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When Luke Skywalker showed up in the season two finale of Disney+’s The Mandalorian, it was perhaps the biggest bombshell the series had ever dropped. It was also, arguably, a sign that the series might have lost its way. For one thing, it separated Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and Grogu with no obvious way to bring them back together. More drastically, it seemed to pull both characters closer to the Skywalker-centric core of the Star Wars universe, when previously they’d seemed content enough exploring their own little corner of the galaxy.
The mild surprise of season three, then, is how little actually seems to have changed. Though the Din and Grogu’s new quest suggests more dramatic or more unpredictable twists could be on the horizon, in the first two episodes sent to critics, of an eight-episode season, The Mandalorian‘s core pleasures remain the same — namely, the sweet bond between its stoic hero and his adorable young charge and the opportunity to explore rich new worlds with them.
Cast: Pedro Pascal, Katee Sackhoff, Emily Swallow, Carl Weathers, Brendan Wayne, Lateef Crowder
Creator: Jon Favreau
In large part, The Mandalorian gets to revert to form because The Book of Boba Fett did the heavy lifting of getting Grogu and Din back on track, over two and a half episodes that were essentially just mislabeled episodes of The Mandalorian. TL;DR: Grogu tried training with Luke (once again played by a digitally de-aged Mark Hamill) but ultimately chose to return to his Mandalorian daddy; meanwhile, Din resolved to redeem himself for the sin of removing his helmet by taking a trip to Mandalore. (Also, there was some more exposition about the Darksaber.) All of which means that by the start of The Mandalorian‘s proper third season, the status quo has been reset.
Well, mostly. One notable change to The Mandalorian that seems to have stuck is a more serialized nature. The premiere (written by Jon Favreau and directed by Rick Famuyiwa) offers no shortage of delights to satisfy casual viewers: a daring rescue from an enormous sea creature; a high-speed chase through an asteroid belt; Joseph Shirley’s thrilling score; many, many moments of Grogu adorably getting up to no good. But even at a relatively trim 35 minutes, the episode feels bogged down by references to earlier episodes and setup for later ones.
The Armorer (Emily Swallow) returns mainly so Din can rehash the conversation he had with her in The Book of Boba Fett, and remind us again what his updated plot is. There’s a trip to Nevarro so Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) can explain how his storyline has progressed since we last saw him. Likewise, Bo-Katan (Katee Sackoff) spends most of the first episode getting us up to speed on what her deal is, though she thankfully gets more opportunities to show off her charismatic, confident personality in the second. It’s an awful lot to keep track of from a show that once felt refreshing in its commitment to mostly standalone adventures, even as each episode advanced Din’s quest and his growing attachment to Grogu bit by bit.
The commitment to a tighter continuity isn’t all bad (and with episode one’s initial table-setting out of the way, episode two wrings plenty of excitement from Din’s new mission). The other major development this season is a shift in the relationship between Din and Grogu. The first two seasons saw Din slowly opening up to Grogu and coming to care about the child in spite of himself. Now, having fulfilled his task of delivering Grogu to the Jedi only for Grogu to choose Din instead, Din is free to more fully embrace his parental role. He takes to the task with touching gusto, holding Grogu in his lap to point out this map or that control as they zip across the galaxy in his starfighter.
Poignantly, Din also begins the work of passing his culture down to his kid. “That’s Mandalore, the home world of our people. Every Mandalorian can trace their roots back to this planet, and the beskar mines deep within,” he tells Grogu as they approach the planet. Never mind that, as Din acknowledges in his next breath, he’s never actually been there, and neither has Grogu; as members of diasporas on our own planet know, community and culture are about more than a physical location. It’s a graceful touch that deepens the characters and their universe at the precise moment the story demands it — because if the first two chapters are any indication, The Mandalorian‘s third season is poised to dive headfirst into the ins and outs of Mandalorian lore.
In itself, the promise of more lore isn’t especially enticing. Star Wars has never been short on new proper names to memorize or new arcane histories to learn; what it sometimes lacks is a reason to care much about any of it. But there, The Mandalorian has already set itself up for success. If the new season feels more laden with plot, it’s still a show that leaves room for the simple joys that made its first two seasons so beloved.
There’s still the fun of discovering new creatures, and oohing and ahhing over how real, how tactile, they look. (Marvel could stand to borrow a page from Star Wars on that front, just saying.) There’s the wealth of indelible personalities surrounding our central duo — including Amy Sedaris’ delightfully quirky Peli Motto, back to run more fast-talking scams. There’s the amusement of watching Din argue first with a skittish droid, then with Grogu, all the while being the only character in the scene speaking actual recognizable human language, because that’s the kind of galaxy Star Wars is.
And, of course, there’s the apparently infinite appeal of Grogu — still cute enough, after three years and countless cultural references, to melt our hearts anew, and to keep spurring this once-stoic bounty hunter toward new depths of feeling.
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