as she spots a gigantic eyeball of the mythosaur.
The next few episodes (“The Convert,” “The Foundling,” and “The Pirate”) are a blur. Bo-Katan’s castle is suddenly destroyed by Imperial TIE Fighters for some reason, and then the show takes a completely sideways turn as we focus on the lead clone researcher, Dr. Pershing, and his activities on Coruscant. He receives a pardon by the New Republic but is quickly betrayed by a fellow former Imperial communications officer named Elia Kane. She apparently erases his memory and then we never return to the story again –what was this point of this tonal shift? Next, we are given a filler bottle episode as the Mandalorians continue to battle more aggressive creatures who dwell near their cave –why do they live on this planet if there is so much native hostility to their presence? Why do their jet packs contain such a minimal amount of fuel? Why was their jet pack fuel never an issue before? Din Djarin helps Paz Vizsla rescue his son, Ragnar, from the flying creatures, which allows them to put old grudges aside. Next, there is a pirate invasion of Nevarro led by Gorian Shard (surprising no one) and the Mandalorians join together with New Republic pilot, Carson Teva (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee). There is also an amusing live action appearance of Zeb from Star Wars Rebels in this episode). At some point later, Teva spots Moff Gideon’s prison transport which has been broken into. It sits suspended in space and Moff Gideon has apparently escaped.
In “Guns for Hire,” Din Djarin, Grogu, and Bo-Katan venture out on a random side-quest to a lush planet called Plazir-15. They are hoping to reconnect with Bo-Katan’s former mercenaries led by Axe Woves. However, they are distracted by another diversion at the request of Captain Bombardier and the Duchess (played by Jack Black and Lizzo… really?), which sees the heroes tracking down the cause of malfunctioning droids (it turns out to be a character played by Christopher Lloyd). This episode ends as Bo-Katan regains her mercenaries and Din Djarin unceremoniously hands over the Darksaber to Bo-Katan in an underwhelming conclusion after many episodes of lingering questions regarding Bo-Katan’s pursuit of the Darksaber.
In “The Spies,” Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) returns and speaks with his shadow council (which includes a cameo of Captain Pellaeon, a nod to fans of the old Expanded Universe). Pellaeon warns of an impending invasion of Mandalore by the Mandalorians which has been brought to his attention by his spy, Elia Kane. Meanwhile, Greef Karga gives Mando a new IG droid which Grogu can operate. Then the Mandalorians invade their home planet but they are ambushed at the Great Forge by Imperials. Din Djarin is captured by Moff Gideon’s forces, and Paz Vizsla sacrifices himself so the others can escape –since Jon Favreau played the character, perhaps this was intended as a metaphor for his desire to step away from the series so that corporate executives could continue to hamstring ideas into the story in order to sell more merchandise.
In the unimpressive finale “The Return,” Moff Gideon’s base on Mandalore is attacked, Din Djarin is rescued by Grogu (where did Grogu suddenly come from? He appears quite literally out of thin air in this scene), and then they work together to disrupt and destroy Gideon’s cloning program. Bo-Katan, Grogu, and Din attack Moff Gideon –during the battle the Darksaber is frivolously disabled by Gideon (rife with truly terrible dialogue). Axe Woves sends a starship crashing into the base which causes a massive explosion, killing Moff Gideon (is this the real Moff Gideon?), but Grogu uses a “force bubble” to protect Din and Bo-Katan. In the end, Din solicits work from Carson Teva to secretly work for the New Republic, and he fixes up IG-11 to serve as a Marshal for Greef Karga. The episode ends as Din relaxes outside a cozy hovel on Nevarro with his new “apprentice” Din Grogu (really? Din Grogu?). Thus was such a disappointment all around.
There are a few high points in the season –such as the appearance of the purrgil when Din Djarin and Grogu travel through hyperspace, and the re-introduction of Ahmed Best (who previously played Jar Jar Binks in the prequels) as Jedi Master Kelleran Beq in a flashback. He rescues Grogu from the Jedi Temple on Coruscant during the Order 66 execution at the end of the Clone Wars. This was a nice bit of redemption for an actor who has faced an unfair amount of personal rebuke for his role as Jar Jar Binks in the prequels. Otherwise, I’m saddened to say The Mandalorian –which was one of the few bright spots in the Disney Star Wars era—has gone down the tubes. What happened to all the alluring plot threads introduced in the first two seasons –such as the Darksaber serving as a wedge between the friendship of Din Djarin and Bo-Katan? How is it that Din Djarin can simply hand the Darksaber over to Bo-Katan on a mere technicality? Or that the Darksaber is simply unceremoniously broken by Moff Gideon in the season finale? What about the build-up to the mysterious idea of clones? Or what happened to Ahsoka Tano, Luke Skywalker, and all the other amazing cameos in the prior seasons? And what happened to the mythosaur? Instead, these ideas are all quickly disposed of in season three. Apparently, Jon Favreau initially wanted to allow a surprising cameo in season three –likely Grand Admiral Thrawn. Alas, The Mandalorian has fallen into the corporate trap of “too many cooks in the kitchen” and perhaps the show will simply end here, with a whimper rather than a bang. The only thing keeping fans clinging to modern Star Wars is the allure of a new Ahsoka series and the announcement of a new Dave Filoni film inspired by Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire.