This review of The Mandalorian Chapters 17 and 18 is spoiler-free!
The Mandalorian returns after ending its second season in November 2020 on the cliffhanger of Grogu saying goodbye to Pedro Pascal’s titular bounty hunter and heading off to train with Luke Skywalker. Certain viewers are now wondering why just under 3 years later, Din Djarin and Grogu are reunited as if they’ve never left each other’s side. This is the biggest issue with the first 2 episodes of The Mandalorian Season 3, and funnily enough, this problem doesn’t really pertain to the new season itself but rather the handling of Grogu’s return in the spin-off series The Book of Boba Fett. Even the “Previously On” intro provides little clues to unbeknownst audience members of why Grogu has suddenly returned with the Mandalorian, and almost acts like the ending of Season 2 never happened. This will definitely be jarring to many people who have decided to only stick to this show.
Nonetheless, The Mandalorian Season 3 surprisingly feels like an entirely different show altogether. Where the first two seasons focused on the journey between Din Djarin and Grogu to learn more about the Child and return him to his people, from the first scene of Season 3, it’s clear that particular narrative arc has been completed and a new story is now being established. This new adventure is all about Mandalorian culture; a thread that has been touched upon consistently in the series thus far through different perspectives like that of the Armorer and fan-favorite character Bo-Katan, but never in as much depth as this. Where the earlier seasons rightfully followed the relationship between Din and Grogu, The Mandalorian Season 3 looks to delve deeper into Mandalorian culture as well as how broken it has become after the Empire’s reign of terror on Mandalore itself.
Bo-Katan is already a clear standout this season and Katee Sackhoff brings a fantastic performance in these first two episodes. Establishing Bo-Katan as a broken and lonely fighter who is fearful of leading her people into danger once again, Sackhoff commands the screen in every scene she’s in. Not only is the character given thrilling action sequences and some clever wit, but Bo-Katan is quickly perceived as someone who doesn’t want to fight for the return of the legendary Darksaber into her possession. She is so broken and tired of how the Mandalorian culture has destroyed her life and her loved ones. This is a truly fascinating perspective to take with Bo-Katan and fans will definitely be on the edges of their seats rooting for her to find self-redemption by the end of the season, as much as they root for Din and Grogu.
Speaking of the titular bounty hunter and his returning sidekick, The Mandalorian Season 3 homes more on Din Djarin’s psyche in contrast to how the show has been previously concerned with unraveling Grogu’s Jedi past and abilities. This increased focus on Din as an individual gives these new episodes a fresher feeling. While he was likely limited to mostly voice work during this entire season due to his shooting schedule for HBO’s The Last of Us, Pedro Pascal brings the best version of Din we have seen on screen yet. Unsure of his purpose outside of the confines of the Mandalorian culture he’s known all of his life, Din is now an apostate who’s stubborn and hellbent on being re-accepted by his foundling clan. Pascal is able to bring more layers to his performance, especially within Episode 2, and makes his overarching arc for this third season even more exciting.
What does seem to be a present issue is the handling of Grogu. The character continues to have some incredibly cute interactions, especially with one familiar alien species, but his presence in The Mandalorian Season 3 is largely used as a plot device for Din to indirectly explain important story elements to the audience. Grogu is given fleeting moments of self-development in these first 2 episodes and one can hope that this develops into something more substantial in forthcoming episodes. While it is understandable that Grogu’s return was likely necessary from a business standpoint in the eyes of Lucasfilm, as in keeping their latest iconic character relevant within pop culture, it is up to the writing team to ensure that Grogu’s return services both the titular character and his own development outside of cute moments that can be shared on social media.
Looking towards the show’s creative team, the addition of director Rick Famuyiwa as an executive producer can be clearly seen in The Mandalorian Season 3. Famuyiwa directs the first episode and his touch is why this series feels like it is reaching new heights. Whereas Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni have leaned more towards serialized storytelling within both The Mandalorian Seasons 1 and 2 and The Book of Boba Fett, these new episodes point to a different direction with minimal filler. By the end of Episode 2 directed by Rachel Morrison, it seems like serialized storytelling is a thing of this show’s past.
What can be argued with The Mandalorian Season 3, especially with Episode 1, is its unexpected fast pacing that takes fans on a journey to various locations and different plot points all within a short 35-minute timeframe. Although this approach is welcomed given how slow previous seasons have moved despite their short 8-episode lengths, the pacing of Episode 1 is rather jagged and some viewers will surely be put off by jumping far too quickly into this storyline and not allowing any time to breathe and reacquaint with Din and Grogu. After all, for tons of people watching, this will be the first time these two characters interact together on screen in just under 3 years.
Recent Star Wars Disney+ shows such as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and to a lesser extent, The Book of Boba Fett have been heavily criticized for their muddling visual effects work, especially when it comes to “The Volume.” ILM’s StageCraft technology has received rightful scrutiny for how woefully it has been used in Marvel productions like Thor: Love and Thunder and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. However, in the case of The Mandalorian Season 3, the production team finally understands how to properly integrate The Volume to make it look seamless in motion. Furthermore, Disney seems to now recognize The Mandalorian as its flagship streaming series, similar to how Netflix’s staple program is Stranger Things, with a potential and noticeable budget increase.
Stagecraft technology has still never looked better than how director Matt Reeves and cinematographer Greig Fraser utilized it for The Batman. Yet, in the defense of these first two episodes of The Mandalorian Season 3, the use of CGI and practical effects is nothing short of incredible. The world of The Mandalorian is simply more expansive than ever. This includes a wider host of alien characters that are superbly brought to life thanks to the VFX and practical effects team – one of which is already in the running as a new favorite live-action Star Wars creature. Outside of the aliens, the planets are so fascinating to observe as the N-1 starfighter speeds through their atmospheres. The space battles of this third season are also magnificent, bolstered by Dean Cundey’s dynamic cinematography that places the audience right in the N-1 starfighter’s cockpit during these dogfights.
The Mandalorian Season 3 gives the hit Disney+ original series a vital revamp. Though criticism can be laid at how the past mistakes of creator, writer, and director Jon Favreau – seen in The Book of Boba Fett – are not properly addressed for this show’s specific fanbase, these first 2 episodes lead the way for an unprecedented and exciting future. With further fleshed-out characters, richer worlds, and aliens galore, The Mandalorian has never been more thrilling. If this progress stays on its current course, The Mandalorian Season 3 will be another huge slam-dunk for Lucasfilm.