Star Wars‘ flagship series has returned for a third season after delivering a second season that undeniably rivals the quality of most Star Wars films. The Mandalorian sees Din back together with Grogu after their brief stint in The Book of Boba Fett, undoing one of the best parts of the season two finale and sending us on another adventure.
I’m just going to say it straight – this season is not even close to being bad, but it’s the biggest disappointment in Star Wars since the handling of the sequel trilogy. Up until this point, The Mandalorian has been exceptional in its storytelling – navigating the Age of the New Republic in an interesting manner and sending our leading duo on fun adventures that all lead to a common goal. There has been a clear sense of direction and a focus on achieving an end goal that is established from the get-go, rarely veering off-road. In comparison, this season lacks any sort of direction for the characters (for at least the first half), resulting in a messy narrative with barely any payoff whatsoever. Engaging story arcs are thrown in the trash, narratives are introduced and teased only to go nowhere, and we spend half of the season not knowing where it’s leading. When I say we have no idea where it’s leading, I don’t mean in a fun, mysterious way, I mean in the frustrating sense of “what am I meant to be getting excited about?”.
There are a few episodes that dive deep into the characters and start really developing what we think is the season’s grand narrative. It touches on some exciting story points and sets up expectations for the season that effectively build up hype. The problem is two-fold. Firstly, these moments of narrative development are broken up with subplots that drag down the pacing of the season. Secondly, these exciting arcs that are teased aren’t capitalised on in the end – they’re either haphazardly closed or left lingering beyond the finale to be told in future seasons/series’. I’m sure the lingering details can and will be awesome going forward, but it just leaves a sour taste after a finale that doesn’t deliver any hard-hitting story beats. What turns out to be the core narrative of the season is great, it’s just unfortunate that we didn’t get that for more than three or so episodes.
The other element that both helps and hurts this season is that this isn’t Din Djarin and Grogu’s story – it’s Bo-Katan’s. For 90% of this season, Bo-Katan is the driving force behind the narrative, with both Din and Grogu relegated to supporting characters. They’re certainly a part of the story, but they’re very much passengers along for the ride. It’s disappointing considering their relationship has been a focal point for the first two seasons, but the silver lining is that Bo-Katan is an exceptionally well-written character who I love. It makes me think I’d love to see her get her own series, where she can really thrive without sharing or fighting for the spotlight. I also understand why Bo-Katan is the focal point of the season – Din and Grogu don’t have anything to do. Their whole mission was to get to a Jedi, and now that they have, they’re just floating through the galaxy. In the meantime, Bo-Katan we know has a mission and a goal she wants to achieve, making her a much more compelling lead.
If there’s one thing this series has done very well, and continues to excel in here, it’s the action. The moments in which this season focuses on a big action set-piece, especially when featuring a bunch of Mandalorians, are hands-down the best parts of the season. This series has dealt with both large and small scale battle sequences, and this season has both of those once again. If you’re after larger aerial battle sequences and also grounded hand-to-hand combat, there’s a great variety to go around. The final two episodes are especially jam-packed with insane action sequences that really deliver. The penultimate episode is without a doubt the biggest of the season, and of the biggest of the series – featuring both thrilling story developments and huge action, a feat nearly unseen in this season. Then the finale doubles down on the action even more, while somehow forgetting to incorporate interesting story beats… but the action was great, so I was entertained.
That right there is the way I’d describe this season in a nutshell – the narrative had its exciting moments but was a constant let-down, while the action did its best to fill the gaps and ensure it remained entertaining. Speaking on the finale without spoilers – one element that’s perplexing to me is the handling of a narrative that’s at the forefront of episode three. The third episode pivots from the main story to set up a surprising character arc that I loved. It brings with it an espionage thriller vibe and sets up a big mystery, making it one of my favourites of the season. However, when the rest of the season doesn’t do anything with that arc and abruptly axes it in the finale, it makes the whole episode feel like a waste.
What’s not a waste is having Katee Sackhoff in the lead role as Bo-Katan. She’s a powerhouse actor and knows the ins and outs of this character she’s portrayed for something like 10 years now. She brings plenty of depth to the role, really effectively representing both the character’s strengths and vulnerabilities throughout the season. Not only that, but she kicks ass in her action sequences (with help from her stunt double of course). Pedro Pascal is good as the voice of Din Djarin, but I can’t say there was anything about his performance that really excelled. I doubt he was ever actually in the suit, which takes away from his performance. However, it doesn’t take away from both Brendan Wayne and Lateef Crowder, who nailed Din’s physical performance and hit every stunt perfectly.
In the end, I can’t help but think The Mandalorian’s third season is a disappointing ride. I could go further into the season, but not without venturing into spoiler territory. There’s a lot of perplexing narrative choices made throughout that result in a messy season overall. I’m not sure if there were behind-the-scenes factors that impeded this season, but it’s wild to see such a large drop-off from the exceptional second season. Despite its huge narrative woes, the season remains entertaining through its few (2-3) exceptional episodes, great Mandalorian-focused action sequences and solid lead performance from Katee Sackhoff. After this finale, I’m more excited about other stories in the Age of the New Republic, but I’m intrigued to see if The Mandalorian can get back in form in the eventual fourth season.