‘The Mandalorian’ and Beyond

The fourth installment of Season 3 of the popular Disney+ Star Wars streaming series The Mandalorian landed last week, which means we have reached the halfway mark in the season. And to be honest, I’m not terribly impressed with this season so far. It’s not bad per se. But I don’t think it is of the same caliber as the first two seasons. 

The Mandalorian So Far

The best thing I can say about Season 3 of The Mandalorian is that it is entertaining and I do look forward to it every week. That’s not nothing when you think about the history of Disney era Star Wars productions. After The Last Jedi, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and The Rise of Skywalker, I cringe every time a new Star Wars movie is announced. The Rise of Skywalker was so bad I have only seen it once and can’t remember the title half the time. Everything about the Disney era Star Wars movies feels half baked and lacking cohesion and a sense of direction. 

That’s not to say every Star War that has been released to the small screen has been stellar. The Book of Boba Fett was…well, I don’t really know what The Book of Boba Fett was. And I’m not sure the showrunners know either. There were fun moments, but whatever the show was trying to say about the character of Boba Fett was muddled and incoherent. And without a throughline, the series just seems pointless. Obi-Wan Kenobi also had its problems. It felt cheaply made at times, had writing issues, and created some problems within the larger narrative that I don’t think are justified for what the series accomplished. Andor is probably the best technically made Star War we’ve gotten so far (for the small or big screen), but it’s got one glaring problem: It’s about as much fun as a Morrissey song. 

The Mandalorian has not only been a fun and engaging Star War, it has managed to do what other Star Warses have failed to do since Disney bought the franchise: it won universal praise from audiences. That’s no small feat either considering the last time that happened mullets were en vogue. 

But after Luke Skywalker showed up in the Season 2 finale to sweep Baby Yoda off to his fledgling Jedi Academy, the series has squandered all of the excitement and speculation generated by that shocking episode. And as if to prove that the showrunners could be even more clueless and clumsy with the potential built up in that finale, the squandering didn’t even occur in The Mandalorian, but The Book of Boba Fett, a completely different series that not all fans of The Mandalorian watched. 

Whether you loved the inclusion of Luke in Season 2 of The Mandalorian or hated it (and it has its detractors, let me tell you), it set up tension for the next season and an opportunity for Din Djarin and Grogu to grow as characters. Reuniting Mando and Grogu in a completely different series has not only been confusing to fans who skipped The Book of Boba Fett, it let all of the tension built up by their parting in Season 2 out like air out of a balloon. An episode of a completely different show effectively undid the first two seasons of The Mandalorian. And it robbed the audience of an emotionally rewarding scene when the two characters would inevitably be reunited. 

And it’s hard not to wonder if this is incompetence on the part of the creatives or if there is another reason behind it. Did Gina Carano’s firing and the scrubbing of Rangers of the Republic from the Mandoverse affect the decision to bring Grogu back prematurely? An even more cynical reason has been floated by many pop culture commentators: was Grogu brought back because Disney was afraid his absence would hurt merchandise sales? Were they worried audiences wouldn’t watch a show without the cute little elf? 

But Grogu’s return isn’t the only set up that The Mandalorian has flubbed. Season 2’s finale also laid the groundwork for a potential future conflict between Bo Katan and Din over the Mando’s possession of the Dark Saber. But four episodes into Season 3, and there is no trace of enmity between them. The Dark Saber hasn’t even been mentioned as far as I can remember, and Din and Bo are about as chummy as two Mandalorians can get. 

From what I can tell by sifting through online sentiment, reuniting Din and Grogu has been a pretty big stumbling block for fans of the show. Season 2 ended on an emotional note. The most beloved character Star Wars has produced since R2D2 was parted from his adoptive father, Din Djarin. It’s hard to know how much the cute little green guy understands of what is going on around him, but he seems to feel a great deal. And in the final moments of the Payton Reed-directed “The Rescue” we, as the audience, felt what Grogu was feeling. And we felt what the Mando was feeling. 

Both of which are impressive when you think about it, because this show has managed to make general audiences empathize with two characters who barely speak. We don’t know much about Din, and we know even less about Baby Yoda. The show has made us invest in them as individual characters and as a pair mostly through expressions, body language, and silent interactions. (Side note: I’ve often thought about rewatching the show on mute as an experiment.) That final scene where Din and Grogu say their emotional goodbyes represented an implicit agreement between The Mandalorian and the audience: it asked us to share in the sadness of their parting, to feel what Din and Mando felt, and in return it made a promise to make it all worth it in the end. 

The showrunners broke that promise, and now it feels like the show (and the audience) is stumbling to find its footing, to figure out where it stands with its characters and where it stands with its audience. 

You Can’t Have Any Pudding If You Don’t Eat Your Meat

In some ways, Season 3 feels like an attempt to win that trust back. In the same way a parent might try to bribe a child into eating his veggies by promising a treat in return, Season 3 of The Mandalorian has offered up a fair amount of eye candy. We’ve seen an N1 starfighter dogfighting with TIE interceptors. We’ve seen dozens of colorful Mandalorians training and fighting multiple fantastical creatures. We even witnessed Mando bathe in the waters of the Mines of Mandalore in the second episode—something many fans assumed we wouldn’t see until the final episode of the season. The most recent episode, “The Foundling” even gave us a flashback to Order 66, complete with Jedis and lightsabers and clone troopers and a sneak peek at Baby Yoda’s past. But possibly the biggest treat of all was finding out that the mythosaur was no myth at all but an actual, flesh and blood creature. 

As a fan, I’m reeled back in. I’m ready to eat my Brussels sprouts. I still haven’t forgotten the taste of the turd sandwich the showrunners served me after promising peanut butter and jelly, but I’m willing to forgive if Favreau and company can make it worth it in the end. 

But after once again hinting at a potential conflict between Bo Katan and Din (and the Children of the Watch), The Mandalorian has seemingly blown that tension by having Bo admit to the Armorer that she has seen an actual mythosaur. What seemed like a card she was going to hold close to the chest to be used for some (probably) selfish purpose down the road has again been played.

The Crossroads

Where The Mandalorian goes from here is hard to predict. The show has zigged when we thought it would zag. It has stumbled when it looked like it would surely cross the finish line in triumph. The Mandalorian opened up a world of possibility and, suddenly, Star Wars fans were doing the thing they do when they are truly engaged with Star Wars: they were speculating. 

What would happen to Baby Yoda? Would Mando use the Dark Saber and unite the Mandalorians? Would Mando be redeemed or find his own path? Is this all leading up to the Sequel Trilogy? Are we going to get a spin off Luke Skywalker/Jedi Academy series? Is this all heading toward a loose adaptation of Tim Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy? What is Grogu’s past? Is he a clone or Yoda’s offspring? Where was he hiding out after The Purge?

The question now is whether The Mandalorian can find its way back from the botched Grogu/Luke plot line to something interesting, something that will engage fans and satisfy more than just our baser urges to see colorful Mandalorians blow shit up. 

The Way

Bo’s admission to the armorer that she has seen a mythosaur, on its face, seems like another missed opportunity to create tension in the show. 

But is it?

As it stands after “The Foundling”, the Armorer’s covert seems like a merry band of fellows. They break bread together, mutter “This is The Way” to each other, rescue regurgitated foundlings together. I mean, they seem like they are a few marshmallows away from singing kumbaya around the campfire together. 

But as I watched that scene between Bo and the Armorer, I found myself asking a few questions. 

Are we meant to question whether Bo actually saw a mythosaur? Or are we meant to wonder if what she saw was a vision that represents her spiritual awakening? Is Bo on a path to discover a faith she’s never known? Will this spiritual awakening position her to not only recognize flaws in her own faction of Mandalorians’ dogmatic way of doing things but to also make the Children of the Watch see their own? Could she unite the factions of Mandalorians and be the catalyst that leads to the resettlement of Mandalore? Does the Armorer’s inability to recognize that Bo is being literal when she says she has seen a mythosaur point out a weakness in her faith? Could this lead to conflict between Bo and the Armorer? Or does the Armorer realize that Bo actually saw what she says she saw? Does her unwillingness to engage Katan’s question in a literal sense represent the Armorer’s duty as a spiritual guide? Is her ambiguous response meant to encourage Bo to explore the Mandalorians’ mythical past and engage with her burgeoning faith to seek her own answers? 

If we are meant to take this scene at face value, that will be a serious misstep in my opinion. A lost chance for the show to redeem earlier missteps. 

But the show is not Bo Katan’s show. It’s Din Djarin’s and Grogu’s show. But that doesn’t mean that none of the questions above are pertinent. And it doesn’t mean that how those questions are answered have no bearing on the future of the show—or possibly even the future of the larger Star Wars narrative. 

The Child

Whatever Grogu’s backstory is, it seems pretty clear that the mystery of his past is important to whatever end The Mandalorian is aiming at. It’s not a mystery for the sake of mystery. How it is answered will likely determine the overall direction of the show and will possibly even affect the much larger narrative of Star Wars itself. 

What is Grogu? Is he a clone of Yoda? Is he what Dr. Pershing refers to in “The Convert” as a strand-cast—a hybrid clone specimen? Is the question of Grogu’s origin simply meant to lead us to the Emperor’s return in The Rise of Skywalker and link the weaker Sequels with the stronger Mandoverse?

Beyond the question of what Grogu literally is lies another question: What does he represent? 

On a recent episode of Rebel Force Radio’s The Mandalorian Aftershow, co-host Jimmy Mac pointed out the growing similarities between the Jedi and the Mandalorians, specifically the Children of the Watch. The mysticism, the dogma, the link between warrior society and religion, the question of whether or not the Children of the Watch are allowed to procreate, the similarity between Mandalorian foundlings and Jedi younglings, the Dark Saber, the Mandalorian creed and the path of the Jedi—these comparisons can hardly be unintentional. 

But whether or not these similarities will have any bearing on the direction of the show remains to be seen, and whether or not they will impact the franchise as a whole is an even bigger question mark. But I’m going to go out on this limb anyway, knowing full well that Favreau and company could saw it off behind me.

All Roads Lead to the Sequel Trilogy

Whether you love them or hate them, The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker are part of Star Wars canon. For all of you folks who are holding your breath for Lucasfilm to retcon this trilogy, I hope you have strong lungs, because it’s not happening. For better or worse, the story of Rey Skywalker is downstream of The Mandalorian. If you watch The Bad Batch and have watched Obi-Wan Kenobi, it’s almost certain that the events depicted in The Mandalorian and these others shows are setting the stage for the return of Emperor Palpatine and the rise of Rey Skywalker. 

How we get there is up in the air, though, and I think that is why it’s so important that The Mandalorian doesn’t fumble the ball again. 

Is Grogu the Key?

One of the enduring themes of Star Wars is destiny vs free will. Do we get to choose who we want to be or are we fated to follow a path that is predetermined? In the Original Trilogy, Luke wrestles with whether he will follow in the footsteps of his father or forge his own path. In the Prequels, does Anakin ever have free will or is his fate determined by The Prophecy? Like Luke, in the Sequel Trilogy, Rey must decide whether she is defined by where and who she comes from or if she is free to choose who she becomes. And we have seen the same theme play out in the animated series, most recently in The Bad Batch. In this spiritual successor to The Clone Wars, the clone troopers are confronted with the reality that they are just tools of the Empire. As the Empire phases them out of service in favor of conscripted stormtroopers, the clones have to decide whether they will let the galaxy carry them along or fight for a place of their own in it.

In episode 6 of The Book of Boba Fett, “From the Desert Comes a Stranger”, Grogu is faced with a choice of his own: remain with Luke Skywalker and become a Jedi, possibly never seeing Din again, or forsaking the ways of the force to return to his surrogate father. Grogu chooses Din, and the episode suggests that also means that Grogu has chosen to walk the path of the Mandalorian. Setting aside how ridiculous a set of Mandalorian armor would look on him, Grogu’s choice of Din’s gift of chain mail over Yoda’s lightsaber seems obvious. Grogu, at some point, will become a Mandalorian. 

But maybe Grogu’s future is not limited to those two options. 

At the beginning of “The Foundling”, we witness the Covert training for combat. Din has decided it is time for Grogu to take his first step to becoming a true Mandalorian, so he is matched up against another foundling. Grogu bests his opponent, but it’s not clear whether Grogu is a willing participant or simply doing what is expected of him. He seems uneasy and hesitant to take part, but does so at the urging of Din. 

So far, Grogu has been carried along by the events unfolding around him. It’s not clear how much he understands about those events, and it’s not even clear to the audience whether his lack of understanding represents immaturity or is the result of trauma and possibly stunted development. Is this scene calling into question the simplicity of the choice set before Grogu in The Book of Boba Fett? Is it suggesting another path might be open to Grogu? A third way not yet revealed? 

Beyond the Sequel Trilogy

There have been rumors that Disney/Lucasfilm wants to bring Rey back into the fold. The rumors I have heard suggest there is a desire within the House of Mouse to pair Rey up with Grogu in an unspecified movie event. It seems like there’s at least some circumstantial evidence for Rey coming back in some capacity. Daisy Ridley has been seen at Lucasfilm and has made vague comments in interviews recently that only encouraged speculation that she could be returning to play Rey again. Besides, The Force Awakens was meant to act as a soft reboot of the franchise, a way to introduce characters that would represent a new beginning for Star Wars storytelling, not an end. It makes sense that Disney/Lucasfilm would want to pick that thread back up at some point. 

And why couldn’t Grogu be involved somehow in the further adventures of Rey? We already know that he abandoned his training with Luke, so he would not have been present at the temple when Kylo Ren massacres Luke’s other students. So unless he dies at some point during The Mandalorian timeline (and who are we kidding here?), he’s out there somewhere when the events of the Sequel Trilogy unfold.

For many fans, the Sequel Trilogy was less than satisfying. The Force Awakens undid all of the character development of the Original Trilogy to simply rehash the original Star Wars (A New Hope). The Last Jedi took all of Abrams’ mystery boxes and all of the questions it left hanging and torpedoed them in an attempt to subvert the franchise and start fresh. But with only one movie left to make sense of the tension between those two films, The Rise of Skywalker fell back on familiar imagery and story beats, resulting in a bland and completely forgettable mess of a movie. 

But the questions the Sequel Trilogy sort of attempts to raise are valid extensions of the questions the Prequels raised. The Jedi were largely responsible for the fall of the Republic— how do future Jedi reckon with their past? How do they avoid making the same mistakes? 

It seems to me that “The Foundling” might have shown us a way to answer those questions.

Maybe Grogu isn’t meant to be a Mandalorian. Maybe he’s not meant to be a Jedi. Maybe all of this is about a third way, a way that will link, not only the Sequel films with the Mandoverse, but Mandalorians with Jedis. Maybe Grogu is meant to ride the mythosaur, unite the factions of Mandalorians, and show them that they need to reflect and change their ways or else face annihilation again at some point in the future. 

And if that is true, then Grogu and Rey would be kindred spirits in that they both had to choose a different way from the ones that were being presented to them. As muddled as the Sequel Trilogy is, Rey seems to represent a way forward for the Jedi that would have them avoid repeating their own mistakes. 

A post Sequel Star Wars movie featuring Rey and Grogu could give us a merging of two mystical warrior cultures, Jedi and Mandalorian, into something wholly new. 

If you think about it, it makes sense from a commercial standpoint, even if I can’t quite figure out how Lucasfilm would get the pieces to fit together from a narrative standpoint. The Mandalorian is Disney/Lucasfilm’s most successful Star Wars property at the moment. Some are calling it the franchise flagship. The Sequels were meant to be that, but as it stands, those films are a narrative and commercial dead end. Mandalorians are probably the second most popular character type in the Star Wars universe behind Jedi. Merging the two could salvage the Sequels and secure a future direction beyond the Sequels for Star Wars storytelling that could endure for decades to come. 

But enough about what I think. Where do you think The Mandalorian is headed? Is it on a collision course with the sequels or is that misdirection? Will Grogu become a Mandalorian or is he meant to find a different path? Would you want to see a movie with Rey and Grogu or would you rather The Mandalorian avoid referencing the Sequels entirely?

Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see you in the trenches. 

Author: Dhalbaby

I like big Bigbooté, and I cannot lie.