When The Mandalorian debuted on Disney+ in 2019, it was like nothing else on television. The series, the first live-action small-screen installment of the Star Wars canon, is a departure from the fast-paced Sequel trilogy and pays loving homage to the Westerns and samurai films that influenced George Lucas’ original masterpiece. It was surprisingly still and quiet, following two protagonists – one without a face, the other without words – from one weird little adventure to the next. Plots were simple and mostly self-contained, allowing the show to go on almost entirely mood. But over the course of two seasons (and the border unreachable Season 2.5, Boba Fett’s book) much of the shine has come off The Mandalorian‘s beskar armor. The story has become entangled in a decade’s worth of mythology from its animated antecedents, the novelty of its deliberately wonky mix of digital and practical effects has faded, and the father-son relationship that served as the heart of the show has run its course. . As season 3 debuts, The Mandalorian feels like it’s running on fumes, and the vibes are a mess.
In the season premiere, titled “The Apostate”, armored mercenary Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) is banished from his clan as punishment for voluntarily removing his helmet in front of others. He made this sacrifice last season, in the process of rescuing his adorable young attacker Grogu (aka Baby Yoda) from the clutches of the Empire and returning him to the care of the Jedi. That would have been a natural place for the series to end, with the masked manhunter finding his heart and then releasing his lover back into the galaxy to fulfill his destiny, as all proud daddies must eventually do. In between the seasons Boba Fett’s bookGrogu decided to give up his Jedi training to rejoin his surrogate father, and the pair are now once again traveling the stars in their new, hot-rodded Naboo Starfighter.
Djarin’s new quest is to redeem himself in the eyes of his fellow Mandalorian fundamentalists by returning to their pulverized homeworld and re-baptizing himself in its sacred waters. “The Apostate” teases that this will have bigger implications for the fate of all Mandalorians, as stateless Mandalorian royal Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) is also back in the mix. Bo-Katan wants to retake the planet Mandalore, but has lost the Darksaber (our space Excalibur) to Djarin, and with it the right to lead her people. Djarin has the sword, but no political ambitions. In the end, something has to be done, and presumably we’ll find our answers in the ruins of Mandalore during the course of the season.
Personally, I hope Djarin’s expedition finds something else: my interest in this show.
It’s hard to say if The Mandalorian has declined in quality, or is simply surpassed by competing programs. After all, if you want to see Pedro Pascal play a gruff Battle Dad, you can get a more satisfying solution The last of us. In recent years Andor has proven that a Star Wars show can be legitimately great television rather than just a sweet little treat for your inner child. And to be clear, “The Apostate” begins with a sequence of a dozen Mandalorians battling a giant lizard; your inner child will be pleased. But apart from a greater number of action figures in helmets and jetpacks fighting bigger and badder threats The Mandalorian‘s latest season doesn’t promise much that it hasn’t already given us. He’s taken on bounty hunters and stormtroopers, and now he’s drawn the wrath of some space pirates. Grogu digresses with some more adorable dolls and replays some of his precocious toddler shtick, but there’s no indication he’ll ever evolve as a character. Aside from the act two shooting that takes place under harsh, even lighting that’s unflattering to the latex-covered faces of Djarin’s pirate enemies, very little about “The Apostate” stands out as particularly bad. There’s not much to praise either.
(Also, while you’d be forgiven for not noticing it right away, composer Ludwig Göransson has moved on, which bodes gravely for the show’s aforementioned vibes.)
Maybe it’s just franchise fatigue finally setting in, as in the case of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Quantumania has received criticism from critics, but is it actually worse than Thor: Love and Thunder or Dr. Strange in the multiverse of madness? Maybe, but not by much. Likewise, The Mandalorian‘s third-season premiere doesn’t approach the level of boring or clumsy as Boba Fett’s book. But more and more it is an open question how long these lofty Saturday morning cartoons can hold the attention of a large adult audience. For die-hards who have loved these properties since before geek culture went mainstream, there’s no reason to abandon ship. Nothing has changed. But if Disney wants to maintain their stranglehold on the zeitgeist itself, they’re going to have to make a real effort. And though it’s hard to see under that helmet, The Mandalorian doesn’t seem to sweat.