The Mandalorian is back. The series was the main reason to subscribe to Disney+ after its premiere in 2019, ushering in new possibilities on TV and streaming for a franchise that is one of, if not the most, important movie franchises ever.
The first season was an adventure of the week journey of Din Djarin, played by Pedro Pascal, who is cornering the market as the guy to hire to reluctantly watch over children on a dangerous journey while forming a beautiful bond with them (see The Last of Us), and the beloved Grogu, AKA Bay Yoda, the cute main attraction for many viewers.
The series wore its influences on its sleeves. Westerns and samurai films, which the original trilogy was also influenced by, were baked into the formula. Din and Grogu would hop from place to place on their broader journey, often to towns dealing with problems that Din would reluctantly help with. The series was simple storytelling with the wide appeal but has continued to try and branch out narratively in an attempt to be a hub of storytelling for Star Wars and the properties that have proceeded it. Despite all its cracks at world-building, in its third season, the series still has that charm that made it appealing in the first place but with large-scale world-building looming over its simple dynamic.
Season 3's first episode begins with Din and Grogu reuniting after the events of Season 2, where Luke Skywalker took in Grogu to begin training in the ways of the Jedi. If you were confused as to why the duo was together again, they were reunited in The Book of Boba Fett, which essentially functioned as The Mandalorian season 2.5. The Luke Skywalker introduction into the series was at once thrilling and also concerning. Taking what seemed like a contained story and a new frontier in Star Wars into yet another stepping stone in the larger Skywalker saga. The Grogu-Jedi dilemma has all been resolved, bringing us back to the formula that works for the show.
Din is now on a journey of redemption after he has been exiled from the very strict religious sect of The Mandalorians after he removed his helmet willingly (a big no-no). His sect is far from its past glory, with reduced numbers.
In the first episode of this season, Din shows up and saves the day right as a giant gator monster interrupts and wreaks havoc at a ceremony for a new initiate of the group. After visiting with the Mandalorian leader, The Armorer (Emily Swallow), Din concludes that the only way for him to be absolved is to journey to the ruined homeworld of the Mandalorians and bathe in the waters of the mines, which will set everything right.
The Armorer though very dogmatic, agrees. Din then meets with Bo Katan (Katee Sackhoff), who was after the Dark Saber, which is now rightfully Din's, which adds more context to the journey ahead and more lore about Mandalore. This seems to set up a possible fight between the different groups of Mandalorians, with their homeworld's revival now on the table.
The episode gets back to basics when Grogu and Din journey back to Nevarro, the former home of the bounty hunters guild and their old stomping grounds, which has gone through a massive makeover in the years they have been away. Din is there to meet with his old pal Greef Karga played by Carl Weathers. Karga has risen from the leader of the bounty hunters guild to basically the lord mayor of the new and improved Nevarro, building schools and keeping the riff-raff out.
DIn wants the robot that died in Season 1, played by Taika Waititi, so he can use it to infiltrate the mines of Mandalore. Its robot parts still function, but after trying to bring it back online, it reverts back to its original programming and tries to kill everyone.
Now we get some classic bits of The Mandalorian. Pirates that used to frequent the now lavish spaceport cause some trouble in the city, resulting in a classic western standoff. Greef Karga, at first agreeable and noncombative, throws his weight around and protects his newly established school, showing that he still has some of the old, grizzled bounty hunter Greef in him. He and Din dispatch the group quickly and stylishly, but of course, their leader didn't take kindly to the slight.
As Din and Grogu try to leave the planet, they are engaged by multiple ships of pirates resulting in a thrilling and high-quality space battle. Din and Grogu come out on top and are off to the next step in their journey. .
The familiar things are what make the show great. The world-building is really hit or miss but might end up being compelling, but for now, having the main duo back and Grugu doing cute Baby Yoda things, with some western action, is enough to keep casual viewers engaging with the show week to week.
Its grander narrative and the deep lore dives seem tailor-made for die-hards and fans of executive producer Dave Filoni’s animated shows Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels which are becoming increasingly important to the fabric of the show. Rosario Dawson’s Ashoka was revealed in The Mandalorian, setting up a new, connected series. So The Mandalorian has always been a vessel for new stories and fan-favorite characters returning (see also Book of Boba Fett). Some of the possibilities are exciting, but it begs the question of how many people actually care and if it's driving interest in this new lane for Star Wars. Or are the majority of viewers just here for Baby Yoda and vibes?
The show is tasked with balancing its casual viewer's experience and the die-hards' expectations and establishing a new series and characters from previous works. Through its Season 3 premiere, it's tentatively succeeding, but hopefully, it can stay simple for a while longer.
Season 3 of The Mandalorian is available on Disney+