In the End, The Mandalorian Season 3 Was Simply Too Big for The Mandalorian

TV Features The Mandalorian
In the End, The Mandalorian Season 3 Was Simply Too Big for The Mandalorian

What started as the saga of a lone gunslinger and his mysterious foundling has evolved into something a whole lot different just three years later. As Season 3 of The Mandalorian comes to an end on Disney+ with an epic battle for the fate of an entire civilization at stake, The Mandalorian is no longer just about the Mandalorian—it’s become a full-fledged Star Wars show.

Which can be a good thing, and a bad thing. And in the case of The Mandalorian’s latest round of adventures, it’s a bit of both at the same time.

It’s easy to forget how this saga kicked off a mere 26 episodes ago, with creator Jon Favreau weaving his best version of a space western across new and familiar planets in the far-off reaches of the Star Wars universe. It didn’t require a full wiki of Star Wars lore to follow along (though that never hurt, of course), and it was at its core a simple story of Din Djarin and Grogu out to do a little good in the galaxy while finding their way together. It was a story about new characters, ones we could come to quickly love.

But the world-building enormity of the franchise waits for no one, and once it became clear The Mandalorian was the new standard bearer for the Star Wars franchise in the wake of the Skywalker Saga’s sequel trilogy coming to an end, the mandate seemed to get bigger by the year. The connections to the larger Star Wars mythos stopped being easter eggs and started being full-fledged appearances by Luke Skywalker. From there, the world got bigger, with beloved Clone Wars character Ashoka Tano (now played in live action by A-lister Rosario Dawson) becoming an uneasy ally of our favorite bounty hunter, which all feels like a none-too-veiled way to set up Ashoka’s own looming Disney+ spinoff series coming later this year. Not to mention sometimes-jarring cameos by everyone from Jack Black to Lizzo this season.

Season 3 made fellow Mandalorian Bo-Katan Kryze (played by Battlestar Galactica fan-favorite Katie Sackhoff) an even bigger player, expanding the scope of the series to include the entire Mandalorian nation, as Bo-Katan reunites the various factions of Mandalorians and sets them off on a mission to reclaim their home world in the Season 3 finale. That in itself is a compelling story, but it doesn’t quite fit in the arc of The Mandalorian. This feels more like The Mandalorians, as it were. By the end, Din Djarin is almost a side character in his own story, while Grogu has become little more than a cute mascot as they try to find a way to keep him relevant to this show that is already going in much larger directions.

Even the finale’s final fight showed the confusion over stakes and star, as Bo-Katan takes over the fight against main villain Moff Gideon (played by Giancarlo Esposito), so Din Djarin can join up with Grogu to take on a trio of elite, red-clad Praetorian Guard. Yes, it makes sense Bo-Katan would clash with Gideon as they battle for the fate of Mandalore (and to be fair, Din Djarin does get back in on the fight by the time it’s over), but it feels like such a stretch of narrative tissue to cram this story into the gunslinger’s tale. If anything, it might’ve made more sense for Season 3 to be a standalone miniseries itself, so it wouldn’t be quite so beholden to the expectations of what fans expect from The Mandalorian.

Then there’s the question of the big bad himself, Moff Gideon, who mysteriously returns after a deep-space jail break and is found to be running a rogue contingent of Imperial remnants (presumably the same outcasts who eventually become the First Order in the most recent Star Wars trilogy, which is set a few decades after the events of The Mandalorian. Confused yet?) We learn in a throwaway villain’s monologue that Gideon has been trying to clone himself and infuse Force abilities into his clones—a wild twist on its own, but one that’s quickly forgotten when Din destroys the clones while passing through the chamber. Again, these feel like such sweeping, large story points just introduced for the sake of connecting the dots between the original Star Wars trilogy and the most recent run of films. Even the deliciously evil Moff Gideon starts to feel toothless, as we’re teased and teased about the much scarier villain Grand Admiral Thrawn (a player in the recent Star Wars Rebels animated series) who is set to make his own live action debut in the Ahsoka spinoff series.

Franchise-building is no easy job, and there have to be places to establish those connections for future films and shows. We’ve seen fellow Disney studio Marvel spend more than a decade figuring it out, and even in that massively successful saga we’ve seen the good when it works, in films like The Avengers, and the bad when it gets just too clunky (looking at you, Iron Man II). It just turns out that The Mandalorian Season 3 had a bit too much Iron Man II DNA, which makes sense, as Disney+ is readying a full slate of small-screen spinoffs in the coming years and have to drop those breadcrumbs somewhere.

Of course, any talk of Star Wars TV wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Disney+’s most recent series, which The Mandalorian Season 3 had the unfortunate task of following up: Andor. The Rogue One prequel series from Tony Gilroy is one of the most taut, ambitious and compellingly watchable shows in recent memory (Star Wars or otherwise). It showed us just how great a Star Wars show could be, and how far you could push the franchise and still create something new. But when you follow it up with something simply good, that is finding its way into the old tropes and dense franchise canon, it can make it feel all the more pedestrian by comparison.

To its credit, it seems The Mandalorian creators almost sensed they’d reached too far in Season 3, using the finale’s coda to serve as a soft reset for Din Djarin and Grogu, with Grogu now officially his apprentice, and Din Djarin getting back to his old gig as a bounty hunter. But after twisting the scope into world-ending stakes and full-on Imperial space battles, it can be hard to unring that bell and go back to dusty planets and bail-jumping one-off stories. The Mandalorian may have gotten too big for Mando, and Favreau & Co. have their work cut out for them to figure out what that means next for the franchise.

At least they have a comfy cabin on Nevarro to kick back in while they figure it all out.

Trent Moore is a recovering print journalist, and freelance editor and writer with bylines at lots of places. He likes to find the sweet spot where pop culture crosses over with everything else. Follow him at @trentlmoore on Twitter.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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