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The Mandalorian

Battle for Mandalore in the season-fitting finale

"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.

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‘Mandalorian’ offers up the season’s best so far

"The Spies" is easily the best episode so far of The Mandalorian‘s rocky third season. It tackles a meaty story and pursues it with focus and momentum, a decent amount of world building, some solid action, appropriately heightened stakes, reasonable comic relief, and a decent cliffhanger that sets up next week’s season finale. I don’t understand why they chose the title they did, seeing as the episode has no spies, but that goes for many of this series’ laconic and often vaguely puzzling titles.

The episode opens with Elia Kane contacting Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito makes his first appearance of the season, after some whispers in previous episodes) to inform him that the pirates who tried to seize Nevarro (which Gideoon was behind) were defeated by Mandalorians, who are now the biggest obstacle in his plans to undermine the New Republic. Gideon contacts the others in the Shadow Council and asks for reinforcements to crush the resurgent Mandalorians. The council also talks of their plans to quietly rebuild the Empire, without calling too much attention to themselves.

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‘Mandalorian’: Buddy cops in beskar

Hoo, boy. Was that ever a mess. I’m honestly not even sure where to start. I mean, what the actual F?

"Guns for Hire" takes what should be a majorly significant transfer of power on this series and turns it into the strangest shaggy-dog story you probably never would’ve imagined (or wanted to). The Mandalorian used to be known for its clean narratives and gritty western sensibilities. Now it’s a comic book patchwork that feels like a meaningless Andromeda action hour one minute, and Law & Order: Droid Investigation Unit the next. Meanwhile, the stunt casting (Jack Black! Lizzo! Christopher Lloyd!!!) trips all over itself on its way to offer up cipher characters that feel like they wandered in from the wardrobe department on the way to the actors’ Star Wars checkboxes on their bucket lists.

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Mando vs. pirates; New Republic vs. bureaucracy

When Pirate Swamp Thing (the worst pirate design in the history of pirates) and his band of lawless bandits open fire from the air upon Nevarro and then invade it, Greef Karga makes an urgent plea to the New Republic to send a patrol to restore order. The message is received by Captain Carson Teva (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee), the X-wing officer who saved Mando from certain spider death back in "The Passenger." Teva returns to Coruscant to report the situation and ask the New Republic to intervene. Notable is how slowly this message seems to be relayed given how urgent the situation is on Nevarro. A city is being laid to waste, and this guy has to walk casually through office cubicles and file a report in person.

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Mando’s shortest, possibly laziest adventure

"The Foundling" clocks in at just about 26 minutes, if you excise the recap and end credits, making it the shortest episode of The Mandalorian to date. The svelte runtime is a good fit for the void of content. I’m all for fun episodic adventures, but this outing is painfully slight, even for this series. When you only have eight episodes every year or two of a series as high-profile as this, is it too much to ask for more meat? I don’t think so.

I’m growing more concerned over how seriously we can take Grogu as Mando’s ward. During the opening training scene, he faces off against another foundling (who asks, not unreasonably, why his opponent doesn’t wear a helmet; can you picture Grogu with a Mando helmet?), and it’s a pretty hard scene to swallow. At least Yoda could talk in backward riddles with 900 years of wisdom before pulling out a lightsaber. With Grogu, it’s like fighting a teddy bear; you look ridiculous for getting beat, even with his high-jumping Force advantage. There’s a major tension brewing here: How can Grogu continue as a cute, endlessly nonplussed mascot while also becoming a fierce Mandalorian warrior? These two things are not a fit, to put it mildly.

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‘Mandalorian’ takes a major urban detour

And now for something completely different.

First, let’s cover the stuff that’s the same.

After leaving the mines on Mandalore (no follow-up to the Mythosaur or whatever was in the water), Din and Bo-Katan return to Bo’s palace, which is currently being attacked by Imperial fighters and bombers, who destroy the palace. After an exciting, rip-roaring chase and dogfight through the skies of Kalevala, Din and Bo escape to the world where the Children of the Watch are holed up. Din announces he has bathed in the waters of the mines on Mandalore. The Armorer confirms this, and announces he has been redeemed. Furthermore, because Bo-Katan has also bathed in the waters, she is also welcomed into the tribe (presumably making her the titular "convert"), provided she does not remove her helmet from this point forward.

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Spelunking goes sideways on ‘Mandalorian’

"The Mines of Mandalore" is a solid and focused course correction after last week’s scattered and tepid season premiere. The title says it all: We are getting on with things, arriving at Mandalore, and entering those mines. If this were a serialized Star Trek episode under the current leadership, the advancement to this stage of the plot probably wouldn’t happen until the season’s fifth or sixth episode.

Ironic, then, that "The Mines of Mandalore" almost at times plays like a classic Star Trek episode, with the planet-side exploration and the scanning of atmospheric properties on what is a Strange New World. There’s first a brief detour back to Tatooine so Mando can acquire a cowardly droid from his pal Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris) to help scout what’s rumored to be a poisoned world, but the bulk of the episode is on Mandalore, as we see what the destruction at the hands of the Empire has wrought. The depiction is appropriately cold, barren, and harsh. Later, as we get underground, we see what was once a thriving city is now entombed beneath ash and rock. (Why does everyone think this planet is toxic when that’s so easily disproved here by one person?)

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‘Mandalorian’: New season, same old tricks

Just about every episode of The Mandalorian, even as the show got slightly more serialized in the second season, has benefited from a streamlined sense of episodic purpose. Stories were lean, straightforward, and had great momentum. With "The Apostate," the series’ third-season premiere, we have an outing that is surprisingly scattered, lackadaisical, and inconclusive. As we step into the mythology of Mandalore and whatever that may hold for Din Djarin, we’re going to need to have a sense of purpose far clearer than what we get here.

The episode opens with the coastal ceremony of a foundling as he becomes a Mandalorian among the Children of the Watch — which is violently interrupted when a massive gator creature emerges from the sea and begins eating people. It’s a set piece that might be more exciting if I weren’t constantly asking myself why these warriors with jet packs don’t immediately fly out of the danger zone and attack with tactics befitting intelligent soldiers with flight technology, or just retreat. Din Djarin comes in to save the day (hoping to be forgiven for removing his helmet, I guess?), but is later informed by the female Armorer that there is but one (impossible) way to redemption: bathing in the waters of the mines on Mandalore, which were supposedly all destroyed. That’s gratitude for you. So Mando embarks on a mission to actually go there and see the mines for himself.

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Reviews: ‘Mandalorian’ Chapters 5 through 8

As promised — at this point, too long ago — here are reviews for the rest of The Mandalorian‘s first season.

I’ve unfortunately found very little time to write due to a slew of home improvement projects that have kept me extremely busy for the past three months. So hopefully these reviews, although they may not seem like a lot to account for the past two months without any update here, will be something to tide you over until I can get back to something on a more consistent basis. Fortunately, it looks like there’s still some time before any shows that I cover here return.

For now, you can revisit Mando getting perpetually double-crossed, whether it’s on Tatooine, on a prison ship, or back on Nevarro. This guy just can’t trust anyone, can he? I wonder why he still bothers.

I swear I did not plan to post these reviews on May the Fourth day; it just happened to work out that way. Happy coincidences.

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Reviews: ‘Mandalorian’ Chapters 1 through 4

In my effort to get caught up on The Mandalorian before new content buries me (whatever it is and whenever it arrives; many TV show schedules are still very uncertain with all the COVID-19 shooting delays), I’ve posted reviews for the first four episodes of the first season. These follow the shorter format established in my reviews of much of the second season. The last four reviews of season 1 will be posted at a later date.

Overall, I’m more bullish on season 2 of The Mandalorian (with its forward movement of storylines and tie-ins with the larger Star Wars universe and its bringing together of characters) than on season 1, which was good and entertaining, but with a much looser (and sometimes repetitive) overall narrative structure.

Anyway, here they are. More to come.

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