"The Return" confirms the third season of The Mandalorian as a rather unsatisfying sum of disjointed parts. It does lots of Star Wars things in very Star Wars ways. This worked in previous seasons where tension and interest could be sustained through action because of a compelling and simple underlying narrative. But as the ambitions and scope of the series grew, I expected the series to grow along with it. Instead, it's content to keep things simplistic. Simple is fine; simplistic is not.
"The Return" is first and foremost a big action outing, but the action — while expansive and expensive — is interminable and lacks imagination. It's exceptionally competent but inert. It's a bunch of repetitive fighting without any tension, because we know Din Djarin and Bo-Katan aren't going to lose a fight. Maybe I could enjoy the action more if there were a greater sense of purpose or danger, but you've got a bunch of people on both sides wearing indestructible armor and helmets, and it's not even clear what can hurt anybody.
The worst scrape Mando finds himself in is when he tries to break free from the two beskar-clad stormtroopers who have him prisoner. IGrogu-12 comes to the rescue to assist. But after that, Mando is all but invincible as he makes his way to the command center to take Gideon down. The scene where he mows through the guards gate by gate (like a video game where you level up) is a testament to the sheer incompetence of Gideon's guards, not to mention his cybersecurity. (R5 has tapped into the computer and can open all the doors at will, but the only resistance he faces are those little rolling RC-boxcar droids.)
Meanwhile, Axe flies back to the cruiser with his jetpack to use the cruiser as a decoy and protect the rest of the Mandalorian fleet, which Gideon has the superior firepower to destroy. Unclear is why, if Gideon's forces have the superior fleet, they aren't immediately deployed to complete that objective. Instead, the incompetent stormtroopers engage the Mandalorians on the Mandalorians' terms, in a chaotic jetpack battle. But isn't the cruiser the most powerful and valuable asset the Mandalorians have? Why set it up as the sacrificial decoy? Shouldn't they be protecting it above all the other hardware?
For that matter, the strategic importance of Mandalore is never made clear. I assume it's the beskar, and that restarting the Great Forge would enable the Mandalorians to mine still more beskar and thrive, but neither Gideon nor the Mandalorians ever explain their strategic objective and why Mandalore is the key. Mandalore is apparently important only because it's where the Mandalorians want to live, for whatever reason.
Gideon's big plan is to clone himself, adding the ability of the Force to those clones to create a squadron of super soldiers. But Gideon barely protects the clones, and lets Mando unceremoniously destroy them before even engaging him. (And when Gideon does engage, Giancarlo Esposito is in full cardboard villain mode, which is a waste of his talents. He doesn't really do the mustache-twirling villain very well at all.)
By the way, Dr. Pershing, mind flayed by Kane back in "The Convert," is not seen again even here. Unless Kane is working for someone else, too, or Gideon's clone work was all completed by Pershing off screen, this is a weird loose end. (Maybe the other members of the Shadow Council have him? Gideon professed — lying about himself — that the interest in clones was not his, but another member of the council's. That appears to maybe be half true, but the whole business with Pershing is either too clever by half, or was simply dropped.)
The plotting gripes wouldn't matter as much if the story were compelling on a basic level, but all we get is by-the-numbers (for this series) action/choreography sequences, like:
- The battle between Mando and Gideon
- The battle between the Red Guards and Mando
- The battle between the Red Guards and IGrogu-12 (which is promptly destroyed) and then just Grogu (who does his puppet running/jumping and Force stuff)
- The battle between Bo-Katan and Gideon (where the Darksaber is unceremoniously destroyed)
- Axe crashing the cruiser into Gideon's base, resulting in a big explosion that incinerates Gideon while Grogu protects Mando and Bo-Katan in a Force bubble
These action beats are fine, and I'm sure some will enjoy them, but I found myself checking out. They don't mean much of anything, and I'm realizing this series needs to do more than big Star Wars action scenes to remain interesting. It doesn't need to be Andor, but it needs to give us more to chew on than we got this season. Building up Gideon to give him a handful of scenes in two episodes and then killing him off comes across as really anticlimactic.
And the motivation around this need to control Mandalore is so half-sketched as to simply be a MacGuffin among all the action. We visit the underground gardens of Mandalore, but it feels like world-building lite rather than something that has meaning. The re-lighting of the Great Forge is fine and good, but it doesn't make the planet any less devastated and barren and thus puzzling as a resettlement option. It could be a mining facility, but it sure doesn't seem like a home, except one of desperation.
And I'm simply at the point of eye-rolls when it comes to the Creed and all its arbitrary doublespeak. Grogu can't take the Creed because he can't speak. An exception can only be made by his parents. But he has no parents. So Mando adopts him. But before he can take the Creed, Grogu must complete his "journeys" with his new father to burnish this commitment (or something). Say it with me and the Armorer, and then take a shot: This is the Way.
What hasn't been considered by the show is if Grogu even wants to take the Creed. I've already mentioned how ridiculous it would look for him to have a helmet and/or jetpack. I guess this is the show's way of delaying that possibility. And I guess this is also what happens when you pretend an unspeaking puppet the size of a teddy bear is actually a major character.
The season ends back on Nevarro, where Mando and the kid set up shop once again to have their adventures. This seems to indicate season four will be a return to episodic basics, mixed in with some tie-ins with the New Republic, whom Mando intends to provide some services for. That cuts both ways. It may let this series breathe a bit, after all the halting frustrations in building something around Mandalore. And it might lead to more standalone adventures. But when one considers the most standalone adventures this season were "The Foundling" and "Guns for Hire," one gets worried. I guess time will tell, but right now this season is the one where The Mandalorian seriously lost its mojo, and I hope not for good.
Previous episode: Chapter 23: The Spies
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