When we last left our beloved lone wolf bounty hunter and his adopted cub foundling’s show, Mando had set off to resurrect the world of Mandalore (or something) and Baby Yoda had begun his training under Luke Skywalker. And now as we rejoin them, Mando and Grogu have reunited on another TV show and are ambling around without a real plan to resurrect Mandalore. Lucasfilm’s absolutely ghastly decision to pay off the emotional crux of the first two years of Din and Grogu’s story on a different otherwise terrible show has been covered extensively elsewhere so I’ve no need to dig into the weeds… but what a deeply braindead choice which is profoundly unfriendly to audiences.
The bigger problem for this show however is the way that choice lays bare in a very unflattering light the plot structure that has kept the gears running for two years: open world video game missions. Worse still, this episode’s takeaway seems to be all the energy Star Wars fans spent invested in this show’s core relationship was little more than an emotionally manipulative trick. Nearly every episode of the first two seasons of The Mandalorian sees the same format: Din Djarin given a new quest and after completing each week’s mission he’s rewarded with a new plot device that will be essential to complete a future mission. The Beskar spear he receives will, of course, be the secret weapon to defeat the Imperial Big Bad’s Darksaber. It’s a structure we’ve seen at least since NES-era Metroid and The Legend of Zelda on consoles, and far further back on the PC side.
And in those early days? It was a great structure for a show like this. Send our reluctantly heroic bounty hunter out into the world each episode after a new target and reward him with a new upgrade for his armor or a repair for his ship or a knickknack for his ward. But now the effort to meld that structure into the much broader Skywalker Saga, the various tendrils of the Clone Wars show (and countless hints that we’re soon to intersect directly with Rebels), and Mando’s own quest to restore Mandalore makes the plot devices even more haltingly obvious.
The choice to leave Grogu with Luke at the end of season two was one of (apparent) genuine emotional weight. There was so much Star Wars stuff in active development at that point, and such a clear new direction for Mando teased in the show, that it was easy enough to believe it was a change to the status quo that might last a season or two of television. Maybe we’d get a Jedi Academy spinoff about Grogu’s training while Mando unites with Bo-Katan. And even if it was quickly resolved, we’d return to the world of The Mandalorian to be greeted with the show’s most important plot.
What did Favreau and Filoni teach us with this episode and the choice to move so much plot forward for these characters on The Book of Boba Fett? That our emotional investment in the potential break of the Grogu-Din Djarin relationship was little more than a cheap manipulation to generate buzz around a season finale. If it was meant to have real weight, it would not have been resolved in a random episode of a spin-off show with a different titular character. It would be one thing if we were all just watching Star Wars: The Series and we jumped back and forth between our Fetts and our Ahsokas and our Grogus each week, ala Filoni’s own Clone Wars. That would be one frustrating but understandable thing, but that isn’t this reality.
Collectively, the showrunners appear to care so little about our emotional investment in Mando and Baby Yoda that it has really impacted how much I care when engaging in the show. I felt the “awww shucks!” gears of Funko Pop selling manufactured cuteness grinding at ear splitting volume as Grogu slept on Mando’s lap in hyperspace or attempted to cuddle a fluffy Anzellan mechanic. In a way, I’ve now seen behind the curtain and the big reveal just left me feeling worn out. Cute has become corporate.
So as opposed to what happened on other Star Wars shows, what actually happened here? Mando meets with The Armorer (Emily Swallow) yet again. This is a character who apparently travels the universe meeting up with however many other Mandalorian zealots the costume budget allows. She gives reverse engineered trinkets while spouting meaningless lore, and off Mando goes on another quest. Each Diablo game has a town full of Armorers who serve no real purpose beyond telling the player which new piece of armor they must brave countless floors of hell to retrieve.
That Favreau, the sole credited writer on this episode, and Filoni feel they need to essentially repeat nearly verbatim a conversation from The Book of Boba Fett and they choose the one about lore backstory bullshit instead of the emotional crux of the story speaks directly to what’s wrong here. I grew up on Star Wars. I read countless Expanded Universe stories (I was particularly partial to the X-Wing series). I know the names and backstories of more silent Original Trilogy background characters than I should ever admit. I could not possibly care less about the tragic history of Mandalore as depicted here. It’s one of the worst examples of telling instead of showing in recent television. (And, yes, I’m aware that Mandalorian stuff is covered fairly extensively in later seasons of Clone Wars and on Rebels. I shouldn’t need to watch a cartoon aimed at kids on Disney XD or some similar network to understand Mando’s purpose for living.)
I imagine we’ll get a Jedi heavy episode in the next week or two which will flashback to Grogu’s decision to leave Luke and (again) recreate scenes from Boba Fett, but I’m just too worn out to care.
The show does briefly come alive when Mando and Grogu visit old friend Greef Karga (a wonderfully gruff Carl Weathers; he of Rocky fame). There are space pirates and shoot outs and a killer robot – there’s even a pretty great space dogfight. It all feels reasonably fun. I couldn’t help but smile as Ludwig Göransson’s great themes pound through my speakers as Mando shoots down pirates. And yet the whole point of the visit is to resurrect a character, IG-11 (Taika Waititi, Thor: Ragnarok), who has more than served his purpose. That IG-11’s season one sacrifice will soon be walked back after Mando’s fetch quests a new memory unit for the droid is just so tiring. Why can’t any characters ever actually die in Star Wars? Why are there zero consequences? This was a big issue in Clone Wars too – Filoni just can’t leave a cool toy on the shelf so long dead characters like Darth Maul (in Solo: A Star Wars Story too) appear after seemingly impossible resurrections. They even showed IG-11’s death in the “Previously On” segment and it just doesn’t make any sense. Even the actual plot machinations make little sense. If Mando needs something to help survey the post-Imperial bombing surface of Mandalore, a plucky assassin droid is a foolish choice… unless, of course, the only reason for IG-11 to serve that purpose is to bring back a well-liked character, keep Taika Waititi active in the Star Wars family, and sell more toys.
As if performing the physical embodiment of my disaffection, Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) appears briefly, apparently locked into a lounging position on her throne of an abandoned castle on one of Mandalore’s moons. The disengagement (purposeful!) of her performance really served to sever my own connection as yet another character spouts about lore and about actions not actually depicted on screen. It’s the first time an episode of The Mandalorian has ever ended where I felt a surge of relief.
And the show has also betrayed Din Djarin’s emotional growth. It’s been made clear that The Children of the Watch (Mando’s Mandos, if you will) are a hardline religious sect of Mandalorian survivors. That Din has gradually shown the emotional growth to remove his helmet on multiple occasions – in stark violation of his strict religious edicts – to further his emotional connection with Grogu was not just a huge part of the heart of the show, but true growth for the particular character. Now to see it walked back and to see that Mando’s new goal is less to revive Mandalore than it is to redeem his own doctrinal gaffe is an enervating step backwards for the character. It reminds me of the way characters on The CW Arrowverse shows never learn any lessens from their experiences (because that would complicate the 22 episode procedural formula) or how pro wrestling characters simply revert back to whatever they were before as they transition from one feud to the next. The Din Djarin I spent 16 Chapters with had finally started to learn that the helmet is an impediment, not an aspiration.
Maybe part of the problem is that Andor has shown that the Star Wars universe has the framework to tell genuinely excellent, adult-focused stories. Maybe the oversaturation of other bad Star Wars content like Obi-Wan Kenobi has worn me down. I hope The Mandalorian can win me back. The first two seasons of the show gave me the sort of childhood sense of glee I rarely feel anymore. My house is littered with Baby Yoda knickknacks. I spent much of COVID taking work Zooms with a Mandalorian coffee mug. My kids are obsessed with the show. I’m willing to keep trying… but boy do I feel betrayed right now.
The Mandalorian Season 3 premieres today on Disney+. We anticipate providing weekly coverage of the show.