The Mandalorian: Season 3
If you look around Online you can find any number of hot takes saying, "Star Wars is dead! The franchise is dying! Rey killed it!" She didn't, and Star WarsThe modern blockbuster: it's a concept so commonplace now we don't even think about the fact that before the end of the 1970s, this kind of movie -- huge spectacles, big action, massive budgets -- wasn't really made. That all changed, though, with Star Wars, a series of films that were big on spectacle (and even bigger on profits). A hero's journey set against a sci-fi backdrop, nothing like this series had ever really been done before, and then Hollywood was never the same. is just fine. The character of Rey didn't kill the franchise (hell, J.J. Abrams did far more damage as writer / director than Rey as a character). With that said, I do think there's a small kernel of something worth acknowledging which is that the Star Wars franchise is going through a massive identify crisis, unsure of what to do and where to go. This has been happening for some time, long before J.J. joined the franchise to tell really dumb stories.
If you look back, the films that the fans like are basically just the original trilogy: Episode IV, Episode V, and Episode VI. George Lucas pulled together a visionary set of creative for those three films and made a trilogy that has endured for decades. Pretty much everything after, though, has been loved and hated by the fandom. The Prequels? Hated at the start, but then the next generation of fans grew up with them and hold them closely as "their Star Wars". The Clone Wars was hated until enough time went past, and then it, too, became beloved.
There are parts of the franchise that one group hates and another loves, and I think that speaks more to the amount of time Star Wars has existed and the breadth of content available. Various people are going to say, "this is what Star Wars should be," but the point they all miss is that the franchise has enough potential within it to be anything. To focus on one group, one set of insular stories, lessens the impact and scope of what's possible. When The Mandalorian debuted it told us a story we hadn't seen before that was still, identifiably, set within the Galaxy Far, Far Away. Since then, though, the show has struggled because it couldn't just be The Mandalorian but (in quotes and underlined) a Star Wars show.
The second season of the series was muddled as it started working in more and more Star Wars mythology. It couldn't just be Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) guiding his youngling (eventually named Grogu) around the galaxy. No, now it had to tie into the other Mandalorians, and the rise of the First Order, and Boba Fett, and the start of the new Jedi Order, and more. Where the first season focused on a found family coming together the second season had to be about Star Wars and some of the initial magic for the series was lost. Whether this refocusing (and the loss of what made it work so well) was at the behest of the fans or just what the producers had planned all along, it was hard not to lament the shift for the show.
That shift has gone even further in this third season of The Mandalorian, turning the series almost entirely into a story about the planet Mandalore and Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff). Now, to be clear, I think a show about Bo-Katan bringing the people of Mandalore together is great. Her, battling the evil Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), the leader of what will become the First Order, all over the fate of Mandalore, that leads to some thrilling action in the series. The problem is that, as far as the log-line for the series is concerned, Din Djarin is an afterthought on his own series. Season three of The Mandalorian is a rushed and muddled show that loses track of its main character to tell and epic story about the Star Wars universe, something this series was positioned to not give a shit about at all.
This season sees a reunited Din Djarin and Grogu (see season 1 of The Book of Boba Fett for details on that mess) venturing out to restore Mando's honor before his clan. He showed his face at some point in his past (a detail, frankly, he could have just lied about and who would have been any wiser) and now has to atone (because his people never take off their helmets in the presence of others). So he heads to Mandalore to bathe in "the living waters" of the planet. That requires him to dive deep into the caverns of Mandalore, encountering many threats along the way such that, eventually, Grogu has to go and find Bo-Katan so she can come and save Grogu's adopted father figure.
Once Mando is saved, he and Bo team up to reunite the people of Mandalore. The planet isn't truly dead after all, so the various scattered tribes can come together and settle the planet once more. She gains the favor of Mando's clan, and then the two head out to gain her old Deathwatch crew again. And through it all, the goal is clear: restore Mandalore, their home. But there's a force working from behind the scenes, one that could spell danger for the Mandalorians: Moff Gideon and the remnants of the old Empire. They have their own plans for Mandalore, and beyond, and they don't need some pesky rebels getting in the way. Is the old Empire versus old Mandalore for the fate of the planet, and beyond.
I do have a number of things I feel the season should have done but let me just state that I think using shows set during this time period in the Star Wars timeline to actually document the rise of the First Order is interesting. One thing the Sequel Trilogy glossed over (among all the things it screwed up) was that the First Order just appeared, out of nowhere, without any explanation. A group that big, seemingly tied to the old Empire, really needed to be detailed better. Lucas maybe have had the Empire fully formed in the Original Trilogy, but he then spent the Prequel set showing how the Empire came together. What we needed was something like that for the First Order and while those movies didn't provide any specifics, the shows are doing a commendable job illustrating how the First Order could come to be.
One of the complaints about this season of The Mandalorian is that it's disjointed, showing a lot of side stories that didn't tie into the main plot, and that's true. Episodes like "Chapter 19: The Convert", which focused on Corusant with characters we hadn't seen before, don't have any major bearing directly on the plot of this series. They're meant to show case the ineffectual government of the New Republic, now the First Order could rise up in secret within the ranks of this government. If you look at these kinds of episodes are part of a greater whole, then they work. Within the context of The Mandalorian, though, stories like "The Convert" don't work. They feel out of place in the show we know.
I think the issue here is that the creators, Jon Favreu and Dave Filoni have a very clear idea of the story they want to tell for this era of the franchise, dubbed the era of The New Republic, and that involves setting the stage for the First Order. So we have to go through tales like "The Convert". We have to have a season about the restoration of Mandalore. We have to spend time in one series setting up another even if it feels weird and out of place (again, see the two episodes of Book of Boba Fett that had nothing to do with Boba Fett). All of this, presumably, is set up for Ashoka, where our favorite (fallen) Jedi battles the rise of the First Order (we assume). And then there's a planned movie to follow that ties together all these series set in this era. From the perspective of the era, that's an ambitious plan that could work.
The problem there is it requires you to buy into all the shows and movies that will make up this era of Star Wars. If you're a super-fan you're going to watch all of everything and get the whole story. But if you just wanted to tune into The Mandalorian and watch the adventures of "Mando Dad and Yoda Pup", this season wasn't what you were looking for. Fan comments Online, as well as many reviews, made that clear. This was not the season of The Mandalorian people wanted.
I do have one simple fix that could have changed all that: instead of making it The Mandalorian: Season 3, this should have been Bo-Katan: Season 1. That's what the season is, anyway, and considering how it was constructed, absolutely nothing else about the season would have had to change. Mando shows up, finds Bo, involves her in the story, and then the two go off to have the same adventure they were planning anyway. And even "The Convert" could work in the context if, then in season two of that show, more First Order crap happened and Bo had to fight to defend her world. That's a perfect use of the characters, setting, and era.
I liked much of what happened this season and, frankly, found it to be a pretty compelling season of Star Wars, when taken in that context. But, as a season of The Mandalorian, where Mando and Grogu could just have adventures together, father and son, this season fell short. There are expectations for this series, expectations set by the first season, that weren't met, and the longer this series goes on the farther it seems to get away from its premise. I want to explore this era, and I want to know how the First Order comes to power. Maybe doing it in The Mandalorian, though, wasn't the best idea.