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Last week at Star Wars Celebration, Disney released a flurry of exciting announcements, such as an Ahsoka trailer and three new movies (which are really, truly going to happen this time, promise!). Yet while fans embraced the news, the crown jewel of Disney’s Star Wars TV universe — The Mandalorian — was arguably having its worst week ever.
The show’s latest episode, “Guns for Hire,” scored the drama’s weakest fan reviews (via IMDb) since the neo-Western sci-fi drama launched four years ago. The episode wasn’t entirely an outlier, as fan gripes about the show’s third season have been rising in general, with the series’ Rotten Tomatoes user reviews this season plummeting from their usual low-90s perch to just 57 percent and its IMDb average similarly (though not as sharply) ebbing downward.
Critics widely praised the show’s third-season premiere (Disney typically only provides one episode of The Mandalorian to critics at a time), yet some in the press have started to sound off, as well.
It’s rather surprising blowback for a show that’s been universally beloved since its launch, a rare title that is a family-friendly consumer hit, critically acclaimed and generates awards love (the first two seasons were nominated for best drama Emmys).
So what’s happening?
Interestingly — and adding some credence to the blowback — the complaints aren’t centered around one thing, but are rather a miasma of grievances ranging from plotting and dialogue to unconvincing special effects to jarring cameos (a recent episode featured Lizzo, Christopher Lloyd and Jack Black, which gave off campy Star Wars Holiday Special vibes).
CNN critic Brian Lowry wrote that the show is “experiencing an identity crisis.” Collider has been pummeling Mandalorian with headlines like “Here’s what’s killing The Mandalorian season 3.” DigitalTrends demanded to know, “what the hell happened to The Mandalorian?” Forbes says the series fumbled a key storyline, and the “whole season seems to have lost its way, with both Mando and Grogu fading into the background and no clear overarching story to follow (or villain to root against).” That “lost its way” line is recurring, with Movieweb headlining, “How The Mandalorian has lost its way,” decrying “a sheer lack of anything to drive the story forward.”
Fans have, naturally, been even more brutal: “Massive drop in quality,” declared one on Rotten Tomatoes. Another: “This show has transformed out of all recognition. No longer is it the man with no name in space but the man with no purpose in space.” Another: “The show is not Mando’s show anymore, plot points are dropped for convenience, nonsensical quests and the worst, by far worst acting I’ve ever seen in SW.”
That bit — “The show is not Mando’s anymore” — brings up another chief complaint, as the season has given increased screen time to fellow Mandalorian Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) and a bit less to protagonist Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal). One Mandalorian director, Rick Famuyiwa, suggested Din Djarin isn’t necessarily the show’s titular character anymore, which is rather odd. “Who is the Mandalorian at this point?” he mused. “And so I think it could be anyone.”
“This season is NOT Mandalorian season 3, its Bo Katan season 1 featuring Din Djarin and Grogu who just follow her around,” groused a fan. “Din Djarin is now a supporting character and Grogu is there for merchandizing purposes only.”
Pascal was splitting his time filming HBO’s The Last of Us season one when Mando season three was being shot, though the show regularly uses stunt doubles — Brendan Wayne and Lateef Crowder — under the helmet, with Pascal providing voiceover in postproduction. This season, The Mandalorian began more prominently crediting Wayne and Crowder for their work on the series.
Nielsen data for The Mandalorian season three is limited to just the first two episodes (six have aired). The show has averaged 856 million minutes of viewing, down a modest 14 percent from the first two weeks of season two — but that’s not enough information to conclude there’s any sort of trend. It will be interesting to see the numbers for subsequent episodes, however, when the blowback kicked into high gear.
Some argue that issues with The Mandalorian franchise began before the third season. Spinoff The Book of Boba Fett was considered a bit disappointing, with its best-reviewed episodes being two Mandalorian-centric entries that were awkwardly wedged into the season. And while fans enjoyed those episodes, they were also controversial, as The Mandalorian’s season two storyline was about Din Djarin searching for the Jedi to return Grogu to his people, only for that decision to be reversed in The Book of Boba Fett. It was a strange bit of indecisive-seeming plotting that’s led to conspiracy theories about corporate interference and gripes about the breakout Baby Yoda feeling somewhat superfluous.
Weirdly, while all this is happening, Star Wars’ decades-old rival legacy franchise, Star Trek, is experiencing the exact opposite phenomenon with its current TV offering. The third and final season of Paramount+’s Picard is generating near-universal acclaim after many fans and critics found the show’s first two seasons messy and disappointing (they averaged a mere 57 percent audience score — the exact same as Mando season three). The new season’s audience score shot up to 89 percent and its critics score stands at 98 percent. Picard season three has generated so much excitement that Paramount announced on Tuesday the show’s final two episodes will be streamed in Imax theaters on April 19.
There are only two more episodes of Mandalorian to go this season, which isn’t much time to turn things around, yet a great ending could make up a lot of ground. They’re both directed by Famuyiwa, whose entries tend to rank among the show’s strongest. C’mon, Mandalorian, you were supposed to bring balance to the Star Wars franchise, not leave it in darkness!
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