The Mandalorian Season 3 Review: Chapter 18
The Mandalorian used to be a show about found family, the bonds of love stretching beyond matters of blood. The show is still sort of about that, but now it’s mainly about a grown man trying to redeem himself from the heinous crime of taking off his helmet, first to rescue his son and then to say goodbye, a farewell that was scrubbed away on a completely different television show. Fans are not necessarily wrong to wonder why any of us should care beyond the basic reality that Grogu is still very adorable.
After a solid premiere that efficiently, if not awkwardly, set the stage for the rest of the season, episode two doubled down on a couple of utterly tired Star Wars tropes. As a company, Disney has always had an unhealthy love affair with nostalgia, something that essentially ruined the sequel series. I doubt many members of the audience watching the original film in 1977 ever thought that R5-D4 would become an important character more than forty years down the road, providing unnecessary comic relief on a show that already has too many characters capable of fulfilling that role, but here we are.
The Mandalorian can’t let Tatooine go. Production clearly enjoys the ease of filming on desert sets, but the overuse of Peli both last season and in The Book of Boba Fett exposes this show’s broader issue of its weak bench. Mando used to meet new characters every week. Now he just seems to travel in a circle visiting the same handful of people. Amy Sedaris is certainly fun, but no amount of comic relief can cover up the awkward narrative mess that was Peli throwing her astromech droid on Mando for no real reason. Why does she want to get rid of R5-D4 so badly? Does anyone actually care? R5-D4’s cowardly antics were tiresome and not amusing in the slightest.
Star Wars also loves its MacGuffins. The Force Awakens used a “map to Skywalker” as a major plot point, presumably because J.J. Abrams needed a substitute for the Death Star plans in his near shot-for-shot remake of A New Hope. No one seemed to notice that the whole quest to obtain the map was rendered moot by Luke’s apathy in The Last Jedi, a breathtakingly bad display of narrative plotting for a multibillion-dollar franchise. The whole quest to take a bath in Mandalore is essentially just as stupid, something for Mando to do because the show needs something to focus its attention on when Grogu isn’t eating something or being cute.
What happened to Grogu being in danger if he wasn’t properly trained by a Jedi? He’s clearly not as much of a baby anymore, a decent pilot, though Anakin already displayed that N-1 starfighters could be expertly flown by complete amateurs in The Phantom Menace. The most realistic part of the whole episode was Bo-Katan snapping out of her throne sulking upon sight of Grogu’s adorable face.
The ruins of Mandalore featured dull, lifeless special effects accompanied by static cinematography. Disney’s StageCraft technology supposedly costs tens of millions of dollars each episode, yet the cheap ugly CGI can’t even pull off a single wide shot with a character in it. It’s utterly pathetic how far the standards in science fiction have fallen. The Mandalorian has often deployed StageCraft better than most other Disney properties, but this episode, unfortunately, laid all its worst inclinations to bare. The shots were dark, frantic, and worst of all, boring. Give me Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks any day over the hideous abomination in the eyes of man that is StageCraft practically every time it’s been deployed in recent memory.
“The Mines of Mandalore” tried to address the elephant in the room which is the nature of Mando’s quest when Bo-Katan called out his ridiculous escapade. Mando wasn’t necessarily wrong to point out that ceremonies and traditions are what define our cultures and communities. The trouble is, his place as a Mandalorian is ill-defined and out of place with the show’s style as a space Western. Just as Grogu doesn’t belong with the Jedi, Mando doesn’t really belong with his people either. Maybe the show will head in that direction, but for now, it’s a bit tedious to spend this time on this confusing mess of a plotline.
Dave Filoni’s outsized influence continues to be felt with the Mandalore exposition, completely missing why a general audience enjoys watching the show. The beauty of a western is that anyone can follow. It’s unclear how many casual fans could follow along with the last five or so minutes of this episode, dumping tons of dialogue that are bound to confuse anyone who hasn’t seen The Clone Wars or Rebels, two animated series that originally aired on Cartoon Network and Disney XD respectively, channels almost entirely aimed at children. Star Wars is certainly family-friendly entertainment, a reality that riles plenty of adult viewers, but it’s a bit of a stretch to expect that a general audience made the time to watch the animated spinoffs explicitly written for kids.
Episode two was ugly, convoluted, and worst of all, boring. This show makes no emotional investments in its characters, coasting entirely on cute antics and nostalgia. The episodic format does give the show plenty of space to turn things around, but this season’s broader arc is an absolute dud. The sooner the show can find a new narrative to focus on than redemption for Mando’s helmet, the better.