‘The Mandalorian’ Season 3 Finale’s Pedro Pascal and Baby Yoda Surprise
THIS POST CONTAINS spoilers for this week’s episode of The Mandalorian, “The Return.”
A funny thing happens in the last 10 minutes of The Mandalorian Season Three: Din Djarin seems to be the central character again.
Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, and company spent much of this season treating the show’s title as something that didn’t refer specifically to Grogu’s adoptive father, but to Mandalorian culture as a whole. We learned even more about the Watch’s silly rules regarding helmets, about the Mythosaur, and about tensions between different Mandalorian factions, and there were long stretches where Bo-Katan Kryze seemed like the protagonist of the show(*).
(*) This is inside baseball, perhaps, but it’s telling that none of the Disney+ official photography for this episode features Din or Grogu, instead showing off Bo-Katan, Moff Gideon, and various random Mandalorians.
Perhaps it’s only fair that Mando’s own show got hijacked after he did the same to Boba Fett in the later episodes of The Book of Boba Fett. But between Mando and Grogu’s emotional reunion happening on someone else’s series, Bo-Katan dominating this season, and the recent announcement that Filoni will be directing a Star Wars film that wraps up the combined plots of all the current and upcoming Disney+ series, it seems that the producers have started treating all of this as a never-ending crossover, rather than the father/son adventure show that made people fall in love with The Mandalorian in the first place. Even the MCU, which has become the model for so much modern franchise storytelling, generally understands that each movie or show has to stand on its own to some degree, and that means making sure the audience is invested in the central characters of that particular installment of the larger story. The approach the Star Wars shows have taken is losing sight of that.
Though maybe this would feel like less of a problem if the series of late were better. Mando’s co-opting of Book of Boba Fett felt welcome at the time, because the spinoff had so completely miscalculated the appeal of its own title character; when Mando showed up, it felt like a relief to get a break from Boba’s tedious attempts to become a mob boss with heart. Once upon a time, The Mandalorian didn’t have this problem. It was a relatively uncomplicated, but extremely well-executed story that was clearly set in the Star Wars universe even as it focused on this one tiny relationship in a far corner of it. There were points in the second season that were perhaps too blatantly designed to seed future spinoffs (some of which are still coming, some of which never happened), but even then, the focus inevitably returned to the taciturn man of action and his adorable young charge.
Season Three, though, fell victim to trying to do way too much, only some of it well. There was a whole episode, for instance, devoted to Moff Gideon’s pet scientist Dr. Pershing. That one had its moments, but doing such a big departure within the confines of an 8-episode, largely serialized season only makes sense if Pershing plays a big role later on. Instead, he never appeared again. Part of the finale involved Pershing’s work being used to create an army of Force-sensitive clones of Moff Gideon, but even that was presented in underwhelming fashion. Mando and Grogu stumble across the cloning chamber, Mando easily destroys the clones before he even fully knows what they are, and it’s not for several more scenes that we see the real Gideon’s outrage over his master plan being foiled. And, as was the unfortunate case with Boba Fett, the more we learned about Mandalorian society and traditions, the less interesting they became. The season tended to be at its best when the show went back to its Mission of the Week roots, notably a light-hearted but exciting outing where Mando and Bo-Katan played buddy cops while Grogu got to party with Lizzo and Jack Black.
“The Return” at least remembers that Din Djarin is the guy we originally came here to see. The episode is fairly evenly split between Mando and Grogu dealing with Moff Gideon, and Bo-Katan and the rest of her army fighting off the Imperial threat. On the latter front, the Mandalorians regain a bit of their mystique as we see them repeatedly triumph over an army of Dark Troopers who have been kitted out in Mandalorian-style armor. After destroying the Darksaber, Moff Gideon sneers that “Mandalorians are weak once they lose their trinkets,” but the action in the episode thoroughly disproves him(*).
(*) On the other hand, what a disappointing end to the whole Darksaber mythos, as this legendary weapon gets crumpled fairly easily by a skinny guy in souped-up armor.
The climax feels rushed — after many episodes this season felt too long, this one could have benefited from a bit more breathing room — but it leads to a much more promising epilogue. Mando officially adopts Grogu as his son(*) and gains the Armorer’s approval to promote the kid from foundling to apprentice. From there, the duo cut a deal with Carson Teva: Mando will go back to his bounty hunting ways, hunting down Imperial remnants as an off-the-books operative for the New Republic. Teva gives Mando a spare IG droid head, which in turn allows the Anzellans to properly rebuild IG-11 and turn him into Nevarro’s new marshal, while Greef Karga sets Mando and Grogu up in a cabin where they can live “between adventures.” And we close with the two of them enjoying their new home(**), Mando sitting contentedly on his porch while Grogu uses the Force to play with — but, notably, not eat — a frog in the nearby pond.
(*) The Armorer renames him Din Grogu, which doesn’t seem to track with the nomenclature rules we’ve seen on this show and Clone Wars. (See, for instance, Paz Vizsla and Pre Vizsla.) Shouldn’t he be called Grogu Djarin?
(**) This at least gives us a belated answer to the question of where the two sleep, eat, etc., with a ship that’s so much smaller than the Razor Crest was. But the N-1 Starfighter still feels ill-suited for bounty hunting, unless there’s a hidden cargo compartment where he can store frozen prisoners for transport.
It’s a nice moment, and a promising new/old status quo, assuming you read those final 10 minutes as the set-up for Season Four, rather than a happy ending for Din and Grogu before the series continues on with the rebuilding of Mandalore as its chief subject. The former seems more likely though, and hopefully Pedro Pascal will be more available next time around, rather than providing the voice while stuntmen Lateef Crowder and Brendan Wayne do everything else. (My guess is we would have seen Din’s face at least once if Pascal wasn’t busy making The Last of Us.)
Shared universes can be fun, but the crossover tail really wagged the individual series dog this season, and the overall storytelling was subpar by the standards The Mandalorian established in its earlier years. But a season where we get back to Mando chasing bad guys each week, with Grogu as his sidekick rather than as someone to be protected? Yes, please.
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