The first episode opens up the story with confidence, featuring every trope The Mandalorian is known for. Space battles? Check. Pistols in the daylight on a sandy planet, uncovered beneath long coats? Check. A giant monster? Planet hopping? Strange aliens? Checks abound. It shows off a little of everything the series has to offer, like a theme park just past the entrance gates. Din Djarin, aka Mando, has an objective to accomplish, one that may just be impossible, but there are also new villains to contend with in a part of the galaxy largely independent of the galactic conflict, but not necessarily safe from it.
Mando accomplishes that objective in episode two, and those new villains? They barely last half past half the season.
As a show, The Mandalorian has never considered its central plot line to be the most important pillar. The first season presented the story of a bounty hunter that found himself a protector of a child, but the act of protecting the child was just the setup for why Djarin was hopping from one self-contained episodic story to the next, only for the main plot to pull him back in at the end. The second season had him searching the galaxy for a home for the child, an act that became the setup for why Djarin was hopping from one self-contained story to the next, only for the main plot to pull him back in the end. The third season is no different.
And yet, even though the show is still just as much a tribute to the episodic westerns and spacefaring adventures that the original Star Wars movies were inspired by, this time around feels distracted and unfocused.
Part of this is because of The Book of Boba Fett (2021). The first season of The Mandalorian had Djarin protect the child, the second season had him deliver the child to a Jedi, removing Grogu, aka Baby Yoda, from Djarin’s story. The Book of Boba Fett retconned the entire goal of Mando in his second season by just having Grogu return to him, and the third season shows just how unplanned that choice was, with Grogu spending most of his time as set decoration, or simply being left behind.
The promised focus for this season was the return to Mandalore, the planet razed by the Empire. Can the Mandalorians unite, find a home on their old planet, and return it back to life? Also, there are pirates with seaweed faces that will stop at no end to do bad things. Also, also, there’s an entire episode where Djarin and the Mandolorians only show up as cameos, where the remnants of the Empire find themselves sneaking around a New Republic Coruscant. Also, also, also, there’s a detective story involving a caste system of subjugated robots and a mystery with so little depth nobody thought of including multiple suspects. Also, also, also, also, there’s an expanded universe to link up to ranging from referencing a plot line from an animated series to introducing future villains and subplots.
It doesn’t help that there are so few characters to be invested in this season. In the first two seasons Djarin was the only character that consistently was wearing a helmet everywhere he went. In this season the Mandalorians themselves are a more important aspect of the story, meaning that there are quite a few action scenes in which all of the characters are more or less the same build, wearing similar colored armored suits, helmeted at all times. There’s a big guy that carries the equivalent of a minigun; he gets to have a character arc. There’s the armorer, who sometimes gets to flail around her hammers in front of a green screen. There are a couple of Mandalorians that take off their helmets, but when there’s a large group of them on-screen fighting against another group of fully armored bad guys it becomes a mess of digital effects projected on green screens where the action has no weight and it’s unclear exactly who’s in any danger while wearing their blaster proof beskar.
That’s not to say that there is no entertainment to be found. The issue is that this season lacks ambition, but most importantly focus. It has interesting ideas, but it never really gives any of them time to develop, choosing instead to provide setups for subplots that may be finished at a later date, or subplots that have already been finished, all ending with a promise for a season four where Djarin, along with the child, will be hopping from one self-contained episodic storyline to the next, only for the main plot to pull them back in the end.