The Mandalorian is back and for now I’m doing episode by episode reviews of season 3. Previous installments may be found here.
Warning! Spoilers behind the cut!
When we last met our favourite clan of two, Din Djarin and Grogu had been reunited and helped out Boba Fett to take over Tatooine. Furthermore, Din Djarin also got himself a shiny new spaceship after the Razor Crest was destroyed. However, by removing his helmet to say good-bye to Grogu, Din had also violated the principles of his clan of fundamentalist Mandalorians and was cast out by his own people.
Season 3 of The Mandalorian opens not with our favourite duo, but with the Armourer, leader of Din Djarin’s splinter group of fundamentalist Mandalorians – and isn’t it interesting that all the leaders of this very macho warrior people that we see are women? The Armourer is forging a piece of armour which turns out to be a child-sized Mandalorian helmet. She then emerges from the cave, where a whole bunch of Mandalorians – at least fifty of them – are waiting. So there definitely are more Mandalorians in this particular splinter group than the ones who were killed in Nevarro. It’s also interesting that the last time we saw the Armourer in The Book of Boba Fett, she only had a single follower, a fellow named Paz Vizla. Now she has about fifty followers. Could it be that the fundamentalist splinter group are actually the majority of the Mandalorians that are left in the galaxy?
As for why the Armourer and her followers have gathered on a lake outside a cave, they are there for the initiation ceremony of an approx. ten-year-old kid. The kid is standing in the lake, recites the Mandalorian creed (or rather the creed of this particularly splinter group) and is finally fitted with the helmet and has to swear never to take it off in public. I’ve said before that the prevalence of what are essentially child soldiers in the Star Wars universe is disturbing, as is the fact that not only does no one seem to have a problem, but that the Star Wars universe has not one but two warrior cults which recruit children way too young to consent to anything to their cause. And in the Star Wars universe, being picked up and raised by Mandalorians is not the worst thing that can happen to a kid. At least, the Mandalorians only take in orphaned kids, emphasise togetherness and community and genuinely seem to care for the kids they take in. Case in point: There is a proud-looking Mandalorian in the front row of the ceremony, who appears to be the kid’s Dad (either biological or adopted).
However, before the kid can complete taking his oath, the ceremony is interrupted by the most Star Wars thing ever, a giant crocodile/turtle monster attacking the congregation and proceeding to eat several Mandalorians. The Mandalorians don’t fare very well in what is not exactly an impressive display of the prowess of the supposedly best warriors in the universe, since some fifty fully armoured up and armed Mandalorians can’t even take out a single monster. Lucky for them, Din Djarin and Grogu burst out of the sky in Din Djarin’s snazzy new starfighter and blast the monster, spraying its guts all over the beach and the surviving Mandalorians.
In their review at Tor.com, Emmet Asher-Perrin points out that pattern of Din Djarin has to kill some kind of large monster to solve somebody else’s problem is becoming very repetitive by now and besides, what about those monsters who just want to live their lives and go about their business. I agree that “Oh, there’s a giant monster! Let’s kill it before it eats us!” is repetitive, but then it’s been a Star Wars thing since long before Din Djarin and Grogu came along. Indeed, one of the many quirks of the Star Wars universe is that every cave, lake, river, sink hole, trash compactor or asteroid is inevitably inhabited by a giant monster which will try to eat our heroes. In fact, the biggest implausibility is that Star Wars characters are always surprised when a giant monster appears, because you’d think that given the prevalence of megafauna in the Star Wars universe, they’d have learned to scan for giant monsters before going anywhere.
Of course, Star Wars did not invent giant monsters lurking in caves or lakes or swamps and trying to eat our heroes. Pulp SFF is full of random giant monsters wanting to eat our heroes, as are Saturday morning cartoons (He-Man’s homeworld Eternia has almost as many random giant monsters as the Star Wars universe, only that He-Man doesn’t kill them) and most of them are a riff on the monsters of mythology. What do those monsters eat when there are no handy Stormtroopers, Mandalorians, rebels or civilians stumbling into their lairs? Who cares? Giant monsters are cool, which is why they keep popping up. Because inside all of us there is a ten-year-old kid who loves dinosaurs and giant monsters and thinks they’re the coolest thing ever. There’s a reason Schleich makes a lot of money selling toy monsters and dinosaurs.
You’d think that the Armourer would be grateful to Din Djarin for saving her and her little congregation of Mandalorians from a giant monster that was about to eat all of them. But then you’d be wrong, because the Armourer still thinks that Din Djarin is an apostate for taking off his helmet – and of his free will, at that – and wants nothing to do with him. Honestly, Din should just have let the monster eat her.
However, letting giant monsters eat your Mandalorian brethren, even if they want nothing to do with you, is not the way. And besides, Din wants to rejoin his people and redeem himself for the grave sin of taking off his helmet to say good-bye to his kid. He can redeem himself, too, by bathing in the sacred waters in the salt mines of Mandalore. There’s only one catch. The Empire literally nuked Mandalore from orbit and what’s left is a radioactive hellworld fused into glass. Din, however, believes that it is possible to go back to Mandalore and bathe in the sacred waters. As proof, he gives the Armourer a chunk of glass (which only proves that Mandalore was fused into glass) with some Mandalorian writing on it. The Armourer grudgingly admits that if Din manages to bathe in the sacred waters, he can return to the fold. Why in the universe Din Djarin would want to return to a bunch of fundamentalist fanatics is a question that remains unanswered for now?
After saving the Armourer’s bacon, Din and Grogu take off once again. We get a nice hyperspace interlude with Din sleeping in the cockpit, while Grogu is sitting in his converted droid port and marvelling at the universe, when we and Grogu suddenly see the shadows of some giant whale-like creatures accompanying the ship (which doesn’t have a name yet, as far as I know). James Whitbrook explains that these creatures are called Purrgils and have appeared in the Star Wars: Rebels animated series before. At any rate, their existence proves my point above that there is no ecological niche in the Star Wars universe that is not inhabited by megafauna. At least, the Purrgils seem to be harmless and don’t try to eat the ship, though Grogu finds them rather scary and crawls into the cockpit to cuddle with Daddy.
Din and Grogu travel – no, not to Mandalore, but to Nevarro to visit some old friends, only to find that the place has changed a lot since we last saw it. In season 1, Nevarro was the sort of rundown and dangeorus outer rim world we’ve seen so many times in Star Wars. By season 2, the place has started to clean up now that Werner Herzog and his Imperial holdouts are no more. This time around, the clean-up process of Nevarro’s one city (because every planet in the Star Wars universe has only a single city) has progressed further. The buildings have been repaired, there are automated messages welcoming travellers, there’s more green – including a tree full of wild Salacious Crumbs – and the market looks nicer. And it’s all due to one man, Greef Karga, who is now High Magistrate (he was only a plain Magistrate before) and sports an impressive gold chain and a cape that is born by two wheeled droids who follow him around everywhere. The little droids who only exist to carry Greef Karga’s ostentatious cape are of course another example of the beautiful absurdity that sets Star Wars apart from any other space opera.
It is notable with the development of both Nevarro here and Tatooine in The Book of Boba Fett that at this point in the history of the Star Wars universe, some five to ten years after the fall of the Empire, things are getting better on rim worlds like Nevarro and Tatooine. Okay, so the New Republic is mostly useless and neither Boba Fett nor Greef Karga are in any way democratic leaders, but life is getting better for the ordinary people and aliens of the Star Wars universe. Considering that the prequel and particularly the sequel trilogy showed that the Star Wars universe is a terrible place, has always been one and will always be one, it’s interesting that The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett both show what the original trilogy implied, namely that we encountered the Star Wars universe at a low point in its history. Things were better once and will be better once again. Personally, I’ve always preferred this view and one of my main gripes with the sequel trilogy is that it cemented the Star Wars universe as a place that’s forever terrible, no matter who is in charge.
Greef Karga is happy to see his old friend Din Djarin again and invites him to his office, where he offers Din a really nice plot of land to live on, while Grogu discovers the wonders of the swivel chair and uses the Force to steal candy. I for one was yelling at the screen “Take up his offer and build a home for yourself and Grogu”, but of course then there wouldn’t be much of a story, so of course Din declines in order to go on a dangerous quest to redeem himself in the eyes of people who neither want nor appreciate him.
The reunion of Greef Karga and Din Djarin is interrupted by the arrival of some space pirates led by a fellow called Vane. The space pirates are old associates of Greef Karga’s and haven’t yet gotten the memo that Greef and Nevarro have gone respectable now. And so they demand to be let into what used to be a bar, but is now a school. Greef Karga’s commitment to education is certainly admirable.
Greef Karga tries to persuade the pirates to share a drink with him in his office, since the bar is closed, but the pirates will have none of that. They want a drink, they want it now and they don’t care if the bar is now a school. Vane also reminds Greef that it was the money Greef made via deal with Vane’s boss, the Pirate King Gorian Shard, that allowed the bar/school to be built. Then Vane pulls a blaster on Greef. However, Greef may be respectable now, but he’s still got a quick draw and shoots the blaster out of Vane’s hand. This prompts the rest of the pirates to draw their blasters, but Din – who’d only been watching the entire exchange so far – shoots the lot of them. Only Vane escapes, but you know that he will be back.
Now Greef Karga also admits why he really wants to keep Din around, because he needs a marshall to deal with space pirates and other lowlives. “What about Cara Dune?” Din asks, whereupon Greef Karga explains that the New Republic recruited Cara for their special forces after she brought in Moff Gideon (who’s facing a war crimes tribunal). And that’s how The Mandalorian deals with the firing of Gina Carano following a series of increasingly problematic tweets. Now I liked Cara Dune the character a lot and hope that they will eventually recast her, since Gina Carano has slid even further into the morass of far right conspiracy theories since her firing and really is no longer tenable. At least the door is still open for the character to come back. And a different face can be explained away by injuries requiring plastic surgery or a disguise or something along those lines.
Din Djarin, however, doesn’t want to be marshall of Nevarro either. Instead, he needs help. Not from Greef Karga, but from IG-11, the bounty hunter droid turned nursing droid who heroically self-destructed in order to save everybody from the remnants of the Empire at the end of season 1. Din, who famously doesn’t like droids very much, wants IG-11’s help, because he needs a droid to explore what’s left of Mandalore and IG-11 is one of the few droids Din trusts, since he after all saved Din’s life.
The fact that IG-11 was destroyed would normally make it difficult for him to help Din. However, no one is every really dead in the Star Wars universe, not even Palpatine. And since IG-11 was a droid, there’s always the chance to repair him. And this is exactly what Din wants to do. Of course, the fact that IG-11 literally blew himself up might be a problem, but luckily surviving parts were incorporated into a statue commemorating the heroic droid. Emmet Asher-Perrin complains that the statue literally comes out of nowhere, but that’s not quite right, since it does appear in the background of the season 2 episode “The Siege”, as mentioned in my review of that episode. They are right, however, that incorporating parts of a sentient droid into a statue is rather creepy, akin to incorporating humans bones into a statue. And yes, I know that there are reliquaries containing bones and other bodyparts of saints, but personally I find that creepy as well.
Din, Greef and friends dismantle the statue and try to repair and reactivate what’s left of IG-11. They succeed, too, but unfortunately IG-11 has reverted to his previous bounty hunter programming and promptly attacks Grogu and is only stopped when someone tips a bust of Greef Karga (who of course has a gilded bust of himself in his office) onto the wayward droid. “That’s using your head,” Din remarks in what is the funniest line in the episode.
Because the remains of IG-11 are now even more smashed up than before, Greef takes Din and the droid remnants to a group of Anzellan droid smiths – billed as the best in the galaxy – who have set up shop on Nevarro. In case you don’t remember which of the many species in the Star Wars universe the Anzellans are, they are the species of Babu Frik, the tiny fuzzy droid smith who was the best thing about The Rise of Skywalker. We’re not sure if the Anzellan we meet on Nevarro is Babu Frik or another member of his species, but he’s still as cute and difficult to understand as ever. According to Guardian reviewer Jack Seale, his gibberish spouting voice is provided by actress Shirley Henderson who also voiced him in The Rise of Skywalker.
I wonder why Greef and Din tried repairing IG-11 themselves rather than take him to the Anzellans right away, though I guess that would have lost the IG-11 goes on a rampage and threatens Grogu action scene. However, Greef finally remembers the Anzellans and we are treated to a delightful interlude of Din sitting hunched inside the Anzellan workshop, while Greef is outside, helpfully translating Anzellan gibberish, even though Din – who has a knack for languages – can understand the Anzellans perfectly. And since Grogu goes where Daddy goes, he’s waddling around the workshop and spontaneously hugs and cuddles Babu Frik (if it’s indeed him), until Din tells him that Anzellan droid smiths are not pets. I certainly sympathise with Grogu, since Babu Frik is eminently huggable. It’s also nice to see two of the cutest creatures in the Star Wars universe interact with each other.
As for IG-11, Babu Frik declares that he cannot repair him without a new memory circuit. And since IG-droids are no longer made, finding a memory circuit will be difficult to impossible. Din, however, vows that he will find one and takes off with Grogu, who cheerfully waves good-bye to Greef Karga.
We now get another space scene with Din trying to explain the controls and instruments of his spaceship to Grogu with all the misplaced enthusiasm of a father trying to explain how to drive a car to a four-year-old. Still, Din is getting the hang of this father thing, even though Grogu is still way too young to pilot a spaceship.
This father-son idyll is rudely interrupted by the return of the space pirates we met earlier on Nevarro. Of course, it was obvious that space pirates wouldn’t just let Din Djarin shoot several of their number without retaliation. And so we get a thrilling space battle in an asteroid field, but then space battles in an asteroid field have been a Star Wars staple since The Empire Strikes Back. At least, this asteroid field doesn’t come out of nowhere, since Greef Karga earlier mentions mining operations in the asteroid belt of the Nevarro system.
Din shows off his mad flying skills, while several of the smaller pirate craft either crash into asteroids or each other or a shot down by Din. However, the small pirate craft clearly aren’t out and about in deep space on their own and so Din and Grogu eventually meet the pirate mothership, while we meet Pirate King Gorian Shard who turns out to be a plant-covered alien creature. My first thought was Moss-Man from Masters of the Universe, AV-Club reviewer Sam Barsanti compares him to the Swamp Thing and io9 reviewer Germain Lussier calls him “Salad the Hutt”. You get the idea. Gorian Shard is a plant creature. He is about to have Din and Grogu shot down, but Din gets away.
Their flight takes Din and Grogu… – no, not to locate a memory circuit, but to Kalevala, a planet in the same system as Mandalore. Din lands his ship on the landing pad in front of a Mandalorian castle, an enormous Brutalist structure. The camera follows Din and Grogu through a deserted hallway, until they meet the person they’ve come to see. It’s none other than Bo-Katan Kryze, would-be Queen of the Mandalorians, who is lounging on a throne and has clearly been hitting the bottle.
Bo-Katan’s fortunes have taken a turn for the worse, since we last saw her in the season 2 finale. Her followers have deserted her, since Bo-Katan failed to win back the darksabre, symbol of the rulers of Mandalore, from Moff Gideon. Instead, the darksabre is now in the possession of Din Djarin, who did take it from Moff Gideon. Din was perfectly willing to hand over the darksabre to Bo-Katan, however, she declined, for Mandalorian legend decrees that the darksabre must be won in battle or it will bring the ruler bad luck. It’s very clear that Bo-Katan is no fan of Din Djarin’s – because she thinks he’s a religious fanatic from a fundamentalist splinter sect (well, he is) and because he managed to ruin her plans for uniting the Mandalorians and taking back Mandalore by winning the darksabre.
Din, on the other hand, seems to be utterly oblivious to the fact that Bo-Katan doesn’t like him and comes to pledge his allegiance to her and offers her to help her retake Mandalore, so he can bathe in the sacred waters. He even tells Bo-Katan as much. Bo-Katan does not accept Din’s allegiance, especially since she no longer had any followers. Though she does tell him how to access the mines with the sacred waters and that the access point is located under the civic center in the city Sudari on Mandalore. The Mandalorians have civic centers? The mind boggles.
Bo-Katan bids Din and Grogu a rather sinister good-bye, as Din goes off on his mission. It’s clear that Bo-Katan means trouble for Din and Grogu, though Din refuses to see it. Cue credits.
Some reviewers have been complaining about the meandering pace and lack of clear direction of this episode, but then The Mandalorian has always been a meandering show that moves at its own pace and keeps sending Din and Grogu on various side quests. Particularly, the early episodes of every season so far have been Din and Grogu wandering around the galaxy on one quest or another. The pace usually doesn’t pick up until the halfway point, once we realise what the main objective of this season is.
I for one like that The Mandalorian is a show that takes its time and doesn’t mind spending an episode or two exploring the beautiful weirdness of the Star Wars universe. Because in this era of serialised shows with limited episode counts, all of those meandering side quests and adventures of the week that were a staple of TV shows will into the 1990s are a thing of the past. Furthermore, while the plot may or may not have an overarching aim, Din’s main motivation is being a good Mandalorian and a good Dad to Grogu. He doesn’t care about galactic politics.
As for what – if any – the overarching plot of this season and the show as a whole might be, for now Din’s objective is clearly to bathe in those sacred waters and redeem himself in the eyes of the Armourer. However, Din not only has won the darksabre in battle, which theoretically makes him King of the Mandalorians, Din and Grogu are also the best hope the Mandalorians have for a way forward. Because neither Bo-Katan nor the Armourer, both fanatics in their own way, are leaders you’d want to see in charge of the Mandalorians.
Personally, what I’d like to see is Din not only stepping up to lead his people, but also ditching some of the more idiotic ideas of the Mandalorians. No, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with people taking off their helmets once in a while and you don’t have to bathe in water-filled caves on a radioactive planet in order to redemm yourself. No, you don’t have to win the darksabre in battle to become ruler of Mandalore – there are better and less violent ways of determining your leader. And yes, you can be a Mandalorian and a Jedi and maybe Grogu will be the one to finally unite the two somewhat nutty warrior cults in the Star Wars galaxy.
Of course, I’ve also been waiting for forty years now for the Jedi to finally take a step forward to ditch some of their more idiotic and downright toxic teachings – you know, that whole no attachments, no families, no relationships, no sex, don’t be angry, don’t be afraid, there’s only light and dark and no shades of gray nonsense that the movies themselves have shown to be toxic and harmful time and again. Yet whenever it seems that there a step in the right direction – in Return of the Jedi, in The Last Jedi – the powers that control Star Wars inevitably pull back again to the status quo. It’s part of what makes Star Wars so frustrating – that there is no real path forward for this universe, just an endless cycle of misery and failure.
Of the four Star Wars TV shows to date, The Mandalorian is the one I like the most, simply because it at least leaves room for a way forward. There is no future for Obi-Wan Kenobi and Cassian Andor (good as Andor was), since we already know how and where their stories end. And The Book of Boba-Fett never really seemed to know where it was going and what it wanted to be. Din and Grogu, however, have a future that’s wide open, if not for their respective people, then at least for themselves.
And while I’d love to see Din and Grogu uniting the Mandalorians and perhaps even the Jedi and taking them forward, I also don’t mind watching them just zip through the galaxy in Din’s shiny new starfighter to explore the weird and wonderful corners of the Star Wars universe, make friends and enemies and solve other people’s problems and maybe even their own.
Because “The hero wanders the world, always on the run from something and solves other people’s problems, but never their own” used to be a TV genre not all that long ago. It’s the formula that fueled Route 66, The Fugitive, Time Tunnel, Kung Fu, The Incredible Hulk, The A-Team, Quantum Leap and many others. It’s clearly a formula that worked and still works (the Jack Reacher novels very much follow the same pattern), only that we hardly ever see it anymore in this era of serialised TV and season arcs.
So if The Mandalorian wants to bring back the wandering hero formula, I’m certainly all there for it. If the show actually wants to take the Star Wars universe a step forward out of its endless cycle of failure, misery, defeat, I’m all there for that as well.