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The Mandalorian Spins Its Wheels in an Otherwise Breezy Season 3 Premiere

But "The Apostate” does center the familial joys that have made the series such a pop phenomenon.
  • Pedro Pascal as Din Djarin (Photo: Star Wars: The Mandalorian)
    Pedro Pascal as Din Djarin (Photo: Star Wars: The Mandalorian)

    [Editor's Note: This post contains spoilers for "The Apostate," Season 3, Episode 1 of The Mandalorian.]

    Underneath all that intimidating beskar armor, The Mandalorian is the quaint story of a tired single dad making his way in the galaxy, running errands in his cosmic station wagon while his toddler eats things he shouldn’t. Is Din Djarin the coolest TV dad going today? Let’s just say that by the end of the Season 3 premiere, Din is letting his tiny green son sit in the driver’s seat of his sweet Naboo starfighter. Other TV dads, take note.

    When last we saw Din (Pedro Pascal) and Grogu (a trilling squish of brilliant animatronics), they had bidden each other a tearful farewell. (The tears were ours.) Grogu flew off with a Jedi named Skywalker, and Din scored a vicious laser sword called the Darksaber from Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito). By the end of The Mandalorian Season 2, it seemed our beloved space father/son duo had reached the end of their 16-episode journey. What Season 3 presupposes is: maybe they didn’t?

    “The Apostate,” Chapter 17 in this much-adored Star Wars series, spends quite a bit of its short running time updating viewers on life with Mando following Season 2.5 of The Mandalorian. (Wookiepedia calls it The Book of Boba Fett.) And we mean “short”: Clocking in at just under 32 minutes minus credits and recap, “The Apostate” is the series’s shortest premiere yet. While the episode covers a bit of space — Din & Baby bop from Nevarro to Kalevala and run into an old friend (and some new enemies) along the way — its more compelling story elements are crammed towards the end. 

    Of course, this premiere operates under the assumption that everyone saw Boba Fett. (That’s what makes primers like this so necessary.) With just over a half-hour to burn this week, it’s enough to know that Din and Grogu reunited between seasons of their show, a storytelling decision that probably makes more sense to the brain trust at Lucasfilm than viewers who don’t gorge on every Star Wars spinoff or tie-in. Still, with this story boost from Boba, Season 3 of Mando seems primed to punch its hyperspace drives without lugging around excess baggage. (And that, apparently, includes Cara Dune.)

    It's taking a minute for this season to get started, though. There’s another plot-specific tee-up from Boba that needs to be addressed before things get fun: Following his decision to remove his helmet for his son — a big no-no for the Mandalorian sect called The Children of the Watch — Din asked for forgiveness from The Armorer (Emily Swallow), the tribe leader who first put a helmet on Din’s head years ago. Din’s transgression and supposed redemption are at the center of this season’s big adventure, which will take place on the seemingly desolate planet of Mandalore. 

    As for the dogmatic Armorer, the episode begins with her forging a beskar helmet for a literal child of the Watch, a brief moment that sheds some light on how early the fundamentalist Watch indoctrinates followers like Din. For those keeping score, this could factor into Mando’s Darksaber dilemma later this season.

    Once the ritual wraps up (alarmingly, in a rain of giant iguana guts), “The Apostate” begins to spin its season-long intrigues: Din and The Armorer compare Mandalore notes — she believes the planet is poisoned following the Empire’s Great Purge, he thinks it’s all right — and both agree that if Mando wants redemption among the Watch, he has to swim the legendary Living Waters that stand somewhere on this fallen planet. Where the Waters are located, however, is a secret held by the currently brooding Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), who sits on a lonely throne in the brutalist castles of Kalevala. So that’s another errand.

    Before Mando can visit Kalevala, there’s business to be had in the central hub of Nevarro, home to High Magistrate Greef Karga (Carl Weathers). There Mando casually observes and soon blasts a crew of rowdy pirates, a moment that results in what could be a season-long scrape with their algae(?)-ridden leader, Pirate King Gorian Shard (Sweet Tooth’s Nonso Anozie). When Mando isn’t busy deflecting Greef’s offers to become his new marshal, he’s aggressively looking to resurrect the fallen bounty-hunting droid IG-11 (Taika Waititi). This particular bit of story, which doesn’t seem that complicated or even interesting, at least throws some additional busy work Mando’s way: the wee Anzellans who can fix IG-11 need a specific part, and only Mando can find it! (Anzellans are Babu Frik’s people, for those who know what a Babu Frik is.) Yet another to-do for the list.

    It’s a lot of story and not much at all. “The Apostate” is an otherwise breezy season premiere, though its clunky planet-to-planet run-around makes it feel as though Mando and Grogu should be further along this next chapter in their lives than spinning their wheels in plot purgatory. Why is IG-11, who is functionally dead at the moment, so valuable to this mission? There isn’t another cool droid out there up to the task? Also: are “random angry pirates” really where the show is at in terms of season-long headaches? The Mandalorian has bigger things it could be grappling with. Small fry might have been cool to serve up when the show was starting out; now it just feels like the series is beginning to tread water.  

    Yet, amid all this place setting, The Mandalorian makes time to indulge the familial joys that have made it such a pop phenomenon. There’s a quiet moment that sees Grogu blissing out in hyperspace and snuggling in his poppa’s lap (pure Star Wars vibes for those who thrive on them). Later, Din shows his boy how to read the dashboard in his starfighter and imparts an impromptu life lesson in the bargain: “Never trust a pirate.” Then there’s Grogu, squishing an Anzellan because maybe he’s found a friend? That kind of mush is the real magic of Star Wars. Three seasons on, despite all, The Mandalorian can still cast a spell.

    New episodes of The Mandalorian stream Wednesdays on Disney+. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Jarrod Jones is a freelance writer currently settled in Chicago. He reads lots (and lots) of comics and, as a result, is kind of a dunderhead.

    TOPICS: Star Wars: The Mandalorian, Disney+, Carl Weathers, Jon Favreau (actor/director), Katee Sackhoff, Pedro Pascal