[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Mandalorian” Season 3, Episode 1, “Chapter 17 – The Apostate.”]
Early in “The Mandalorian” Season 3 premiere, Grogu (aka Baby Yoda) marvels at the blue and white light of hyperspace. His tiny jaw drops. His oval eyes widen, and when he spots giant shadows flying alongside his comparably petite cruiser, he reaches out his three-fingered hand and holds it to the thin glass separating him from the cosmos. Perhaps he’s trying to feel the obscured entities with his budding powers… or maybe he’s just a bit overwhelmed by the vast universe all around him. So like any toddler overcome with emotions, he crawls into the lap of his father. And Daddy Din holds him snugly, as the two travelers doze off under the stars.
Din (Pedro Pascal) and Grogu’s relationship remains the guiding force of “The Mandalorian” in Season 3, as it should. Having fully embraced the father/son dynamic — during a different show, for synergistic reasons unrelated to good storytelling — Mando and Baby Yoda now have to decide what to do with their lives together. For Grogu, he’s just got to grow up. He can keep stretching the Jedi powers taught to him by Luke Skywalker, while picking up Mandalorian lessons from his adopted papa. But for Din, their journey starts with redeeming himself in the eyes of The Watch. He wants to be known as a true Mandalorian again, and that means going to Mandalore and bathing in the “living waters” beneath the city’s old mines.
Season 3 reiterates that trajectory from the start, but its first two episodes go about it in completely different ways. Much like its central character, “The Mandalorian” is questioning its purpose. Whether that’s in the best way to tell its story (heavily episodic, heavily serialized, a balance of both) or where it hopes to take its “Star Wars” in general (expanding the universe with more spinoffs, focusing on internal development), the series’ return (after two-and-a-half years away) is both comforting and curious.
Episode 1, “Chapter 17 – The Apostate,” offers more comfort. After an action-oriented intro (where Mando and Baby Yoda swoop in to save a gathering of Mandalorians from a giant alligator monster), Mando sets his main mission and almost immediately gets sidetracked. He needs to fly to Mandalore and bath in the water — OK, so just fly to Mandalore and hop in a bath, right? Wrong. First, he needs a droid to help him scan the surface of the planet and make sure its air isn’t toxic. That means traveling to Navarro, visiting with Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), trying to resurrect a trusted old droid, and then going off on another side quest for a rare part, all while being hassled by random space pirates.
Courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd. / Disney+
Blending table-setting with an accessible episodic story, Episode 1 is classic “Mandalorian” and it works just fine. Of the two major action scenes, the space battle is a bit more thrilling and far more emblematic of Mando’s personality (stealthy, smart, cool under pressure, as opposed to just dropping bombs on massive lizards). I enjoyed the lightly meta nod toward the rest of the world’s warm disregard for Grogu’s real name (“His name is Grogu,” Mando insists to Greef, who — after calling him “the little one” and “critter” — dismissively replies, “If you say so.”) And it’s welcome to see “The Mandalorian” use a variety of settings and backdrops, as opposed to repeatedly falling back on Stagecraft’s digital soundstage.
Episode 2, without getting into spoilers, goes in a different direction. It’s almost all plot-focused, with minimal accomplishments to be met within the episode itself, but what’s really curious is how fast it moves things forward. Mando’s seasonal arc hits hyperspeed, and Grogu’s development isn’t far behind. While not as satisfying on its own, the 42-minute entry works well to tease where “The Mandalorian” is headed next, even if it’s hard to guess exactly where that might be.
Episode 1 also has a nice arc to it, in how it starts with Mando hearing from the leader of The Watch and ends with him visiting Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), who refutes The Watch as a “cult.” Mando, while still loyal to his religion, isn’t accepted by it anymore. He’s somewhere between the two extremes — the faithful and the disavowed — and Season 3 looks to push him in one direction or the other, much like Grogu had to decide during “The Book of Boba Fett” whether he would follow his de facto father or be taught in the ways of the Jedi. So long as these two stick by each other’s side, odds are they’ll be just fine — and so will “The Mandalorian.” But with their commitment to each other now affirmed, “The Mandalorian” answered the main question tied to Seasons 1 and 2. Now, it needs to find a new way forward, and there’s a galaxy of paths available.
“The Mandalorian” Season 3 premiered Wednesday, March 1 on Disney+. New episodes will be released weekly.
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