The third season of The Mandalorian has felt a little odd, hasn’t it? Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau’s space western slice of the Star Wars franchise felt like a breath of fresh air back in 2019, and the second season the following year helped show that the series’ breakout success wasn’t a fluke. By comparison, season three isn’t entirely hitting with folks. Why is that?
While it still has its fans and those who trust in Favreau and Filoni’s direction, common criticisms around this third full outing for Din Djarin and Grogu paint the season as something of a mess. The most recent episode is going to be looked at as the poster child for this: along with touting multiple guest stars in the form of Christopher Lloyd, Jack Black, and Lizzo—the latter two playing an obnoxiously rich married couple with some lovably weird choices in fashion and party games—the episode featured a really odd look at droids’ place in the galaxy. That takes up most of the episode’s runtime before pivoting back to the original plot about Din, Grogu, and Bo-Katan reuniting with her old Mandalorian buddies and convincing them to get them to help reclaim their fallen planet Mandalore, by way of a one-on-one street fight.
A common refrain heard in relation to this episode is that at its core, it’s “peak Star Wars.” And that is undeniably true; since 1977, George Lucas’ science-fantasy series has always bounced between different tones. One of the pillars of the franchise is Star Wars: The Clone Wars, an anthology series that consistently featured droid slapstick alongside clones debating their personhood, multiple principle characters caught up in their own unescapable cycles of abuse, and a cyborg man-spider named Trench. (As in, “tarantula,” obviously.) That tonal mishmash is what helps make Star Wars what it is, and has allowed it to persist in the popular culture for nearly 50 years and counting. One thing you can count on with this series is that eventually, it will always swerve between tones when you least expect it.
That said, the amount of leeway this affords Star Wars only goes so far, and it can’t gloss over all of The Mandalorian’s issues. If the first two seasons were made in a relatively isolated bubble away from anything else Disney had planned for the franchise, season three is very much not that. We know the show is now being used as a nexus point for other live action series set in the same time period such as The Book of Boba Fett and August’s Ahsoka, which will eventually result in a full-blown theatrical movie bringing together the plotlines and key players of the “Mandoverse” (a truly gross word, burn it like Anakin burned on Musafar). Similarly, we know that this corner of the larger brand is missing a limb by the name of Rangers of the New Republic. That show got canned after its intended lead Gina Carano got fired, so the plot of that hypothetical series was grafted onto this Mandalorian season in a way that comes off as awkward.
Not entirely unlike Din or Bo-Katan, Mandalorian the show is caught between two worlds. It was sold on the bond between a man and his child, and didn’t let the biggest shakeup to that dynamic last terribly long. (Worse, it elected to resolve this plot point on a completely different show many may not have even watched.) It wants to explore the allure of a known society versus the uncertainty of someone striking out on their own, but doesn’t do a good job of doing that or wrestling with that tension. Not everything needs to be spelled out for the audience, but the show could stand to let its characters articulate their feelings more openly. Or failing that, it could stop changing the rules of the Mandalorian people and the Darksaber every other week, and really give Din a chance to fully explain why he’s interested (or disinterested) in such things.
Much of this would skate by in a series like Clone Wars or even Star Wars Visions, where time is flexible and characters are rotated out on a fairly regular basis. But The Mandalorian is a different thing compared to those two shows, and what’s more, it has a different weight on its shoulders. It may just be that the show hasn’t entirely worked out how to be its own thing while also paving the way for what’s to come. Such a burden is nothing new to franchises, especially this one. It’s just extremely noticeable in a way that not even Din’s eternally shiny armor can truly hide.
So yes, The Mandalorian’s third season is “peak Star Wars” in the ways that make the larger universe so easy to fall in love with. It’s just also suffering from the same mistakes that make getting invested in franchises and their various branches such a chore.
New episodes of The Mandalorian stream Wednesdays on Disney+.
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