This Star Wars: The Mandalorian review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: The Mandalorian Episode 3
In episode 3, directed by Deborah Chow and written by Jon Favreau, The Mandalorian finds its stride. To be precise, that stride is a lope, suitable for either a standoff or a long walk. The episode contains both lingering, clear-eyed scene-setting and several distinct action scenes, all paced well. This is the best episode so far, still derivative (or classic Star Wars, choose your flavor) but entertaining, with a keen sense of what expected beats to push back on and which to embrace.
Mando has retrieved Baby Yoda, and delivers him to the Client (Werner Herzog). Mando’s return to the Mandalorian conclave isn’t quite triumphant: Herzog’s beskar steel is stamped with the Imperial seal, the same one that hangs around his neck. The Mandalorians, like the Jedi, were purged by the Empire, says one of Mando’s burly compatriots. “Now we live in the shadows and come above ground only one at a time.” That’s a neat explanation for why the Mando is so recognizable and so mysterious at the same time. It’s a phoenix culture, prizing the children who will let it continue but determined to appear as one burning life at a time.
Returning to his own family grants the Mando a revelation. He needs to rescue Baby Yoda, and does so in a blaze of gunfire. The change of heart wasn’t exactly a surprise, but the episode did a good job of putting narrative pins in place to show exactly why he did it, and why he didn’t do it sooner. I’m reminded of a writing axiom from Jeff VanderMeer: a job is not a story. The Mando can not be a bounty hunter forever and carry the story. And by the end, he isn’t any more, or at least not with this bounty hunting guild. He has essentially stolen “the asset” from every person in that archetypal cantina, and they won’t let him forget it.
In the week between this episode and the second, Baby Yoda has taken the internet by storm. At first, I was skeptical about his role (it’s no deeper than “basically baby Yoda” so far), and I’m still not in love with the design, which sits somewhere between grotesque and cute without quite managing either. This episode did have some incredibly cute moments, like the Mando picking up the child by the scruff of his cloak and a shot of the Razor Crest’s dashboard through the baby’s fuzz. Baby Yoda is here to stay, and Pedro Pascal sells the budding partnership masterfully. He conveys a perfect balance between irritable and tough, more tired and prickly than hard-boiled. His response at the end of the job—just wanting another assignment instead of a conversation about the morality of what he did—is a shell to mask his conflict, but it’s also a potential side effect of living in a gig economy.
The 40-minute runtime allows for a variety of different conflicts, one of the best of which took place within the Mandalorian compound. Fans of The Clone Wars will definitely be familiar with this type of conversation. Characterization is mostly skimmed over—a big Mandalorian is the voice of Mando’s angry clan members, and the Armorer is a voice of authority—but the world-building is solid and tied inextricably to the Mando’s stakes. We now know what nobility and honor means to the Mandalorians, we know what happened to drive them underground, and we know that smithing is as much a religious ceremony as it is a requisitioning. Scene setting is established without dragging down the show. Interrupting that conversation with a fight scene (and some excellent live-action vibroblades, an EU staple) makes me feel like the writer doubted the audience’s attention span. On the other hand, this is Star Wars, and the show isn’t setting out to make philosophical statements.
Both this scene and the Mando’s confrontation with Herzog’s captive doctor feel like they could have been lifted right from the Expanded Universe. There’s also a video game element to the tightness of the writing: every time the Mando gets a new piece of armor, it’s a level up that he will need in the next mission. Each level up also unlocks backstory—this week it’s a juicy glimpse of the Clone Wars that explains why the Mando doesn’t trust droids.
The finale is pure action, zigzagging between tense and goofy as so many Star Wars finales do. Switches between practical effects and CGI are jarring at times. But it’s a testament to the show’s structure and confidence that the stakes feel real. This is the case in the macro story—we know what the Mandalorians are taking a risk just by living above ground—and in miniature, with the theme of dirty Imperial beskar threaded throughout the episode. It was a bit odd that Dr. Pershing (Omid Abtahi) gets only a hint of a storyline here, but for a side character in the show’s first arc, a hint might be fine.
We’re still on a muddy planet mostly indistinguishable from any other. (The flashbacks in particular look like Jedha from Rogue One.) But the place does get more character here by virtue of the other bounty hunters, who, it turns out, were also assigned to find the baby. By nature of his quest to restore his armor, Mando wears his winnings on his sleeve, literally. The resentment from the other bounty hunters, the sense of desperation between people who are all competing for the same bounty, and the reminder that the Mando’s ship is probably still one wrong space move from falling apart all make the bounty hunter’s guild storyline distinct from the Mos Eisley cantina it at first resembled.
Overall, I was impressed by the pacing and the action scenes in this episode. The story is well on its way: the Mando’s motivations are clear now, his characterization colorful and distinct enough from Boba Fett or other famous Mandalorians that he doesn’t feel like a repetition. With enough fun to put aside my minor concerns, The Mandalorian might be a winner.