Review: 'The Mandalorian' is experiencing an identity crisis
Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers about the third season of “The Mandalorian,” including the third episode, “The Convert.”
“The Mandalorian” is experiencing an identity crisis, and that goes beyond just the semi-religious question of removing his helmet. The third season, rather, has seemed to be flailing a bit in terms of its focus, as underscored by its third episode – an extended if tantalizing detour into the story of a peripheral character.
The first two seasons were driven by the title character’s determination to protect Grogu, a.k.a. Baby Yoda, a.k.a. the merchandising gift that keeps on giving to parent Disney.
With the two officially reunited, Season 3 has shifted to a different track, delving into the rituals and politics of Mandalorian culture; highlighting Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), a character introduced in the “Star Wars” animated series; and dealing with the struggles of Din Djarin (voiced by Pedro Pascal) to reembrace a more rigid interpretation of Mandalorian law.
As striking as the character’s armor is, the whole “Don’t remove your helmet” thing always seemed a little weird, most useful for allowing Pascal to literally phone in much of his performance. The deeper dive into the fate of Mandalore does come with plenty of possibilities, but it lacks the simplicity and emotional hook of the Mando-Grogu bond that gave the show its heart.
As for the third episode, executive producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni indulged in a major detour, one steeped in all sorts of “Star Wars”-related minutia but that pushes the show further off course from its initial trajectory.
Specifically, the exploration of Coruscant and plot involving a former Imperial scientist (Omid Abtahi) being reintegrated into the New Republic had a strong “Andor” vibe, illustrating the flawed, bureaucratic nature of what sprouted up to replace the Empire, and thus offering a taste of how its evil could rise again.
The issue of cloning also figures into the return of Emperor Palpatine in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” which, should that be where all this is heading, at the very least suggests that “The Mandalorian” is being allowed to play with all the tools in the “Star Wars” toybox.
Like “Andor,” this season of “The Mandalorian” appears to be taking advantage of the freedom to tell one long story, unburdened by the demands of offering clear payoffs within each of the episodes. That’s not to say there haven’t been impressive action sequences along the way, only that the producers have tossed out several narrative lines while looking to be in no hurry as to where and when they’ll intersect.
In one respect, give them credit for taking the leverage that comes with producing a hit and using that to venture off in unexpected, not entirely linear directions – a practice already seen in the “Mandalorian” material that found its way into “The Book of Boba Fett.”
On the other hand, to anyone feeling a little lost at this point in the journey, to borrow (and tweak) a line associated with another sci-fi classic: You are not alone.