The Mandalorian Season 3 Is a Star Wars Story That Lacks Momentum

The Mandalorian season 3 shows that a good Star Wars story can't just subsist on lore and vibes.

IG-11 in Star Wars: The Mandalorian Season 3
Photo: Lucasfilm

This Star Wars article contains spoilers for The Mandalorian.

Four episodes in, The Mandalorian season 3 lacks the focus and energy of past adventures. Although the season 2 finale set up a status-quo-shattering turning point for the show in 2020, The Mandalorian finds Din and Grogu in a very different place in its third season, their previous separation now a non-issue. What momentum the series had earned after that massive cliffhanger had been all but broken a year later in The Book of Boba Fett.

Fortunately, that spinoff also set up a new quest for Din and Grogu. Excommunicated from his Mandalorian tribe for taking off his helmet in front of others, Din’s next mission would take him to Mandalore, the homeworld of his people. Once there, he would need to recite the Mandalorian Creed while bathing in “the Living Waters beneath the mines of Mandalore,” a pilgrimage we were led to believe would be a dangerous and arduous one. Imagine our surprise when season 3 resolved that storyline within two episodes.

Midway through the season, Din is once again “cultist of the year,” and we’ve been left wondering where the season goes from here. What is it about? Where is it heading?

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The Mandalorian season 3 has teased several ways it could set its plot in motion again. “The Apostate” opened with the IG-11 debacle and a random brush with pirates, but those plotlines have completely fallen by the wayside. Meanwhile, there’s a New Republic out there doing its very best impression of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, and while Dr. Pershing’s current plight on Coruscant and past with Moff Gideon do tie back to Din and Grogu’s story in some fundamental ways, episode 3’s somewhat jarring interlude seems to largely exist in a vacuum, a pocket universe separate from what Din and Grogu are doing back at the covert. It’s possibly set up the eventual return of Gideon, the show’s main villain, but when exactly?

We opened with the exciting prospect of Din’s pilgrimage to Mandalore. But what’s followed are a lot of Mandalorian darts shot at a board at random. All of these moments hint at a purpose, a new motivation for Din, and suggest season 3 will soon answer what’s next for our heroes after their long-awaited reunion on another show. But so far, they’ve all felt like false starts.

Does The Mandalorian season 3 have a path forward? Bo-Katan’s trip to Mandalore set up a very interesting possibility for the show’s future. In “The Mines of Mandalore,” arguably the best the series has been this season, Bo-Katan comes face to face with a real-life Mythosaur, a thought-to-be extinct creature that’s one of the anchors for an entire Mandalorian religion she doesn’t believe in. But one dive into the Living Waters later, everything she thought to be true has been called into question, just as Din has reaffirmed his own commitment to his faith. If there was one moment that could thrust season 3’s story forward, it had finally arrived here and in captivating fashion: a defeated Bo-Katan is reborn under the gaze of the Mythosaur.

Now that she knows for sure that there really is something worth fighting for on her home planet, and that there might actually be something to all that Mandalorian religious mumbo jumbo, will this bring her into conflict with Din over the Darksaber, making her the surprise antagonist of the season? Or will she join Din’s faith and move his tribe towards her goal from the inside?

What little time we spent with Din and Bo-Katan in “The Convert” before and after the New Republic interlude seemed to set up the latter. At least for the moment, Bo-Katan has bought into the Way — the name of this clan’s particular religion — and joined Din’s covert, embracing their traditions, such as keeping her helmet on in public. She even recites “This is the Way.” But does Bo-Katan mean it or is she planning something? The Mandalorian season 3 is in no rush to tell you.

Frustratingly, “The Foundling” somehow makes it all feel like yet another road to nowhere. After a raptor kidnaps Ragnar Vizsla, Din, Bo, and their Mando crew go on a rescue mission that feels like a complete detour — and not in the way that the show’s video game-inspired storytelling structure usually handles its side quests. Whereas past seasons sent Din to point A as a way to reach points B and C — for example, Din escorting Frog Lady to Trask so that he can contact Bo-Katan, who can tell him where to find a Jedi — things in season 3 don’t feel that tightly knit.

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The rescue mission is akin to the pirate fight in that we’re not sure it’s meant to lead anywhere, or if the show’s dragging its feet before a more impactful second half of the season. Perhaps this episode was about giving viewers something a bit more standalone for a change, a little comfy mini-mission more in line with the storylines of season 1, giving us the pew-pew vibes before the next round of exposition. But this approach feels less charming in 2023.

While The Mandalorian thrived in 2019 by embracing a more low-stakes and intimate take on the Star Wars universe, it’s outgrown that initial premise. The show is now tied to much bigger things going on in the galaxy, whether it’s following up on Luke Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano, setting up Grand Admiral Thrawn and the return of the Emperor (all that cloning business with Dr. Pershing), or exploring New Republic or Mandalorian society at large. The Mandalorian is not just a “father and son bounty-of-the-week” show anymore — and that’s by its own design. It chose to go big and there are certain expectations that come along with that — although keeping your story moving is a universal necessity for a TV series regardless of its size.

When “The Foundling” does finally address the elephant in the room in its closing scene, and Bo-Katan reveals to the Armorer what she saw in the Living Waters, the clan’s foremost expert in the Way simply brushes the Mythosaur off as a vision. At least for the moment, Bo-Katan’s stunning revelation is another dead end.

To be clear, the problem of “The Foundling” isn’t that the Armorer pays no mind to Bo-Katan. We already knew that even she didn’t believe in the prophecy. “The songs of eons past foretold of the mythosaur rising up to herald a new age of Mandalore. Sadly, it only exists in legends,” the Armorer tells Din in The Book of Boba Fett. It’s reasonable to assume that Bo-Katan will find a way to show the other Mandalorians that what she claims is true and that the Armorer will eventually change her tune. The issue is the show’s alarming lack of urgency in getting to the next bit of the story. Bo-Katan saw the Mythosaur two weeks ago, now going on three!

Instead, season 3 has spent much of its runtime fleshing out backstories and world building. If you love Star Wars lore first and foremost, there’s been no better time to watch this show. We now know who saved Grogu from the Jedi Temple on Coruscant during Order 66. We know what motivated Dr. Pershing to join the Empire. We have a sense of what life is really like under the New Republic. Most importantly, we’ve visited Mandalore, one of the most important planets in the galaxy (just not in the movies). But lore isn’t the story. While many of these moments have been incredibly enjoyable for a sect of hardcore fans who are very plugged into Star Wars canon and its complicated timeline of events, eventually season 3 will need to push its own tale forward to support these weekly lore drops.

Past seasons of this show have flowed more seamlessly. The Mandalorian seasons 1 and 2 felt like series of modern Doctor Who: a collection of smaller stories that make up a larger overall arc, with a big finale to tie them all up. At the moment, an unfocused season 3 feels like it has too short an attention span to reach its victory lap.

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The Mandalorian season 3 streams Wednesdays on Disney+.