‘The Mandalorian’ Has Forgotten Why People Liked It in the First Place
This week’s episode of The Mandalorian barely includes the series’ title character. After a big opening chase sequence involving Mando, his ally Bo-Katan, and an unexplained squadron of TIE fighters, the action shifted completely to two unrelated characters living and working on Coruscant: Dr. Pershing, the former Imperial scientist whose interest in Grogu brought Mando and Baby Yoda together in the first place, and Elia Kane, an Imperial officer who worked for the evil Moff Gideon in Season 2. Kane seems to befriend the meek Pershing, and then subtly encourages him to continue his illegal research into cloning and genetic engineering. After helping him steal needed parts from a derelict Imperial ship, Kane hands Pershing over to the New Republic authorities and assists in his torture using some kind of brain reprogramming device.
The episode, “The Convert,” doesn’t cross-cut between Mando and Bo-Katan’s escape and Dr. Pershing’s entrapment by Kane. Instead, Mando and Bo’s handful of scenes bookend an episode they otherwise have nothing to do with, about characters whose motives and importance are as yet unknown. Pershing and Kane will presumably return on a future episode of The Mandalorian to pay this setup off — or then again, maybe they won’t. They could just be here to help facilitate their arrival on another Star Wars show set in this time period, like the upcoming Ahsoka or Skeleton Crew.
Whatever the reason for this extended departure from the main Mandalorian storyline, “The Convert” served as a stark example of a shift in Star Wars’ most popular TV series during this current third season. What began as an extremely straightforward show that was easily accessible to even the most casual Star Wars watchers has transformed into a series obsessed with explaining and exploring obscure saga mythology that’s unfamiliar to all but the most hardcore of fans.
Even the parts of The Mandalorian Season 3 about Mando have gotten mired in deep Star Wars lore. Thus far, the title character has been on a quest to redeem himself in the eyes of his Mandalorian clan, a process that involved traveling to Mandalore to bathe in the “living waters” deep beneath the planet’s surface. He’s also become further embroiled with Bo-Katan, another Mandalorian warrior who wants Mando’s Darksaber so she can reclaim leadership of the Mandalorian people — a storyline continued from earlier animated series like Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels.
All these intricate plots and subplots stand in stark contrast with how The Mandalorian began, when it followed a mysterious figure inspired by Western archetypes — Mando was literally a man with no name until the finale of Season 1 — as he traversed the frontiers of outer space. In its first season, The Mandalorian was an anthology series in the style of The Fugitive or The Incredible Hulk, where a wandering antihero tries to evade pursuers while righting the occasional wrong.
Appropriately for a show about a lone gunslinger, The Mandalorian had only one regular cast member: Pedro Pascal as the Mandalorian. But that changed at the start of the current season, when the actress who plays Bo-Katan, Katee Sackhoff, began to receive starring billing in the closing credits. When you factor in all the recurring characters, this show about a “lone” gunslinger now has a fairly large supporting cast.
The early Mandalorian episodes were not about Star Wars; they were about a morally ambiguous mercenary who happened to live in the Star Wars galaxy. Prior knowledge of the earlier movies or cartoons enhanced certain small aspects of the show — like why it’s such a big deal when Mando finds a little baby with wrinkly green skin and giant ears — but it was not necessary to understand or appreciate it. That’s why The Mandalorian was the perfect show to launch Disney+ with; it was welcoming to new viewers.
But The Mandalorian Season 2 became fixated on reintroducing old Star Wars characters, many from the franchise’s animated series and novels. In addition to Bo-Katan, it also gave important supporting roles to Star Wars: The Clone Wars hero Ahsoka Tano (now played by Rosario Dawson) and to a Tatooine sheriff named Cobb Vanth who first appeared in Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath book trilogy. And, of course, Mando wound up crossing paths with Boba Fett, a cult character who previously “died” in Return of the Jedi. His return on The Mandalorian facilitated his Disney+ spinoff series, The Book of Boba Fett.
Increasingly, every episode of The Mandalorian feels like it exists to set up future Star Wars shows. And even if you have watched every episode of The Mandalorian to date, you still might be a little confused what’s going on. How and why was Mandalore destroyed? Why does everyone think the planet is cursed if Mando is able to go there and bathe in the living waters on the very first try? Who exactly is in charge of this New Republic? What does Pershing’s research have to do with Grogu? Why do some Mandalorians take off their helmets and others don’t? How come this random woman on the planet from Attack of the Clones works so hard to entrap this scientist?
And when I say “you still might be a little confused” I mean “me”; I am confused, and I have watched every Mandalorian episode (some multiple times). But when I finish an episode of The Mandalorian lately, I have to message our ScreenCrush YouTube channel host (and resident Star Wars expert) Ryan Arey to explain all the parts that went over my dorky-but-not-quite-dorky-enough head because I haven’t watched The Clone Wars or Rebels.
Obviously, if Mando remained a stoic, emotionless presence in perpetuity, The Mandalorian might get boring; shows do need to grow and evolve. (Then again, The Fugitive didn’t drastically change Dr. Richard Kimble’s character all that much, and that series’ finale was the most-watched TV episode in history to that time.) Still, The Mandalorian could have followed the development Mando and Grogu’s relationship without getting them bogged down in Mandalorian politics or digressions about a random cloning scientist.
(By the way, the aforementioned Ryan Arey tells me the Pershing scenes were likely designed to set up the rise of the First Order from the Star Wars sequels, and to explain how Emperor Palpatine was cloned in The Rise of Skywalker. Even if he’s right, and that’s exactly what they will ultimately do, do we really need to spend valuable time in what was the best Star Wars TV show explaining the backstory of the worst Star Wars movie?)
Technically, The Mandalorian looks just as good as ever. But there was a beauty in the simplicity of those early episodes that seems to have been lost in Season 3, at least so far. I used to look forward to this show all week. Lately, I feel like my interest is being slowly killed for the sake of pleasing die-hards and expanding a universe.