‘The Mandalorian’ Season 3 Initiates a New Adventure With an Uncertain Course 

If you want more “Star Wars,” Disney is delivering more “Star Wars.” The third season of “The Mandalorian” arrives after a lengthy hiatus that has still seen Disney+ drop multiple new shows set in the galaxy far, far away. Some fared better than others while this one carries the particular weight of being the first truly popular and applauded TV extension of George Lucas’ creation. Designed as a space Western, it all centered on a particular quest that was pretty much resolved by the end of season two. Now the showrunners need to figure out how to keep the hero going on a new journey that can sustain the audience’s interest. 

After little Grogu (“Baby Yoda” in pop culture speak) decided he would rather stay with “Mando,” aka Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) than with Luke Skywalker, the show had a convenient excuse to continue the narrative and sell millions of more green plush toys. In its familiar cosmic Western fashion, the new season opens with a chapter titled “The Apostate.” Some of the initial story is a recap of what we learned at the end of “The Book of Boba Fett.” Mando, with Grogu, returns to an unnamed planet where what’s left of the Children of the Watch battle giant crocodiles and recruit new members. But our hero is now an outcast due to his fateful decision to remove his helmet, as the Armorer (Emily Swallow) makes it bluntly clear. His best chance for redemption is to dip himself in the living waters found in the mines of his people’s home world, Mandalore. The great challenge is that Mandalore is now a desolate, destroyed planet. Ah, but there is proof the place isn’t completely off limits when Mando presents a relic recovered by Jawas from Mandalore’s surface. So off he goes with the green baby to find redemption.

By now, in its post-Disney acquisition phase, “Star Wars” has become such a brand, like the Starbucks of space adventures that fans will tune into no matter what. It hasn’t always been bulletproof, as the receptions for “Solo” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi” proved. The first two episodes of this new batch of “The Mandalorian” fall somewhere in the middle of what’s worked and what’s felt like recycled factory product. Visually we get the usual, fun “Star Wars” moments. Mando and Grogu zoom through asteroid fields or enter rainy planets. The green child is a cute delight gazing at hyperspace passing by Mando’s N-1 ship, where the show slyly throws in Purrgils, basically space whales from “Star Wars: Rebels.” Grogu is also hilarious when using the Force to snatch candy off an office desk. Our heroes make a stop at Nevarro, still a hub of independence and now bustling like some sort of intergalactic Dubai. High Magistrate Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) offers Mando a gig as marshal, considering pirates still roam around. Here is where showrunner and writer Jon Favreau finds a good window to explain why Gina Carano, who was fired after sparking public controversy with statements on everything from Covid to Nazi Germany, is absent. Turns out her character, Dune, is now away with the Special Forces of the New Republic. 

Something the show has in its favor is that Favreau is avoiding over-stacking the plot. The aims of Mando remain quite clear. His pit stops all make sense as well. On Nevarro he seeks to repair old droid friend and fellow fighter  IG-11, which allows for us to have fun with a band of four-inch mechanics, Anzellans, who speak in grumpy accents (“bad baby!”). You may recall this species of engineers from “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” After such a hiatus, much of the first chapters are set ups and reminders of why Mando is doing what he does. It’s hard to imagine any new villain topping Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), who was captured last season (yet we can almost guarantee will return), but we still get a new addition in Captain Gorian Shard (Nonso Anozie), leader of a band of pirates. Some of his goons get a sound beat down by Mando on Nevarro, in a fittingly rugged introduction. We also get updates on other regulars, like Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), still smarting from the collapse of her movement. She too is now counting on Mando to help restore Mandalore. 

Where “The Mandalorian” is going feels both entertaining and uncertain. Visually and overall it remains a good entertainment, even if it gets stuck on fan servicing a bit too often with Jawa and droid jokes. Yet it still has plenty of heart in how it delivers the material. Pascal continues to make Mando feel like a haunted, focused character and Grogu softens all the rough edges with its infant antics and innocence. For the non-fan it may remain a tough sell since it’s so tailor-made for the devoted disciples of the Force. With old properties that’s always the risk. Last year’s “Andor” was praised by critics but didn’t grab audiences in the fan base like this show or “Book of Boba Fett.” This third round of “The Mandalorian” is well-made familiarity, and that might just be enough for its intended demographic.

The Mandalorian” season three begins streaming March 1 with new episodes premiering Wednesdays on Disney+.