Spoilers for The Mandalorian season 3 premiere follow.
After over two years away, Mando and Grogu are back. Yes, they had a brief stopover in The Book of Boba Fett – essentially The Mandalorian season 2.5 – but it never quite hit the same as hearing that iconic title music and seeing Pedro Pascal’s one-time bounty hunter fend off foes across the galaxy.
Despite the feverish anticipation, however, this is a relatively sluggish start that would’ve been better served as the first of a two-parter.
‘The Apostate’ isn’t helped by immediately rolling into recap mode for those who missed out on The Book of Boba Fett last year. After a stylish fakeout involving a Din-alike undergoing a Mandalorian ritual, a fearsome creature attack, and a pulsating battle, Mando saves the day and meets up once more with the Armorer to discuss how to purge himself of his sins. The answer? To go beneath the mines of Mandalore and bathe in the Living Waters.
No, you’re not getting déjà vu. Mando’s mission was brought up in Boba Fett, though this time it gets the added wrinkle of a Mandalore artifact that proves their ancestral homeworld hasn’t been completely destroyed.
Then to Nevarro. While there, Mando reconnects with Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), now a High Magistrate who is trying his level best to transform a lawless world into a rich, vibrant planet filled with culture and commerce.
Greef and Mando’s scenes together share some of the episode’s underlying problems – yet more recaps – but add additional intrigue with Greef’s proposition that Din hangs up his blaster and “get fat off the land.” But, of course, he has a mission to complete and sets off to revive the only droid he can trust – the Taika Waititi-voiced IG-11 – to aid him in his quest.
Welcome back to The Grogu Show
After a repair attempt gone wrong (and a welcome dose of mild horror as IG-11’s bisected ‘corpse’ reverts back to his core programming and attempts to kill Grogu) Mando heads to the Anzellans – Babu Frik’s species, once again voiced by Shirley Henderson – who tell him he needs another part to fix IG-11. The Mandalorian has always felt like one long fetch quest and it’s no different here, even if it is all bundled with the promise of Mando inching closer towards his motivations more so than he did in prior years.
It all culminates in a terse showdown with a tired and broken Bo-Katan in a Mandalorian castle on Kalevala. With her forces gone and her Darksaber firmly tied to Mando’s belt, she’s already a more immediately interesting character than her season 2 debut. Her motivation to retake Mandalore seemingly lost, she points Din in the direction of the mines beneath the planet. It’s a juicy if all-too-short interaction, loaded with charged emotions and complicated desires. The Mandalorian should undoubtedly build on this, even if it was a brief exchange and a fairly flat parting shot to cap off what had been a hotly-anticipated episode.
The Mandalorian’s season 3 premiere, though, is at its peak when it keeps things simple. There’s a surprising amount of mileage in the episode’s B-plot: High Magistrate Karga’s brief conflict with Vane and his band of pirates. The old Western tropes of standoffs and the lone wanderer taking out the galaxy’s scum and villainy still elicits the same sort of fist pumps and chef’s kisses as it always has. Mando’s later dogfight with Vane and his band of not-so-merry-men also stands out as a frenetic display of action that proves the show has a better handle on spacefaring set-pieces this time around. It’s a far more complex, layered battle than anything that has come before – and the episode is all the better for it.
It’s also worth mentioning that, yes, Grogu is still the star of the show. Jon Favreau and his team have landed on the right mixture of the former Jedi-in-training: a restrained comedy vehicle and instant meme machine. Baby Yoda using the Force to spin around on his chair added some much-needed levity to an exposition-heavy scene, while his hugging of the Anzellans is cutesy and funny in equal measure – and something you’re likely to see a million times on social media in the coming days.
In a post-Andor world, The Mandalorian’s storytelling runs the risk of feeling as hollow as Din’s Beskar helmet. It remains to be seen whether the show’s Mandalore obsession will pay dividends in the long run. At the current juncture, it feels like The Clone Wars animated series is less additive material and more like required reading to understand the true weight of Mando and Bo-Katan’s dynamic. In truth, the show needs a meaty villain to hang its hat on. There are a handful of possibilities: Moff Gideon, now at a New Republic War Tribunal, should loom large over the season, while the Pirate King Gorian Shard promises to be a fun diversion.
If it can squeeze in a Big Bad and focus on its core narrative instead of zipping about from planet to planet, the show should scale the heights of previous seasons. As it stands, this is more of the same classic Mandalorian – and that’s no bad thing. The season 3 premiere is a fun, warm, and risk-free welcome back for Mando and The Child. There’s setup aplenty and a rich dynamic to mine in Bo-Katan and Din Djarin. We just wish it went into lightspeed a little quicker.