It’s hard to tell of Disney+ is treating The Mandalorian as their flagship show, or a testing ground for ideas. I suspect it’s a bit of both. Certainly they know people are going to tune in because of the Star Wars name, yet they also appear willing to just throw ideas into the show and see if they stick. And you know what? It’s not often, but sometimes those ideas do stick.
The third season gets off to a very rough start. Din Djarin and Grogu are already together, having been reunited in The Book of Boba Fett. In case there was any doubt, it is a terrible idea to wrap up a major plot arc of one show in another show, but that’s the price of existing in a shared universe. As we’ve seen with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, half the reason these shows exist is to make you watch the other ones. The Mandalorian finds itself at the crossroads where everything else connects, and what was once marketed as a lone bounty hunter doing work along the Outer Rim has been consumed by the need to continue and expand stories from elsewhere.
The bad news is that The Mandalorian has essentially become a live-action follow-up to the animated The Clone Wars series. Great if you’re a fan of that show, but less good if, like me, you’ve never seen a episode. Once again I come back to my line in the sand. You should not have to watch one show to understand another. The narrative arc of Bo Katan reclaiming her legacy is a good one, but it deserved to take place in a show not centred on Din Djarin. Though to be fair, old Din is often left standing around this season. Sometimes he undertakes side quests, and sometimes he is present for momentous occasions, but it rarely feels as if the narrative is centred on him.
The good news is that we still get good episodes out of this mess of a series. Episode Three barely features a Mandalorian, but instead takes us on a detour to Coruscant, and the murky world of the New Republic prisoner rehabilitation programme. It’s one of the best half hours of television Star Wars has produced, even if it does feel like it comes from another show. At the other end of the spectrum we have Episode Six, which manages to provide much-needed levity for the season. The stunt casting in this episode stands out, but its so much fun I didn’t care. It finally felt like an episode of the show I was promised all those years ago. And hey, file off the Star Wars serial numbers, and you’d even have a great detective show out of this one, filled with robot rights and an ethical quandary.
Overall, The Mandalorian still feels lacking in a sense of purpose and identity. But it’s still fun to watch, and the ending seems to have wrapped things up neatly. If it is a testing ground for ideas, then I’d say it’s largely been a success.
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