The Mandalorian‘s long-awaited third season puts its best foot forward as it embarks on the road to redemption.
Somehow, it’s been over two years since season two of The Mandalorian ended with a jaw-dropping finale. Our stoic titular protagonist (Pedro Pascal) relinquished his ward, Grogu, to Luke Skywalker so he could be trained in the ways of the Jedi, and the nefarious Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) was turned over to the New Republic—all while intricate debates about Mandalorian culture loomed over our heroes’ heads.
Instead of capitalizing on the hype of the world’s biggest sci-fi show, however, Lucasfilm took a year off to jump over to The Book of Boba Fett, a spin-off focused on Star Wars‘ most beloved “vague ancillary Cool Guy” stereotype. Here is where the Disney+ sub-franchise got somewhat stuck in the weeds. Despite the power of Boba Fett’s mythos, his show lost its focus halfway through and let its façade as a proper side-story to The Mandalorian vanish altogether when Pascal’s character, Din Djarin, literally stole the show.
Given The Mandalorian‘s trend of naming episodes “chapters,” I saw what they did there when they announced The Book of Boba Fett. I wasn’t surprised when Din showed up, though even I couldn’t quite explain the cavalcade of cameos that followed in the season’s penultimate episode or the series’ overall disjointed pacing.
Fortunately, by the end of The Mandalorian‘s season 3 premiere, I was pleased to find that things were back on track narratively. Season 2 (and season 2.5) brought a resolution of sorts to the show’s original story arc, with Din finding Grogu and risking his entire way of life for the bond they forged. With most of that tension resolved and the found family reunited, the show is free to explore the bigger narrative seeds it planted along the way.
Din has transgressed against the way of his Mandalorian sect, the orthodox Children of the Watch who upheld the most ancient traditions of the Mandalorian society, by removing his helmet in view of other living people—first to infiltrate an Imperial base for information and again to say goodbye to Grogu. However, he’s also won the Darksaber from Moff Gideon, making him the de facto ruler of Mandalorians everywhere. He’s simultaneously an apostate from his own people but a potential leader for their larger society, whose members are scattered to the winds.
The Mandalorian season 3 kicks off by showing that this race of armoured commandos is not down and out for good, however. The opening scene subtly displays that some time has passed since we last saw Din Djarin’s chrome dome, though it looked like a flashback at first blush. It’s clear that the trailers were not a complete tease, and the new season should deliver more opportunities to see these walking Swiss army knives in action.
There has been some (not entirely unfounded) concern that some casual fans may not realize that Book of Boba Fett episodes 6-8 are essentially required viewing for The Mandalorian season 3, but again, the opening recap and an early expository scene should get people up to speed quickly. Director Rick Fumiyama and creator Jon Favreau’s script cover the necessary bases without feeling like a story dump or out of character.
Though we don’t know exactly how much time has passed or what our heroes have been up to, the return to Nevarro, the series’ hub world of sorts, also makes it clear that we’ve had a small time skip. It’s been interesting to see the planet develop gradually since its debut as a wretched hive in the first episode. Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) has truly elevated the society’s lot in the galaxy and the New Republic.
Din and Karga talking shop is used expertly to establish new plot threads, reset the tone, and reestablish our hero’s motivations. Despite Nevarro’s shinier new look, we get a return to some of the Samurai and Western influences that have defined The Mandalorian so far (and initially inspired George Lucas), a reminder that we’re still dealing with criminal elements in the galaxy’s Outer Rim.
After a scene featuring a cameo that I didn’t know I needed, and another healthy dose of action, The Mandalorian leaves this chapter on a quietly intense note. The staging of this culminating conversation accents both the subject matter and the underlying tension between the two characters involved, the perfect way to close out an opening chapter.
It has been noted that this is among the shortest episodes of the series, clocking in at around 35 minutes, but it could have fooled me. The episode moves along deftly, checking in on all of the irons in its fire without lingering too long on any of them and keeping the pace from growing stale. The Mandalorian has always been pretty self-aware in this regard, never outstaying its welcome; seeing that trend continue after a long time away was reassuring.
It’s not an easy task to deliver a balanced piece of Star Wars storytelling anymore, between all the tangled webs of narrative and the slippery slope of fan service. Nonetheless, it’s clear from this episode that The Mandalorian can still wear all of the hats (or helmets) that it needs to: telling a self-contained outlaw story, bridging the gap between movie trilogies, providing reaction gif-worthy moments of Grogu, and making it all feel authentic along the way.